Coinciding with its 127th anniversary, Bethnal Green’s Grade II Listed Oxford House has recently undergone extensive renovation work and is now ready to fling open its doors and celebrate!
I must confess, I hadn’t heard of Oxford House until the East End Trades Guild put me in contact with them. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the valuable work they do, as well as discovering the building itself and its long and proud history.
Established in 1884 as a part of the Victorian era’s Settlement Movement, Oxford House began as a residential facility for student and graduate volunteers from Keble College, Oxford. The idea was for the volunteers to live and work alongside the local community and in doing so, learn about the realities of urban poverty in tandem with providing practical support. Youth clubs, adult education classes, labour exchanges, legal advice and many other initiatives were established as avenues to provide education and support to those who needed it.
In Victorian London, social programmes were virtually unheard of; the disenfranchised were left to their own devices, and the Settlement Movement can be credited with laying the foundation for establishing many of the social policy initiatives that (for the most part) still exist today. In those days, communities were largely defined by their economic standing – wealthy, middle class and slum – and one of the Settlement Movement’s objectives was to integrate society rather than segregate it. The thinking was that both would benefit by living and working alongside each other and being interconnected as a community. Considering the fact that the East End was one of the most poverty stricken areas of the country, it’s no surprise that it became the natural birthplace of the movement itself.
Today, the Settlement Movement’s vision of interconnectedness is alive and well at Oxford House. Although housing provision ended in the 1970s, the legacy of giving back to the community – indeed, being a thriving part of it – continues under the able stewardship of Chief Executive John Ryan, his staff and a group of dedicated trustees who, themselves, are a reflection of the diversity of Bethnal Green.
“The settlement movement has always been based on the concept of a multi-purpose model which recognised that the needs of a community are often overlapping and interlinked. During the year Oxford House has been a testament to this. From a weekly ‘dance to remember’ group for adults with dementia to classes for aspiring actors, performer and musicians through to a start-up care organisation specialising in the LGBT community, we continue to meet the diverse needs of our community.”
Located in Derbyshire Street and overlooking Pocket Park and Weaver’s Fields, the building is now home to a myriad of third sector and creative industries, providing affordable office space to over 30 organisations, charities and social businesses, as well as affordable meeting and events spaces. Community classes and events are also run on a weekly basis in partnership with various organisations, including dance and fitness classes which cater for all ages.
Oxford House is a real jewel in the crown of Bethnal Green and of the East End in general. It has several unique spaces that can be hired including:
• A theatre that seats 120 theatre-style and stands 200. The theatre also has an adjacent bar and gallery/breakout area and is suitable for performances, rehearsals, conferences and events.
• A dance studio which has a wooden sprung floor, full-length wall mirror, changing rooms, air cooler unit and a music system, and that can accommodate up to 15 dancers.
• Two meeting rooms suitable for meetings, classes, training events or conference break out space.
• An art gallery suitable for exhibitions and receptions and which can also serve as a break out space for the theatre.
• A cafe, newly renovated and spacious, which now opens out onto Weavers Fields.
• A Chapel, beautifully designed by Sir Arthur William Blomfield who was also the architect of the Royal College of Music, and responsible for the rebuilding of the nave of Southwark Cathedral. The chapel still has its original wood panelling and can be hired by request and is quite a unique, intimate and atmospheric space.
In addition to providing a range of spaces and facilities, Oxford House also offers volunteering opportunities, enabling individuals to gain valuable skills while donating their time to support Oxford House’s work.
TO FIND OUT MORE
Bethnal Green, E2 6HG
Tel: 020 7739 9001