Oxford City Council, in conjunction with the national homeless charity Crisis, has begun work to convert a former fire station in central Oxford into a new centre for the homeless.

The £3.5 million Crisis Skylight centre will include a gallery, an auditorium and a dance studio designed for community groups and the homeless, as well as a café open to the public.

The centre will offer creative workshops in drama and the arts, as well as classes in practical skills such as literacy, numeracy, carpentry and IT. The focal point of the arts-related activities will be a new arts company, Arts at the Old Fire Station.

The Gloucester Green site was first established as the headquarters of a volunteer fire brigade in 1870, and functioned as Oxford’s main fire station from 1896 to 1971. It has since served as a theatre and an arts centre, and is currently in use by the nightclub Live Nation Club.

Gina Ford, a first year student of Archaeology and Anthropology at Keble, has volunteered for Crisis’ London branch and looks forward to getting involved at Oxford.

“Seeing people on the streets as I’m walking to lecture or coming home from a night out really brings home the problem,” she said.
“A Crisis centre is certainly a better use of the building than a nightclub.”

The project has received funding from the government’s Places of Change Programme, which aims to reduce the number of people dependent on the hostel system for shelter.

A representative for Oxford Hub told Cherwell, “Oxford has the highest number of rough sleepers in the country outside of London and there is a clear need for a comprehensive approach to tackling this issue.

“We look forward to seeing how we can work with the centre to provide new opportunities to volunteer with Oxford’s homeless.”

Local contracting company Kingerlee was appointed to the project after the original contractor, ROK, went into administration in November. Kingerlee, which is set to begin work on redevelopment of the building in January, is the same firm that built the original building more than a hundred years ago.

Kingerlee has done work with many of Oxford’s colleges, most recently a lecture theatre for Queens College and the Kendrew quadrangle at St. John’s College.

Councillor Bob Price, leader of Oxford City Council, said, ” The difficulties caused by ROK going into administration will mean that the project will be completed a couple of months later than hoped but we have been able to secure a new contractor very swiftly.”

The building work is set to be completed by autumn this year.