Arts centre plan for Reading Gaol

Councillors in Reading are backing a plan to turn the town’s famous jail into an arts centre.

Theatre Arts Reading (TAR)wants to turn Reading Prison into two theatres, creative start-up spaces, an Oscar Wilde Museum and art gallery. Also included in the proposal is a gift shop, cafe and bar.

Reading Borough Council has endorsed the "powerful" vision set out by TAR, saying the Grade II listed prison, which closed in 2013, is the "missing piece" in its regeneration plans.

A feasibility study, funded by Arts Council England, is currently under way.

The move follows a successful event at the prison organised by Artangel, which attracted 15,000 people. In 2016 the empty prison hosted arts exhibitions, including a feature celebrating Wilde’s life. Actors Ralph Fiennes and Maxine Peake and singer Patti Smith were among those who took part in readings at the former prison's chapel.

TAR chairman Melvin Benn said: "We are delighted officers are recommending TAR’s Vision of Opportunities is welcomed and that we enter into developing the proposals for a charitable company to run the site in partnership.

"The backing of Reading Borough Council for our plan to turn the Gaol site into a creative hub is all-important for the town and we look forward to a positive collaboration."

The prison has been empty for a number of years, but the MOJ says that “now preparing to sell it."

The prison was immortalised by Wilde's poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol which he wrote during his two-year sentence for gross indecency, a crime he was convicted of when homosexual acts were illegal.

The results of the feasibility study by TAR are expected by September.

Reading also has plans to revamp the town’s existing theatre, The Hexagon.


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