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Making space for community & purpose in Oxford. – Transition by Design

Making space for community & purpose in Oxford.

Makespace Oxford

One of our biggest struggles when setting up Transition by Design was affordable studio space. As we worried about rent, we looked around and saw many other community organisations, co-ops and charities big and small, established and embryonic struggling with just the same thing – affordable space in which to make, create and connect to a community.

Adopting the principle, ‘the problem is the solution’ we brought together two of Oxford’s key urban challenges common to cities across the UK: the rise of vacant buildings in a declining city centre; and a lack of affordable space for impact-driven organisations. 


That’s what led us to found Makespace Oxford; a network of buildings across the city which utilise ‘meanwhile use’ planning legislation to provide affordable space to individuals and organisations doing exciting things. 

Working closely with our partners – Aspire Oxford, Community Action Groups Oxfordshire and the Broken Spoke Bike Coop – we secured start-up funding and brokered an agreement with Wadham College on a 600m2 office building in North Oxford, empty and due for redevelopment.

Transition by Design provided business planning, architectural services and project managed a rapid retrofit. Once occupied, we facilitated participatory processes to determine how the building would be managed.

One Aristotle Lane is now a thriving hub of activity, incubating new ideas, nurturing existing groups and enterprises, and encouraging new partnerships. 

Building on this first success, we have since opened two more buildings and are in conversation with landlords across the city over bringing more empty or unloved spaces back into community use. Makespace Oxford, is a self-sustaining, locally-rooted and scalable social enterprise. We’ve built a reputation for ourselves as a trusted tenant and we’re now working with colleges and land owners across the city to help them unlock nascent value in their properties.

Combining architectural prowess with volunteer management and community organising, Transition by Design found solutions we simply wouldn’t have thought of.

Emma Gordon, client.

Makespace Oxford epitomises Transition by Design’s approach to urban design and place making. Community-led, these sites take into account their local surroundings and consider how a building can work with and improve the urban fabric for the benefit of local communities. Makespace reanimates unloved spaces and offers a provocation to the city, publicly and explicitly asking just who our city is for?

In 2018, Makespace Oxford was recognised for its innovative approach at the Oxfordshire Charity and Volunteer awards.