Could gallery-hopping replace window-shopping on Oxford Street?

Once a shopping Mecca, London’s Oxford Street might soon become the capital’s newest destination to get your culture fix.

Under plans proposed by Labour councillors, Debenhams Oxford Street department store could be transformed into a brand new arts complex. The councillors have submitted their proposal for the ‘Oxford Street Art House’ to Westminster City Council.

Debenhams went into administration in April 2020 and its Oxford Street flagship store was forced to shut shop in January 2021 resulting in the loss of 140 jobs. Under the new plans, the seven-storey building would reopen as a combined gallery and studio space.

Craftspeople and artists would be invited to set up studios in the basement and use it as a “maker space”. Arts and crafts produced in the basement and elsewhere in the UK could be sold on the ground floor. Galleries including spaces for photography, film and fashion would occupy the fiver upper floors together with cafés and a roof garden.

Labour Councillor, Paul Dimoldenberg, said it was still “early days” for the proposal and that project partners were being sought. The project is also yet to be fully costed. While the Debenhams building has been identified as an ideal site, Dimoldenberg recognises the owners may prefer alternative proposals for luxury flats or hotels.

We wanted to expand the mix of uses being considered,” the councillor explained, adding “any of the empty large buildings in the Oxford Street area could provide the space for what we have in mind”.

The ‘Oxford Street Art House’ proposal was submitted as part of an ambitious £150 million regeneration programme to reinvent Oxford Street and the wider District for a post-Covid -19 recovery. Regeneration plans were already underway pre-pandemic but Westminster City Council is now more eager than ever to respond to the dramatic changes in consumer behaviour and working patterns seen over the past year.

It is hoped that a sparkling new arts venue will help lure back visitors to Central London as lockdown restrictions lift.

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