Transforming empty and underused spaces across Oxfordshire’s high streets

Transforming empty and underused spaces across the high streets of Oxfordshire
Meanwhile in Oxfordshire

In 2020, we became a project partner on the Meanwhile in Oxfordshire programme. A grant funded project led by Makespace Oxford on behalf of Oxford City Council to bring back empty and underused buildings across the county to support communities, businesses and high streets to recover after the pandemic. Transition by Design held several roles during the project including Project Board member, Architect, Principal Designer and experts in placemaking and community engagement through meanwhile use.

The project enabled us to draw on our sound architectural practice, and social-justice focused design. The project ran over 18 months and included 18 feasibility studies for various empty or underused with 12 completed.

Projects included;

  • Transforming a disused deli into a refill and zero waste shop in the middle of a market town high street.
  • Changing a derelict former Chinese takeaway into a community hub with Oxford’s most successful Ethiopian restaurant, an artist studio and events space.
  • Giving an old warehouse a facelift and energy retrofit to re-home a much-loved social enterprise in Bicester.
  • Fitted out an old Oxfam shop for a community focused business in Banbury.
The newly transformed disused deli is now home to a beautiful zero waste shop.

Community Engagement

Here at Transition by Design, we are big fans of opening up our sketchbooks in the interest of sharing, learning and growing as a community. We incorporated community engagement ensuring that we gathered the interests of those who would be running and occupying the spaces, as well as those who may visit them. Several of the spaces have now provided affordable workspaces or retail spaces that individuals or organisations may otherwise have not been able to afford.

Working together we found a sweet spot between creativity and efficiency

(Above: Events space in the community works, Below: Lula’s Ethiopian restaurant)

As communities are adapting and learning about the potential of meanwhile projects to enable the creation of spaces they want to see locally, innovative architects and designers are learning how to design for the temporary too. Working together to find the sweet spot between creativity and efficiency, and drawing on the contextual knowledge and skills of everyone involved.

As practitioners, we have a unique role to play in the process, both by bringing essential foundational knowledge and ways of working in design and construction, as well as the practice of collaborating with people and in statutory contexts.

People want to see change, to re-engage with the community and to feel connection.

A bit about Meanwhile Projects and why they are here to stay

Meanwhile projects are increasingly being used by local authorities, communities and businesses to create socio-economic value from underused spaces, provide the change for community engagement and can be to test out ideas such as affordable workspaces.

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Temporary use projects can be nimble and quickly deployed.

Especially since the pandemic and various lock downs, now more than ever people want to see change, to re-engage with the community and to feel connection. Whilst behavourial changes like internet shopping have generally meant the decline of the highstreet, Meanwhile spaces provide the perfect backdrop as this project shows to help highstreets thrive and be used again.

With government financial incentives and policies helping make temporary use favourable to landloads, Meanwhile projects are here to stay. Temporary use projects can be nimble, and quickly deployed and they offer innovative and flexible solutions to the changing needs and demands of urban spaces and communities.

You can read more about this project in the following articles: