Oxford City Centre Insight Profile

As most people who know us will know, we spent a busy four months from August 2023 working with the partners below to produce a Community Insight Profile for the City and County Councils. The final document (together with a summary and data pack produced by the Public Health team) is now live on the County Council web site. Ours is the one called ‘City Centre’, which itself needs a bit of explanation.

The area is a bit of a strange and wonderful one. At a strategic level, the Council had decided to focus on the 10 most deprived wards in the County. While not unreasonable, this approach would have missed those parts of the ancient Oxford city centre that had once been the ‘blue collar’ heartland, and which still host hight concentrations of social housing and provision for homeless people.

Map of part of Oxford City
This is the wider area we looked at
Areas within the map directly above
These are the areas with high concentrations of social housing

With some clever stats, our colleagues in Public Health were able to show that the areas in the second picture above would easily meet the criteria. So our remit was to look at this area, as well as those bordering localities in which support services were located. We knew a little about the area – both ‘Community Glue’ Directors have managed services there – and we were able to find out a lot more thanks to research by Liz Wolley and Rachel Barbaresi. Our report contains a detailed account of the development of the four main areas – St. Thomas, St. Ebbe’s, Friars’ Wharf, and Grandpont.

To cut a very long and interesting story short, the area north of the river was once a thriving working class community, with shops, pubs, a brewery or two, its own schools and of course housing. In the 1950s, much of the ‘slum’ housing was demolished, and Council tenants were relocated. Over the last 60 years most of the pubs and shops have closed, and the area is now dotted with newer blocks of social housing, often squeezed in between commercial developments. While some are still directly managed by the City Council, others are supported by a range of large and distant provider organisations. This pattern also extends south of the river, a part of the County of Berkshire until 1972. Many of the newer developments were built on the site of the old gasworks, which once straddled the river. Its closure and eventual demolition in 1968 resulted in the loss of over 300 jobs, mainly for local residents. This was a period in which jobs and housing for working class people were moved from the city centre to the ring road – a pattern echoed up and down the country.

The history is important because it lives on in the memory of the few residents from the ‘old days’ who still remain, but also because it feeds into the modern-day culture. On the minus side, people still feel let down and forgotten. On the plus side, there is a strong sense of community – locals were happy to tell us their stories, and we hope they will want to get involved with the projects that will come out of our recommendations. Both the City and County Council have promised rounds of small grant funding to support implementation, and we are happy to talk to anyone and everyone who might be interested in putting a bid together. We will post on this site as soon as applications are open.

So what were our recommendations? You can read them in full in our report. They are summarised at the end of each chapter, and listed by topic area in Appendix 6. We have kept them deliberately broad except where they were personal suggestions by local people, because there were only limited opportunities to go through a consensus process prior to publication. As our name suggests, we are pluralists, and are very happy if others want to ‘run with the ball‘! Broadly, though, they fell into three areas:

  1. Advocacy. These are issues where there are relevant commercial and statutory organisations with responsibilities to address the points people have raised. Examples include issues with contaminated recycling and housing repairs.
  2. Co-ordinaton. There are many small schemes operating in (or providing support to) local residents, which could be co-ordinated with one another and possibly developed. Examples included benefits and financial advice, and free and low-cost food schemes.
  3. New developments. These are specific new projects aimed at meeting the needs of local people. These were very diverse, covering for example the need for more community meeting spaces in the area and the suggestion for ‘green gyms’ in local green spaces.

If there’s anything in the report that isn’t clear or you’d like us to explain, we’re happy to talk to you or your organisation. You may also be interested in talking to one of the other organisations that helped to produce the report. Click on the links below for their contact details.

Makespace logoMakespace Oxford
Oxford City Council
Gatehouse LogoThe Gatehouse
West Oxford Community Association
Oxfordshire County Council
Lived Experience Advisory Forum (LEAF)
Our partners on this project

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