The Westgate Fund was established in 2017 with a £125,000 donation from John Lewis, and is held and managed by Oxfordshire Community Foundation (OCF). Since then it has funded 18 different community initiatives across Oxford.
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.”