Vale of White Horse District Council has teamed up with social enterprise Makespace and other councils to help bring empty shops back into use with a £1.9m fund.
The project, called ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire…’, will go towards helping high streets across the county to bounce back from the effects of Covid-19 to bring new independent shops, cultural venues, creative studios and co-working spaces.
The aim is to provide affordable premises to accommodate more than 100 organisations, which will create or secure at least 300 jobs across Oxfordshire and help to give people more reason to shop in town centres.
Other Oxfordshire district councils working on the project alongside the City Council and the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP) were South Oxfordshire, Cherwell and West Oxfordshire. The partnership was awarded the £1.9m of funding from the Government’s Getting Building Fund and the City Council has now commissioned Makespace to run the project.
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 buildings to improve energy efficiency and offer low-cost rentals for a wide variety of organisations.
The councils involved 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 towns. Landlords can get in touch with Makespace by visiting: makespaceoxford.org.
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.
Cllr Bethia Thomas, Cabinet Member for Community Engagement at the Vale of White Horse District Council, said: “We’re looking forward to working in partnership with Makespace and new partners to help bring a wider range of businesses into our traditional market towns – we hope to support non-traditional retail, councils or charities wanting to create community-led business initiatives as well as independent retail. By attracting new business ventures, more visitors and shoppers will help to benefit the whole area.”
Cllr Robin Bennett, Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Regeneration, said: “This has been a hard year for many of our businesses, so we’re very keen to start working with Meanwhile in Oxfordshire to support entrepreneurs, community organisations and creative businesses wanting to move into our town centres.
“The project brings great benefits – it’ll improve the energy efficiency of re-fitted units, provide ongoing support to tenants and offer low-cost or even free rentals to organisations offering unique benefits to the local community.”
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.”
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.”