The developer of the Jericho Wharf site, SIAHAF, has decided to apply for a new planning permission for the site. the Jericho Commmunity Association has not seen new proposals but understands that these will involve reconfiguring the layout of the community facilities.
Any new plans should fulfill the vision of a new centre for which we have been campaigning for the past 20 years. The new Jericho Community Centre will be a bright modern building which should be buzzing with life throughout the day. It should offer something for everyone from the children’s pre-school in the morning to exercise sessions for older citizens in the afternoon, to a wide range of classes in the evening for people of all ages – drama to yoga, tai chi to belly dancing, badminton to bowls. At the same time, it can offer spaces for small businesses for meetings and seminars, and open up new opportunities for adult education. Regular features can include music evenings and ‘lecture & lunch’ programmes.
The social heart of the centre will be a café, which will be open all day – an affordable location where locals and visitors can meet and enjoy the canalside venue. The central activity space will be a multi-functional hall which will provide indoor sports facilities, which are sorely lacking in this part of Oxford, while also serving as the venue for social events, either public or private. A smaller hall with a sprung floor can be used for dance and other classes and practice space for music groups. In addition, an important source of income will be drop-in ICT business hub.
A portion of the new Centre has also been allocated for pre-school facilities for which there is a high demand. The existing Centre once had a flourishing playgroup but the latest regulations rightly require that pre-school activities have outdoor facilities and separate toilets which we cannot provide. So the new Centre will have an area allocated to allow outdoor play and a separate entrance for the pre-school. This will enable it to provide for children as young as two years old.
The City’s Corporate Plan emphasises the need for ‘Strong and Active Communities’, so the new centre will provide the facilities that allow many different groups to meet and mingle. The new larger Centre will be much more accessible than the current one – with sufficient staff members to allow it to be open seven days a week from 8 am to 10 pm. There will also be a heritage space which will provide information about Jericho’s rich history.
The Centre will be run by the Jericho Community Association (JCA). In cooperation with the Parochial Church Council, the JCA has been managing the existing Community Centre in the Institute building since 1982, and has ensured that it has been soundly managed and self-financing. However, this building is no longer fit for purpose as community centre. It does not generate sufficient income to be staffed full time and open to the public. There is no disabled access to the upper floors and no external play space. The result is that we have to disappoint many potential users.
In the existing centre, the JCA derives its main income from two principal sources: hiring rooms for classes and renting out other rooms on a monthly basis to small organizations, charities and artists. This has proved a very efficient way of operating on a sustainable basis. Those who rent space, or hire it by the hour can subsidize others who can use the centre free, including groups for young people, for mothers and toddlers, and for older people.
The new centre will run on exactly the same principle. The new building has been designed to be accessible to a wide variety of users while allowing the JCA to replicate a business model which has enabled it to operate without external subsidy for the past 20 years. The only difference is that we will operate on a larger and more efficient scale.
The City Council will be making a significant contribution of land for the new building, but has made it clear that a new Centre will not get an ongoing subsidy. So if Jericho is to have the Community Centre it deserves, it will need to be big enough to be self-sufficient. Thus, activities such as sports, low-cost counselling and adult education on the first floor will be cross-subsidised by income from local business and charities on the top floor.
The Centre as part of the Jericho Wharf development will thus create a vibrant new hub in this historic corner of Oxford, combining community activities with a busy boatyard, alongside an attractive new square – and complement the facilities offered in St Barnabas for concerts and large public events.
The developer SIAHAF already has planning permission for the site, but is now revising its plans – which means it will need a new planning permission. The new proposals must still, however, deliver the fully functioning and sustainable Community Centre that the people of Jericho and the City Council have long envisioned. We have been working for many years to bring this exciting project to fruition. It is to be hoped that those Victorian philanthropists who gave us the Institute would be pleased with our efforts to pass on their heritage in a modern and sustainable way to future generations.
There is also a story related to this on the Jericho Wharf website, which you can read by CLICKING HERE.
Former MD of Radio 4, Master of St Peters College