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Irving Building

A bid to develop a former school into 26 zero-carbon, community-led homes.
 Past project 

We worked with the local community to put in a bid for the Irving Building. The much-loved Victorian school building was owned by Cowley St John Parochial Church Council, a local educational charity. It was in full use until July 2015 for forms one to three of St Mary and St John Primary School. In July 2015 the building was closed and in September 2015, these forms joined the rest of the school, at another nearby site on Meadow Lane.


Our vision was to buy the building on behalf of the local community and convert it into a mix of affordable homes and a community hub. Initial plans were to build a terrace of new homes on Essex Street and to convert much of the existing Irving Building to flats. The Hertford Street side would have been kept and transformed into a community-hub and office space and outdoor space, serving the needs of diverse local groups such as:

  • The local nursery school Comper sometimes needs extra meeting space

  • Local start-ups (especially cooperative enterprises) need affordable office space

  • Local children could continue to use the former play area

  • A place for social gatherings and meetings, to bring the community together

  • A café


Irving affordable homes

There would have been a dozen or so new homes on the site. At least 50% would have been genuinely and permanently affordable. If viable, we would have made all of them affordable. Nominations for some of the affordable homes would have been arranged with the city council. However, we would have ensured that local teachers in housing need would have had first refusal on some or all of them.


How would the homes have remained affordable?

We would have used the Land Trust to own the land and a housing coop to own the homes, leasing them to the residents. Both of these things would have avoided residents having a Right to Buy and this guarantees the homes can’t be sold off into the open market. We could have therefore kept them affordable in perpetuity.


How would the project have been managed?

We would have used the Land Trust to own and develop the site and as this is a community benefit society - it has mechanisms though which the community can be involved, via membership or by joining the Board. The homes would have been leased to a housing coop and all the residents would join the housing coop. At the moment, anyone can become a member of the Land Trust (OCLT) which will be the landowner.


What about parking?

We know that parking is a huge problem locally, and the immediate neighbourhood around the old school is often plagued by overspill parking from the adjacent CPZ (Controlled Parking Zone). HfO would have dealt with this by ensuring there was i) adequate parking on site and ii) restricted car ownership and use by the residents and other users of the site and a car club.



Estimates of bid costed total at least £13,000 or more. OCLT spent a considerable amount on architect and business planning costs. OCLT created a crowdfunder to raise predevelopment vosts. You can see the brochure here (now out of date).

A sketch of the possible Irving Building development, Oxford
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