• Mon. May 27th, 2024

Jam Factory’s praise for customers who made Oxford arts venue ‘their own’

Byoxfordnewspaper

Sep 18, 2022

THE OWNERS of popular city centre venue the Jam Factory paid tribute to the customers who had ‘made it their own’.

Staff shut the doors on Saturday night after 16 years in business.

But co-owner Andrew Norton, who set up the Hollybush Row business with St Edwards’ School friend Tom Buswell, said they would be back.

Asked what message they had for his customers, Mr Norton said on Saturday: “Be patient, support independents. Watch this space.”

He added: “My grandparents lived a mile up the road, they were born and brought up in St Ebbes.

“We’re local – we’re all Oxford people. We’re not going anywhere else.”

Oxford Mail: File image from 2017, when the Jam Factory was running three art exhibitions. The photographs are from Elena Cremona's exhibition "Un Certain Status" Picture: RICHARD CAVEFile image from 2017, when the Jam Factory was running three art exhibitions. The photographs are from Elena Cremona's exhibition "Un Certain Status" Picture: RICHARD CAVE

The Jam Factory announced last month that it would be shutting its doors, saying it had been ‘unable to reach an agreement’ with landlords Nuffield College.

Built at the turn of the 20th century, the building housed ‘Frank Cooper’s marmalade’ works – constructed after the sweet treat’s growing popularity outgrew the Cooper family’s grocery business in the High Street. The building was later a café and an antiques centre.

“It’s not another venue,” Mr Norton said.

“The amount of people who have come in here, sharing their stories, or who have had major life events here – whether it’s a first date, being proposed to, your wedding, writing your dissertation.

“We’ve had at least 150 to 200 weddings.

“Over the last few weeks they’ve all come back in.”

Mr Norton said: “It’s felt weird being in the spotlight over the last few weeks. We’ve never wanted to be in the limelight.

“We wanted everyone else to own this space.

“That’s something I’m very proud of; people have made it their own and I think that is why a lot of people are so upset.”

Oxford Mail: In 2016, 10 women who studied together at The Slade exhibited their works at the Jam Factory. Pictured: Helen Ganly and Anthea Richards with their paintings Picture: JON LEWISIn 2016, 10 women who studied together at The Slade exhibited their works at the Jam Factory. Pictured: Helen Ganly and Anthea Richards with their paintings Picture: JON LEWIS

The company moved into the Jam Factory in 2006. The artist owners had already run exhibitions and drawing classes around Oxford. Mr Norton, a sculptor by training, said: “We were always beholden to other people’s generosity to hold these events, whether it be in teashops, doctors’ waiting rooms, rooms over pubs.”

The decision to open the restaurant was deliberate, with the ‘culinary arts’ complementing the fine art on the walls.

Didier Bayle, the Jam Factory’s original head chef, had returned from his home in the south of France for the venue’s final night. He told the Oxford Mail: “I’m very sad, but we have a lot of history here, a lot of memories.”

On its final afternoon, the café was swarming with families, friends and even a dog-owner working at her laptop while her border collie beneath the table wagged its tail at all who passed.

As Mr Norton spoke to this reporter, a customer approached and expressed his sadness at the Factory’s closure, urging him to look up reviews of the Jam Factory on a wine tasting review website.

“I’ve always felt like the gatekeeper, like the guardian. I’ve never left like an owner. My place here has never been permanent. I’ve always been proud of the fact I’ve kept it open for people to enjoy,” Mr Norton said.

Last month, building owners Nuffield College recognised the venue’s ‘important role’ in west Oxford. Expressing their disappointment that it had not been possible to agree a new lease, the college said it felt it had ‘done as much as we reasonably can to reach an agreement’.

Oxford Mail: A woman looks at a 2019 exhibition of photographs taken by homeless people Picture: ED NIXA woman looks at a 2019 exhibition of photographs taken by homeless people Picture: ED NIX

Mr Norton said Nuffield had been ‘brilliant landlords’ and had invested in the building. The problem was lack of security of tenure under the 1954 Landlord and Tenant Act, meaning, in common with many businesses in college or university-owned buildings in Oxford, it was difficult to draw up long-term plans with any certainty.

“I think it’s short-sighted [not to grant security of tenure]. If you gave me security here, think what I could do. I would invest everything in it,” he said.

He added: “One of the wonderful things about being in Oxford is the wealth of interesting buildings.

“I consider myself as much gown as I am town. However, the short-term objects of colleges mean that they are unfortunately unable to offer any level of security and as such it’s not about whether you are going to leave, it’s about when.”

For updates about the Jam Factory team’s plans for the future, visit: www.thejamfactoryoxford.com.

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This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire's court and crime reporter.

To get in touch with him email: Tom.Seaward@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter: @t_seaward