The opening of the new Westgate centre on 24th October 2017 was an important moment in Oxford’s evolution. However, the companies involved in the Westgate’s development, and in particular John Lewis, acknowledged that the city had many unacceptable social problems that did not sit so easily with the launch of a sophisticated new shopping experience. For example, one in five children in Oxford is living in poverty, and it is one of the most unaffordable cities to live in in the UK.
The Westgate Fund was John Lewis’s gift to Oxford, and during the past three years OCF has used the funds to enable 18 community initiatives, ranging from small but vital services for people in areas of deprivation around the city, to ambitious projects tackling the biggest problems faced locally.
The fund has succeeded in being as diverse as the city itself, in terms of the variety of causes supported, the backgrounds of the beneficiaries and its reach into the areas of Oxford with the most need. Through the funding OCF has reached 21,765 people, and the biggest themes have been homelessness (41% of funding) and working with disadvantaged families (23%). Other projects promote wellbeing amongst older people, people with disabilities and ethnic minority communities, and a third of the funding is focused on East Oxford, another third on the whole city and a fifth on the city centre.
One grant, to Barracks Lane Community Garden, supported a project for Unaccompanied Child Asylum Seekers. The young people engaged have had their lives disrupted by trauma, war, and migration, and may have had had little formal schooling in their countries of origin. The garden provides a different learning environment to the classroom. Students learn to grow and cook local vegetables and herbs, as well as sharing previous knowledge and skill about plants, food and cooking. This helps develop literacy, as well as promoting emotional and mental health and a sense of belonging.
As the fund comes to an end in 2020, it leaves an important legacy for the city, having been instrumental in getting two major new collaborative partnerships off the ground: Oxfordshire Homeless Movement, which aims to make rough sleeping a thing of the past; and Growing Minds, which sets out to improve school readiness in disadvantaged communities.
John Lewis Oxford Partner and Branch manager Julie Blake said: “As we approach our third year milestone of being in Oxford, we are really delighted with the variety of causes and funding types that have been possible with our single donation. By working with Oxfordshire Community Foundation, we have been able to build a strong connection with the city to offer our support and to be neighbours to the communities here on our doorstep. I look forward to continuing to build on this link in future through John Lewis Oxford’s time, space and influence.”
More information on these and all the fund’s projects can be found in the full report published on OCF’s website: oxfordshire.org/westgate-fund.
Notes for editors
About Oxfordshire Community Foundation
· Oxfordshire Community Foundation (OCF) works to improve the lives of our county’s most disadvantaged people by unlocking the power of community. We tackle the most pressing social problems locally: homelessness, educational inequality, loneliness and isolation.
· OCF brings together charities, philanthropists, businesses and the public sector to research, design and implement long-term solutions. By working in collaboration, OCF brings the best ideas to life, leading to sustained and meaningful improvements to people’s lives.
· OCF makes around £1 million in grants every year to charities across Oxfordshire that are working at the grassroots level to tackle pressing problems faced by its citizens, including emergency response to crises such as COVID-19.
About John Lewis
· John Lewis & Partners operates 50 shops across the UK as well as johnlewis.com. A new visual identity was launched in September 2018, putting emphasis on John Lewis’s unique ownership model and commitment to exceptional customer service.
· In the changing world of retail, John Lewis is focused on competing through differentiation and innovation in three key areas – unique products, personal service and expanding into new services.
· The company’s service ambitions centre around exceptional Partner-centric service and experiences, empowering Partners through technology and investing in their skills to tap into the burgeoning customer demand for trusted advice and expertise in fashion and home.