Re-thinking Community-Led Approaches to City Planning in Oxford

CAF  (Charities Aid Foundation) is posing exactly this question at a session at Marmalade Festival in Oxford on 12th April. They’re bringing people together to re-imagine their city around what really matters to them. Organiser, Ana-Julia Van Bilsen Irias, explains why she’s so excited about community-led planning and how she hopes the day will create lasting change.  

We all like a good moan about issues in our local areas, but what if you got the chance to step into the shoes of your local policymakers for the day?

Place-based approaches centre on a bottom-up approach powered by local people and their passion for change.

Why does this matter? Members of the general public might feel they are not involved in designing policies or interventions aiming at tackling local issues in Oxford. The CAF team will be engaging with local stakeholders, from members of government, businesses and citizens, to members of the third sector, funders, and public institutions to explore just that.

The aim of the event is to step into the shoes of local stakeholders to encourage shared decision-making and gain a better understanding of challenges, with a view to create innovative solutions to problems.

Using our experience in policy, research and social investment at the Charities Aid Foundation we are keen to promote social change through place-based approaches.

During this event, we will be discussing issues that Oxford faces, namely:

  • Homelessness – In 2017, a head count of 61 people rough sleeping in the city centre last year is almost double that recorded in 2016 when 33 were counted. In February, Housing and Homeless Strategy 2018-21 was approved, and included plans to deliver affordable housing, bringing empty homes back into use, and partnering with volunteer and support groups. Oxford city council is also creating a homelessness charter to try and tackle the issue in a multi-agency way.
  • Housing/planning: There are plans to build about 100,000 new homes in Oxfordshire. This comes as plans for two major garden towns in South and West Oxfordshire are one step closer to fruition due to the approval of funding bids by central government. A lot of rural areas in the wider county have had to take on housing plans to meet Oxford’s unmet housing supply (total of 15,000 homes by 2031). A lot of residents are unhappy about this and have even created campaign groups to try and change the plans and make their mark on the planning process. In terms of housing affordability house prices are also above the national average.
  • Air quality: The city council has said it wants more powers to tackle air pollution in Oxford, where CO2 levels on some streets were over the legal limit.
  • Cycling safety/infrastructure: Oxford is one of the country’s few cycling cities but there are people who say a lot more can be done to segregate cycling routes from main roads. They have also had three new cycle hire companies set up shop in the city so it’s a big topic of conversation and a popular mode of transport.

In our session at this year’s Marmalade we want to work with a diverse range of people, working to narrow the gap between the local communities and policymakers. Within these breakout sessions we want participants to take on the role of different actors and stakeholders (such as local government, funders, local people, the third sector etc.) and look at how a place-based approach could work from their specific point of view. We want everyone involved to get out of their comfort zone and  create a lively debate on this. We understand that this approach is not a one-size-fits-all, but it is to encourage all sides to talk to each other and understand the variety of approaches you can have to promote social change.

To join the discussion, join us in Oxford on the 12th April! For details see


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