Oxford City Council has teamed up with social enterprise Makespace to launch an OxLEP-backed £1.9m revitalisation of vacant shops across Oxfordshire and bounce back from COVID-19 during 2021.
The project – called ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire…’ – will see vacant retail units in high streets across the county transformed into independent shops, cultural venues, creative studios and co-working space.
The aim is to provide affordable premises to accommodate more than 100 organisations, which will create or secure at least 300 jobs across Oxfordshire.
COVID-19 has had a significant impact on Oxfordshire’s high streets. Footfall in Oxford city centre was down 62.3% in July (from 3.1m in 2019 to 1.2m in 2020) and 46.5% in August (from 2.7m to 1.4m).
‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire…’ will reduce the number of vacant units in the county’s high streets and enable entrepreneurs to fill them with new and innovative ideas. This will diversify the offer in Oxfordshire’s town and city centres, and give people more reasons to visit.
The City Council, which developed the project on behalf of Oxfordshire’s other district councils, worked with OxLEP to make it happen, with OxLEP securing the £1.9m of funding from the Government’s Getting Building Fund. The City Council has now commissioned Makespace to run the project.
The funding is part of the Government’s Getting Building Fund, which provided £900m to LEPs and mayors across the country to accelerate the UK’s economic revival from COVID-19 through the delivery of capital projects.
Oxfordshire’s district councils working on the project alongside the City Council are Cherwell, South Oxfordshire, Vale of White Horse and West Oxfordshire
A partnership led by Makespace
Makespace Oxford has formed a consortium with other local organisations to help run the ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire…’ project, and provide additional expertise and knowledge across the county.
This partnership includes Wild Property, Transition by Design, Soha Housing, Fusion Arts, Aspire Oxfordshire and Independent Oxford, alongside national experts in this field, Meanwhile Space CIC.
These organisations will identify, secure, fit out and let dozens of vacant units, including in each of Oxfordshire’s districts, during 2021.
Makespace has previously transformed vacant buildings across Oxfordshire into business and community space, including the Makespace Oxford workspace in Aristotle Lane and Open House in Little Clarendon Street.
The City Council, Oxfordshire’s district councils and OxLEP will also work with the partnership to find properties and tenants.
One of the aims of the project team is to work closely with local residents and businesses to ensure new tenants of each unit reflect, represent and meet the needs of the area.
The partnership led by Makespace will let all the units during 2021, and will then provide a range of business support so they can thrive over the following years.
Makespace and the project team are keen to speak to landlords of vacant high street retail units across Oxfordshire’s town and city centres. Landlords can get in touch with Makespace by visiting: makespaceoxford.org.
Inclusive and circular economy
Alongside supporting businesses, jobs and footfall, the project also aims to encourage a more inclusive and circular economy in Oxfordshire.
Some of the ways this will be achieved include:
- Engaging with local residents to ensure their needs are met
- Using the fit-out to upgrade the energy efficiency of properties
- Providing the units at an affordable rent
- Giving priority to organisations that pay the Oxford Living Wage
- Giving priority to organisations that will take on work placements, traineeships or apprenticeships
Community organisations and creative industries unable to pay, but able to deliver a unique benefit to their local community, could receive rent-free space.
The project aims to provide at least 35 young people with apprenticeships, traineeships or work experience placements.
Nigel Tipple, Chief Executive of OxLEP, said: “The confirmation of such a significant project – that will have a positive impact and lead to a progressive transformation in how we make the most of our high streets – is excellent news.
“As the local enterprise partnership for Oxfordshire, we want to ensure our county benefits from a business environment that is fit-for-purpose, supporting dynamic economic growth.
“We were delighted to have secured this Getting Building Fund allocation for this project and we are sure it can be a real asset to Oxfordshire, something which is vital as we begin the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council, said: “This project will make it easier for entrepreneurs to open businesses, create hundreds of jobs, and give residents more reasons to visit their local town and city centres.
"It is an extremely exciting project that will transform high streets across Oxfordshire for years to come, and I am delighted that we have been able to work with such a wide array of fantastic local organisations to help make it happen.”
Andy Edwards, Co-Director and Programme Coordinator of Makespace Oxford, said: “Makespace Oxford is delighted to be working with the city and district councils on this timely and ground-breaking programme.
“Through COVID we’ve seen our towns and urban centres severely impacted with businesses and communities working incredibly hard to sustain and adapt.
“The Meanwhile in Oxfordshire programme offers a crucial boost at a critical time to help local organisations countywide to access space and be part of a movement to revive our urban centres and offer a positive new vision of the high street post-COVID that helps to build stronger local economies and stronger local communities.”