Discover how a decommissioned children’s centre in Oxford was transformed into a busy, buzzy, welcoming place for all thanks to a dedicated group of people who formed a community benefit society...
As well as a meandering stream, flowers, green spaces and children’s play areas, Florence Park in East Oxford is home to Flo’s – The Place in the Park, a thriving community hub that’s making a big difference to local people.
At Flo’s you’ll find a cafe, a plastic free refill shop, a nature-based nursery, community midwives, lots of activities for families, rooms to hire, events and community impact projects on the themes of food, family and nature.
“People say that one of reasons they continue to live in the area is because of Flo’s. It has transformed the community,” says local resident Annie Davy. “A lot of young mums say it’s a safe place they can come. The café is open seven days a week and people can bring their own food if they want.”
Flo’s exists thanks to Annie’s vision, her hard work and that of other local people who came together to take action when the council put the site up for tender.
“It was a decommissioned children’s centre, so their recommendation was that it should become a private day nursery. Some of us felt very strongly it should stay in the community and remain open access. I had thought for some time that it would be a brilliant place for a nursery and café.”
Keen to create a sustainable enterprise, the group chose to set up a community benefit society – People, Place and Participation. Annie explains why: “We needed a membership organisation. And it needed to be locally based so it genuinely felt owned by the community.
“It also helped strengthen our tender application to the council – we were able to demonstrate that there was a strong local voice and lots of people were willing to become members and take ownership. And it just felt right for the place.”
A small group of talented people got behind Annie's initial vision – and with lots of hard work, advice and support from various sources, a community share offer was prepared and launched, with the help of a development grant from the Community Shares Booster Fund.
Completed in June 2018, the share offer raised £50,000 from 88 investors. £38,000 came from the community and £12,000 in matched funding from the Community Shares Booster Fund.
With a grant and 25-year lease from the local council – and an outsourced café that brought significant investment, Flo’s, The Place in the Park was soon opened – and has been a huge success story ever since.
“In our first year, we employed two part-time freelance project managers. Within five years, we directly employ more than 40 staff. We’ve turned over more than £1 million.
“We’ve weathered Covid. We’ve taken the café in-house and have lots of community groups coming because we do room hire. We also have partnership projects with other organisations.
“We have a relationship with the park and have created new nature areas. People use it as a meeting place. People of all ages and many different cultures. You can’t imagine it hasn’t been here forever.
“How it is now has aligned with our original vision but has also exceeded expectations. “There’s a real buzz about the place. It’s a happy place.”