Reading Celebrates Growing Reputation as a Cultural Hub

READING is on its way to becoming a leading cultural destination on a regional, national and international level.

As Reading’s Year of Culture 2016 enters its final two months, culminating in ‘Light Up Reading’ through December and the much loved Christmas Pantomime, thoughts are now turning to the future cultural legacy of the initiative.

A report to the Council’s Housing, Neighbourhoods & Leisure Committee (16 November) sets out how Reading’s Year of Culture represents an initial successful stage in a sustained programme to raise Reading’s profile and reputation and to deliver the aspiration that:  “By 2030, Reading will be recognised as a centre for creativity with a reputation for cultural and heritage excellence at a regional, national and international level with increased engagement across the town.”

Strong partnerships between a range of organisations have played a key contribution to developing and delivering an impressively diverse programme of cultural and heritage initiatives and projects during 2016.

The report highlights some of the key projects and developments that are together driving delivery of Reading’s Culture & Heritage Strategy. This includes hundreds of successful arts and cultural events as part of the Reading Year of Culture 2016 programme.

Further progress has been cemented by strong support and financial backing from both Arts Council England (ACE) and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Numerous initiatives from the vibrant arts and heritage sector in the town are mutually reinforcing Reading’s reputation as a cultural hub, with many funded projects extending over the next few years, including:

  • The ambitious Abbey Revealed and Hidden Abbey projects;
  • The ‘Reading International’ proposals for a three year visual arts programme, led by the University’s new Institute of Heritage & Creativity in partnership with Artangel, the Council and Reading UK CIC;
  •  The MERL and Reading Museum Collaboration project to transform the way the museums use technology, bringing collections and communities together;
  •  The continued work of the Cultural Education Partnership (CEP) to provide all young people with opportunities to experience high quality cultural activity;
  • South Street Arts Centre’s re-launch in December 2016 after a major £500k refurbishment.

Cllr Paul Gittings, Reading’s Lead Member for Culture, said:

“Culture and heritage play a vital role in Reading and I’m delighted that the town is gaining in reputation as a location of cultural excellence.

“We should be very proud our town boasts some of the richest cultural, natural and historical heritage, not only within in the Thames Valley but also nationally, and that our whole community is highly active and supportive in keeping our culture and heritage alive.  There have been some fantastic events this year – not in the least the magnificent performance of Henry I this month and for the first time, the opening of Reading Prison for the nationally acclaimed Artangel exhibition.

“We hope to build on and enhance this reputation even further, following the success of the Year of Culture and looking ahead to the hugely significant ‘Abbey Revealed’ project to restore the Abbey Ruins, the ‘Reading International’ arts project and the re-launch of South Street Arts Centre. These are exciting times for Reading with much to look forward to.”

The full Culture and Heritage Report can be viewed here: (Item 8)



Reading has benefited from a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for grant of £1.7775 million towards the £3.154 million ‘Reading Abbey Revealed’ project had been successful. The project involves the essential conservation programme to the Abbey Ruins and the Abbey Gateway.

The application submitted to ACE’s lottery funded ‘Ambition for Excellence’ programme was successful with an award of £495,000 confirmed at the end of July 2016. The funding is supporting Artangel’s  ‘Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison’ as the ‘front-end’ of this three year programme and it will culminate in a major exhibition in the re-opened Abbey Ruins in 2019.  Artangel’s Reading Prison exhibition has been hugely successful attracting 18,000 visitors to date, including a high proportion of Reading residents and a programme of engagement with local schools.

In August 2016 the MERL and Reading Museum were awarded £237,500 by Arts Council England for the ‘#Reading: Town and Country project’.

The Council is currently in the process of refurbishing and extending South Street Arts Centre with the support of a capital grant of £499,999 from ACE.  This work is due to fully complete in November with a formal re-launch of the improved venue in December.


Victoria Nickless

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