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Oxford City of Sanctuary propose to redevelop the site of the HMP Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre in Kidlington, Oxon, as affordable co-op housing for around 275 refugees.

At the core of the Campsfield site is an old Casual Ward, built in 1937. The Casual Ward was designed to serve as a homeless hostel for Oxford. By the 1930s there was a network of Casual Wards across the country, often deliberately located a long walk from the city centre. Casual Wards are described in George Orwell’s 1933 memoir, Down and Out in Paris and London.

After 1948, the site became a prison, HMP Campsfield House. It was the first of a new model of youth detention centres in England. Most of the boys imprisoned at Campsfield were aged 14 to 19. The regime differed from Borstal in the sense that there was no attempt to provide training or education. The aim was to punish offenders by depriving them of their liberty, and thus give them a “short, sharp shock”, in the hope that they would change their ways.

HMP Campsfield House operated as a youth detention centre until the early 1990s, when it was converted into an immigration detention centre. Initially, men, women and children were detained at Campsfield. From the mid-1990s until closure in 2018, all the detainees were men. The average number of detainees in 2017 was around 280. In 2022, the Home Office announced plans to re-open Campsfield as an expanded detention centre for 400 men.

Campsfield Re-imagined

We propose to demolish all the existing structures on the site, with the exception of the front portion of the old Casual Ward building.

Drawings for the Campsfield Re-imagined development have been produced pro bono through a collaboration between Oxford City of Sanctuary and architects Jessop & Cook and the Transition by Design co-op in Oxford. We are offering a practical and dignified solution for refugee housing.

We hope that the Campsfield Re-imagined project will help to influence government immigration policy to introduce safe routes and visas for refugees, by creating accommodation availability. Oxford City of Sanctuary call for an end to immigration detention. We are against warehousing asylum seekers in hotels, or deportation to third countries.

Safe and legal routes for refugees

It is mainly men who currently arrive in Britain by the dangerous illegal land/sea route. Women don’t often make this journey. The risks of illegal travel mean women either don’t set out in the first place, don’t survive, or have been coerced. Women also tend to have household caring responsibilities, which keep them tied in. This could be caring for children, but also parents, grandparents, in-laws, or elderly aunts & uncles. Even women who are facing the same persecution or want to escape the same war zone as their brothers, can only in effect travel by a safe route on a visa.

Oxford City of Sanctuary is calling for the introduction of Humanitarian visas, which will allow refugees safe travel direct to Britain from any country, not just Ukraine. In effect, this would be an extension of the Ukraine visa to any refugee.

The co-op housing we propose to build is designed to accommodate refugee families. In practice, if women leave their country as refugees, then the people that they care for may have to go too. The Campsfield Re-imagined housing is designed to receive multi-generation families. The standard British 3-bedroom house size does not always fit the needs of non-European families.

Supporting resettlement

At the centre of the site, the long front façade of the historic 1930s Campsfield Casual Ward building will be used to house a café and a museum, to preserve community memory of the legacy of the site. We propose to add to this a new two storey structure, to provide a training centre, community space, and a small shop.

The aim is for the site to provide a secure environment for new arrivals to this country to get their bearings while living independently in their own flat. We anticipate that individuals will start looking for work as soon as they can, and that people would eventually move on to other places, where they will settle.

Affordable co-op housing

The demand for affordable rented housing greatly outstrips the provision in southern England. The biggest barrier to delivering more affordable rented housing is land and property acquisition. We hope that the Ministry of Justice will recognise that refugee housing is the best use of a former prison site such as Campsfield, and allow us a long lease of the land. We hope the Home Office will see how, given the intensive residential and commercial development surrounding the site now, Campsfield is not a place to incarcerate 400 asylum seekers. There is a redemptive value in the re-use of the former HMP Campsfield site now, to allow people to live in peace and dignity.

The government is currently spending millions of pounds per day to house asylum seekers in hotels, so we know the money is there to build affordable housing. We also know that the public do appreciate the need to resolve the issue of refugee housing.

We propose to raise the funds for the Campsfield Re-imagined development through a Community Share Offer and other co-operative mechanisms, as well as through standard financing. Oxfordshire residents will be invited to invest in Community Shares. What we build will be private market rental housing with the model that a not-for-profit housing co-op owns the property and lets it out to member-tenants. Tenants will have a democratic say in the property management. Co-operative housing already forms a well-established, mainstream part of the private rental sector in other countries, such as Canada and the United States.

Rents will be set at the level of the Local Authority Housing allowance or the Social level, as appropriate to the tenants. We anticipate that our tenants will either be in employment (refugee status allows an individual to work), and so paying their own rent, or will be in receipt of support from the Local Authority.

Campsfield Re-imagined Plans

We propose to construct eighteen 2-double bedroom flats and thirty 1-double bedroom flats on the site, all designed to resemble the new private market housing in the local area. Based on two people occupying each double bedroom, the flats would provide housing for around 132 people. The blocks of flats are designed so that a large family could occupy, for example, two 2- double bedroom flats, either all on the same floor, or all in the same block, giving them four double bedrooms, two bathrooms, and two kitchens and living rooms.

In addition there will be four 4-storey high blocks, which would provide 144 people with student-style accommodation of single ensuite bedrooms with shared kitchen and living room for every five residents. Men and women will have accommodation in separate buildings. A family group of 5 could also be accommodated. If the group consists of family members all aged over 12, for example, the ensuite bedrooms would no doubt be appreciated.