We opened our doors to the public last Friday and we’ve had quite a week.
Before we even opened, we’d managed to sneak in two events; Queer Caff is an afternoon social space for young LGBTQIA+ people who are worried about their housing or facing homelessness. Along with Topaz LGBTQIA+ youth group, Zayna Ratty and the Young Women’s Music Project we were shocked to learn that 1 in 4 homeless youth identify as non-heterosexual. In response to this we wanted to create a space of solidarity where young people could come and get advice, listen to music and socialise. We’ll have more of these coming up in the New Year.
We also hosted the Oxford Student Union’s Coalition Against Homelessness for the launch of their homelessness awareness week with Local Labour Councillors Shaista Aziz, Richard Howlett and Nadine Bely-Summers introducing students to their work on homelessness and how they are working to improve provision for women who are rough sleeping and people with no ‘local connection’.
On Thursday evening we welcomed friends of the project and the many volunteers who have worked tirelessly to get us open for a launch party. A special thank you to Emma Mahoney, Harry Tuke, Ben Towler, Lisa Curtis and Lucille Colin de Verdiere who put so much effort in. We were treated to poetry by the brilliant Simran Uppal and Robin Blackk and delicious food from Mehdi of the Hayfield Deli.
So, when we finally opened on Friday it was with great energy and excitement. We’ve had a steady trickle of visitors; parents with small children seeking somewhere to play and relax without a cost, a few rough sleepers seeking a hot drink and a phone charge, outreach and options professionals meeting clients in a more relaxed space then the job centre or a homelessness service environment, a young man who lives in a house without any shared space looking for some company and a puzzle partner, a small group meeting to discuss the potential for starting a renters union in Oxford. And many passers-by wondering just what ‘a shop that doesn’t sell anything’ actually is…
On Saturday students from Oxford University hosted a volunteer fair for students and members of the public wanting to help with homelessness projects in Oxford. It was a pleasure to welcome the brilliant S.W.A.T, Gatehouse, Oxford Winter Night Shelter, Turl Street Homelessness Action and Aspire Oxford and help them find more volunteers.
Tuesday saw the first of our Housing Matters series, events which will run throughout the year bringing in experts, activists and community leaders to debate the meaty issues of housing and homelessness. Danny Dorling (Professor of Geography at Oxford University), Ella Hancock (Senior Best Practice Officer in Crisis UK’s Housing team) and Sarah Ernst (Senior Architect at Architype and the Rural Urban Synthesis Society) discussed whether the ‘housing crisis’ should be considered a ‘design feature or flaw’?. We were delighted to sell out and a packed room engaged in a lively conversation on community-led housing, mass house building and just why Oxford is ‘so bad at housing people’. You can watch a recording on our Facebook page.
Coming up this week we’ve got the first ‘Writing Home’ session, a regular Wednesday morning poetry club with the Oxford Poetry Library (open to anyone, for free, no experience required). From this week we’ll also have the Community Navigator team from Aspire with us every Friday afternoon so, if you’d like to seek advice for yourself or someone you know on housing and/or homelessness then feel free to drop in.
A couple for dates for your diary
On Saturday 15th December it’s your chance to get involved in imagining what Oxford will look like in 2030. Oxford City Council is currently consulting on the neighbourhood plan for the city and we’ll be hosting a day of arts, crafts and model making to help you have your say. The day will be child-friendly.
Christmas @ Open House. We know that being at home for Christmas is hard for a lot of people. We’ll be open for ‘Winter Holiday Club’, not a mince-pie, Christmas carol or ball-ball in sight. So if you know anyone who would appreciate being able to escape home for a little while over the break then please pass on our details. Exact opening hours will depend on volunteers and we’ll be sending out more information soon. Equally if you’d like to volunteer over the break, please get in touch.
Wednesday 23rd January is the next of our Housing Matters event series, looking at the past, present and future of council housing. We’ve got John Boughton (author of Municipal Dreams), Kate Wearing (Chief Executive of South Oxford Housing Association) and Shaista Aziz (Journalist, activist and Councillor for Rose Hill and Iffley) and we’ll be releasing tickets soon.