THE finishing touches are being put to a multi-million pound homeless centre, and the Oxford Mail yesterday got a sneak peak inside.
The Old Fire Station, in George Street, has been transformed into a Crisis Skylight education and training centre for the city’s homeless.
It includes dance studios, a training cafe, an art room and classrooms to teach literacy, numeracy and English as a second language.
The £3.5m centre will also house Arts at the Old Fire Station, an independent charity which will provide dance, art, theatre and music workshops.
Head of Crisis Skylight, Kate Cocker, said: “It is so exciting to be this close to opening. Oxford has a huge homeless problem and these are difficult times for people.
“We know that people need a lot more than a roof above their heads, they need to break the cycle they are in. We are trying to inspire people from the minute they walk in.”
The centre will offer help for homeless people seeking employment and will offer one-to-one counselling.
The cafe, which will be open to the public, will give them a chance to gain experience in a working environment.
Ms Cocker said: “This undertaking has been huge, but we hope it will make a real difference.
“It’s nice to have it in Oxford, where there is such a noticeable difference between the wealthy and the poor.
“This is a place where we will seek to integrate both these groups together.”
Studios in the roof and basement will also offer bike maintenance and carpentry classes and sessions in music, yoga and pilates.
The scheme faced setbacks last summer when funding was thrown into jeopardy after the Government’s spending review.
Money was secured from the Homes and Communities Agency, but then the contractor, Rok, went into administration. Further problems followed with the discovery of asbestos in the basement.
Kidlington-based Kingerlee, which built the original fire station in 1896, was brought in to complete the work.
The building is owned by Oxford City Council and served as the city’s main fire station until 1971.
An open day for the public will be held on November 4 before it opens properly the following Monday.
Arts at the Old Fire Station director Jeremy Spafford said: “It’s so exciting, but nervewracking too.
“This centre will be unique and we want people to know it is open to everyone.
“People can pop in for a coffee, look round the exhibitions and buy some pieces of artwork from local artists.”
Oxford City Council Leader Bob Price said: “Oxford is a very special city and the Old Fire Station will add a new and unique dimension to our community.”