POP up shops might be used to fill vacant buildings on high streets across Oxfordshire thanks to a £1.875 million grant from a group that backs businesses in the county.

The project could see as many as 100 shops in town centres or the middle of Oxford brought into temporary use with start-up restaurants and retailers taking over them, under what is known as ‘meanwhile’ use.

The project, dubbed ‘Meanwhile in Oxfordshire’ because of the aim to get businesses into empty shops while a more long-term solution is worked out, is part of a wider £8.4m being spent by the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership aimed at reviving the economy after Covid.

ALSO READ: Serious crash on Iffley Road leaves moped rider in hospital

The Meanwhile in Oxfordshire project is being administered by Oxford City Council, which approved the £1.875m budget when it met on Monday, January 25.

At the meeting, the project was described as important for the local economy, ‘not just for the city but across the county’.

Council leader Susan Brown told her colleague a specialist contractor was lined up to start work.

While the city council is managing the project, it will not just operate within Oxford, but also in towns across the county like Abingdon, Bicester, Didcot, Wallingford and Witney.

Ms Brown said: “This is some really important work that the council is undertaking on behalf of councils across Oxfordshire with OxLEP, to ensure that where there is empty retail space – which sadly we know there is going to be following the Covid crisis in our country and the world – best use can be made of that space to encourage new use, to encourage the founding and support of new businesses and small businesses.

“It is generally a report that should be widely welcomed.”

ALSO READ: Axe-throwing bar gets permission to open in Oxford

The £1.875m of funding has to be spent by November 2021, with the project coming to an end in early 2022.

Liberal Democrat councillor Liz Wade said there was pressure to spend the ‘quite serious money’ to a short deadline, and asked if it was possible.

And Green councillor Craig Simmons asked for more detail on the kinds of businesses that could be helped.

He said: “Are we talking about helping the Lamb and Flag get back into operation? Or are we talking about empty units in the Westgate? Which I would think are very low on our, or my, priorities certainly.

“I am not sure what the boundaries of the support are, I have read the report and I am not entirely clear.”

Ms Brown said because a contractor was already lined up, work could begin quickly.

She added that different district councils around Oxfordshire have already started finding empty shops whose landlords needed tenants, and a report to the council added small businesses which needed a place to work have also been identified.

ALSO READ: Coronavirus self-isolation payments - public encouraged to apply

Council documents claim how the project could help as many as 100 businesses, but the numbers might change when more detailed work begins and the contractor is officially announced.

According to the Centre for Retail Research, almost 180,000 retail jobs were lost in the UK in 2020, an increase of nearly a quarter on 2019.

In Oxford alone big retailers which had closed their doors due to the pandemic include Debenhams and Boswells Department Store, both of which are due to find a new lease of life as hotels.

Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

For news updates straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here.

Have you got a story for us? Contact our newsdesk on news@nqo.com or 01865 425 445.