Marta Rossato was so inspired by a recent visit to MakeSpace Oxford that she wrote it up as an article for Transition Town Reading’s newsletter. We in turn were so inspired by her article that we asked if we could republish it here. Happily she said yes. We were left wondering if this is something that would work in Reading? What do you think?
People and ideas need the right space to thrive. Open, inclusive, beautiful and affordable. This was the challenge that triggered the Oxford based project MakeSpace, a community – led working space where individuals and organizations can operate and connect to ignite social or environmental change. With a focus on sustainability, both the renovation of the building and the activities taking place at MakeSpace demonstrate how powerful can community action be. How a handful of individuals can join ideas, skills and resources to address something seen as a fundamental need for the community itself.
We are featuring their story hoping to inspire other socially – driven people and organizations living and working in different places but facing the same challenges.
In this interview Emma Gordon, co-ordinator at Makespace Oxford, tells us the whole story, explaining how different groups started collaborating to make it happen and the impact it is achieving for the different local communities in Oxford.
MakeSpace is a physical space but most of all is a hub, a “catalyst” for community – led and socially innovative projects. How did it all started and what triggered it?
Makespace came about because of the need for socially affordable work space. It started with this need and then formed into four founder organisations: Transition by Design (T/D), Community Action Group (CAG), Broken Spoke Bike Co-op (BSB.) and Aspire, coming to gather to search in earnest for affordable space. Makespace Oxford was formed as a result. An organisation that could broker and manage meanwhile spaces to offer below market rate rent to organisations trying to affect positive change. From the first meeting to acquiring 1. Aristotle Lane took four years.
Finding an available building and refurbishing it, as well as building a strong partnership must have been quite challenging. Can you tell us a bit more about these aspects and how you addressed them?
There were many forms before we came to what is now our hub in Aristotle Lane. First there was a meanwhile space on the opposite side of Oxford. Ideal, but precarious due to a two week notice period. Therewas excitement and effort put into a warehouse space in Cowley that did not come to fruition and a number of small nibbles elsewhere, before finally Wadham College got wind of what Makespace was trying to achieve and gave us the possibility of our current building.
Often buildings that are standing empty are in need of some work in order to make them safe and with the expertise of Transition by Design (an Architectural firm) Makespace were well placed to assess and make good these improvements. But they do cost money, and Makespace applied for grants and loans to make the project work. Amazingly it took only two months, from signing the tenancy to 80% occupancy in the case of Aristotle House, and Makespace are working toward being able to do rapid retrofit and turnarounds, as this is imperative for buildings in which there is a limited time in which to occupy them.
MS is definitely a champion of a successful partnership project: being presented the Innovation Award by Oxfordshire Community & Voluntary Action and being shortlisted for the Working Together Award acknowledge this. Can you share the story of this partnership and the process of building it?
As mentioned above it was a group effort between numerous organizations, and a long road. There were surveys done, meetings with various interested parties, regular strategy meetings etc.. which all paved the way for the brilliant project we have today. And the collaboration still continues. Our current space is a hive of activity with lots of collaborative projects happening as a result.
MS is a co-working space open to social enterprises, workers cooperatives, small charities and creative individuals. How did you make this project financially viable?
Initially this was grant and loan money, however as time goes by the revenue from the residents will start to make the project self sustaining.
North Oxford building owned by Wadham College is awaiting redevelopment. What happens next?
We have three prospective buildings in our sites. We are working on the feasibility of converting these to be fit for purpose and creating a strategy for how we start to manage multiple small sites and fill them in the fairest and most inclusive way possible. It is exciting times in Oxford as there is allot of energy and enthusiasm about what is happening with Oxford’s empty shops. We are in the thick of the conversation and trying to establish ourselves as the go to safe pair of hands for landlords who have meanwhile spaces they want to put to good use and then to have the right links within the community to be able to fill them with organizations who are makings roads towards improving society for all.
More about MakeSpace Oxford here
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