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Reading Gaol theatre plans boosted by council support

Reading Gaol. Photo: Chris Forsey Reading Gaol. Photo: Chris Forsey
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Plans to turn the former Reading Gaol into a theatre have received backing from the local council, bringing the project yet another step closer to realisation.

In May, campaign group Theatre and Arts Reading secured access to the site to carry out a feasibility study for their plans to turn the space into an arts hub. It would include a 1,450-seat theatre, that would act as a receiving house, and a smaller 450-seat space.

Now, a report due to go before Reading Borough Council’s policy committee sets out the local authority’s position on the site, which welcomes the proposals for an arts space.

The report notes it should “support and contribute” to TAR’s plans to establish a charitable organisation that would run the arts space.

“Development of the prison site as a ‘cultural hub’ would ensure continued and enhanced access for local residents to a range of cultural opportunities providing both educational and well-being benefits,” states the report.

The council’s lead member for culture, heritage and recreation, Sarah-Jane Hacker, said the site offered “huge potential”, and was in line with the council’s ambition to “facilitate the build of a new theatre for Reading and cement the town’s reputation as an artistic and cultural centre in the region”.

“Despite the severe budget constraints we face, TAR’s Vision offers an imaginative way of delivering and funding a new theatre and much more,” she added.

TAR chairman Melvin Benn said he was “delighted” officers had recommended TAR’s plans.

“The backing of Reading Borough Council for our plan to turn the gaol site into a creative hub with two theatres is all-important for the town and we look forward to a positive collaboration,” he added.

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