Common Ground Oxford: Giving communities time and space to grow

 In Indie Oxford Interviews

Today on the blog, Eddie from Common Ground talks about the inclusive community environment they are creating, how they are supporting other indies and hosting inspiring exhibitions for local artists. Eddie also shares his very exciting collaboration plans for this summer, which will see the café basement room refurbished. 

Could your big idea be their next collaboration? >>

Common Ground Oxford: Giving communities time and space to grow

Common Ground has undergone a significant change in ownership, so what can we expect…

Community spaces are in such short supply in Oxford, more and more organisations are getting forced out of their spaces due to a wide variety of factors. Common Ground leases the space from Oxford University and we are currently in negotiations to secure a longer-term lease on the space until at least Summer 2025, which gives us more options to grow as a valuable space for community.

In short, we have time! Communities need time and space to grow into, it also takes time for us to understand the exact needs of our community. The central value of the new Common Ground is that we are highly adaptable and flexible to meet the communities changing needs – we’ve tried to build that ideology into our space as much as possible.

During the day, our primary function is a café which provides social co-working in a relaxed, friendly environment. Our secondary function is as an event space – supporting community organisations, Oxford’s growing art and culture scene (including a wide range of performance-based events), University societies, as well as charities and fundraisers. Anyone can hire our space, and we offer 50% discount for community organisations and charities.  We carefully curate the vibe to fit with the event type, each event you come to at Common Ground will always be completely unique.

Another important value we hold is space diversification, we are big believers in multi functionality. This leads me on to The Common Ground Cooperative.

Eddie shares, “Common Ground has also made a big push to support independent businesses by buying everything locally, we’re proud to serve Oxford-based Missing Bean Coffee, who have always been hugely supportive of me personally. As of March 2023, everything we serve at our café is produced locally – you can find out more about this on our website.”

Common Ground

The social and environmental values of Common Ground’s business mission support collaboration and co- learning by creating a supportive and inclusive community environment.

“I believe that the happiness and wellbeing of our staff is one of the most significant factors.
Happy people = happy space.” says Eddie.

Upon entering our space, you are instantly greeted by our approachable baristas and a laid-back, buzzy atmosphere. For meaningful interactions and collaborations to take place, we must first create an atmosphere where people feel relaxed and comfortable. Spaces must be adaptable and able to mould around the community needs. We are also a ‘safer space’ – recognising that no space is entirely safe for everyone, but we have policies in place to protect people against prejudice and discrimination of any kind.

“The fact that we have unique, mismatched and second-hand furniture reduces the psychological threshold of an intimidating shared space – you can choose the seat and table that most suits your workstyle and level of social interaction. Plus, upcycled furniture helps us be more sustainable, so it’s a win-win!” adds Eddie

By promoting sustainable practices and supporting local suppliers, Common Ground fosters a sense of responsibility and connection to the community among its members. By sourcing our products from high quality, local suppliers, we reduce our carbon footprint as well as contribute to the local economy.

Common Ground Oxford

Common Ground facilitates and contributes to the local creative scene by representing, facilitating and displaying local art in all its diverse forms.

We support local artists and art schools by hosting regular temporary exhibitions that rotate every 3-4 weeks. We wanted to make this as accessible as possible – we don’t charge artists to exhibit their work in our space, nor take any of their profits from their work for sale.  Common Ground believe in pluralism and juxtaposition when it comes to the artwork we display. By putting two contrasting elements together in proximity, each one is amplified and has the power to inspire.

When it comes to our evening events, expect an atmosphere adapted to suit the event. Our space is very adaptable and the potential for events in our space is enormous. We keep our pricing affordable and offer discounts to community organisation and fundraisers to encourage community collaboration.

Common Ground also offers a fully licensed evening bar, serving a wide range of local craft beers on draught and wine to supplement the occasion.

“Expect to laugh, dance, draw, paint, drink, write, listen, taste, play, network, fundraise!” says Eddie

Common Ground

The Common Ground co-operative was born out of a need to support local social entrepreneurship.

We believe that Oxford rent prices, on top of rates and bills, makes it difficult for people to get access to space to test out their ideas. Common Ground is the perfect space to facilitate big ideas.

When I first mulled over the idea of taking on the job of running a community- minded business, it seemed daunting to do it on my own. I was conscious that Common Ground already had a deep-rooted social fabric which had been nurtured for years, that I knew very little about, having not properly immersed myself in it. Out of this fear came the reassurance that there was no need to do it on my own – collaboration and skill sharing has always been rooted in Common Ground from day one.

I met Nick from Curio Bookshop fairly early in the process of the business handover between me and the former owner. We got a beer together and discussed his long-term dream of building and running his own independent bookshop – a dream that seemed, in his eyes, daunting and unrealistic due to high rent and associated costs. We came up with a collaborative plan, with the help of Co-op Futures (special shout out to Alice, who’s support was invaluable), that it could work if we do it together. We’d share the costs of the overheads, maintaining our own identities as businesses – but complement each other’s purposes.

Eddie adds, “Back in the day, we used to be a bank and we still have the old bank vault where they used to store their cash – this has been empty and disused for several years and we are delighted to announce that we are refurbishing the space to make Nick’s dreams of owning a bookshop a reality. We hope this will be ready for the public mid-to-late summer.”

“I believe this idea can be replicated in our main upstairs space. We want to give away parts of our space to local makers/artists/entrepreneurs to use for the good of the community.”

Common Ground is on the lookout for people with big ideas, areas of particular interest include: ceramics, vinyl records, photography, furniture upcycling, houseplants, music production.

Common Ground

Eddie ended by saying, “The best part of my job is providing a space where people are genuinely happy to be here.

There’s only so much I can tell you – you’ll have to come and experience the space for yourself!”

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