Reading Place of Culture Celebrates a Successful First Year

Reading, Place of Culture
Reminiscence activities

READING Place of Culture, the scheme to put arts, culture and heritage at the heart of the town, is celebrating its first full year of activity.

Reading, Place of Culture aims to make Reading a better place to live, work and visit, through high quality arts, culture and heritage activities across the borough.

A summary report, going before the Council’s Housing, Neighbourhoods and Leisure Committee on Wednesday 13th March, provides an overview of the first year and details the three main strands of the scheme: Reading on Thames Festival, programmed and managed by Reading UK CIC; The Cultural Commissioning Programme, led by Reading Council; and The Cultural Research Programme, co-produced by the University of Reading and the Whitley Researchers.

There have been some fantastic successes during the first year. Reading on Thames Festival joined over 138 artists and cultural organisations, with 19 new artistic commissions and 98% of audiences rating the festival as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ for quality arts. Crucially, over 40% of events were delivered by local organisations and artists.

In year one the Cultural Commissioning Programme has focused on supporting local organisations to develop cross-sector partnerships, to engage the community’s that haven’t traditionally been involved in or gone to arts events, highlighting events to the most marginalised and hard-to-reach groups, and to provide the genuine social, health and well-being impacts that arts can have on those who participate in it.

The commissioning has funded three projects during the first year, including:

·         Reading based theatre company Reading Rep working with older people with dementia and engaging young people unable to attend mainstream school. Both groups are building confidence and skills through participatory drama workshops.

·         Charity organisation Parents and Children Together (PACT) and Alana House working with female offenders to reduce reoffending rates and improve confidence and well-being via a photography project.

·         The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) in partnership with Reading Museum have been supporting older people at risk of, or experiencing, social isolation and loneliness by engaging them in heritage, reminiscence, gardening and dance activities.

Three new programmes will be funded this year, with a new strand of work for young people with special education needs.

The Cultural Research Programme underpins the whole of Reading, Place of Culture by developing borough-wide engagement, geared towards the needs of Reading’s diverse communities.

Research work has included wide reaching explorations into local residents’ experiences of and barriers to arts, culture and heritage in their communities and borough wide.

Key research findings have shown overall, people in Reading are proud of their local area, but there are ongoing issues they want to resolve such as social isolation, crime, traffic and lack of facilities. Plans for the second year include engaging communities with Reading on Thames Festival to ensure the greatest positive impact.

Cllr Sarah Hacker, Reading’s Lead Member for Culture, Heritage and Recreation, said: “As this report shows, the first year of the Reading, Place of Culture Scheme has been a great success. Thanks to the generous support from the Arts Council England, Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund via the Great Places Scheme, Reading is starting to position itself as a leading cultural destination with arts, culture and heritage at the heart of our town.

“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 are seeing new programmes and research of exceptional quality, to transform cultural opportunities for residents and visitors to the borough.

“We will continue to work closely with our partners to ensure that our resources are adding value, as well as being carefully targeted to broaden the reach and impact of cultural activity in the town. There is still much more to do, but we have learnt a great deal from this first year and will use what we’ve achieved to date to carefully shape the rest of the project, to meet needs and maximise impact.

“These are exciting times for Reading with much to look forward to. I’m excited, as we move into the second year of this fantastic project, to see more local initiatives flourish.”

Reading Borough Council and its partners – including Reading UK CIC and Reading University, successfully secured a grant of just over £550k from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF), Arts Council England and Historic England in 2016, as part of the national Great Place Scheme. The funding covers a three year period to support programmes running until December 2020. Find out more at

The Great Place Scheme is designed to put arts, culture and heritage at the heart of successful communities across England. Twelve areas, including Reading, were chosen to pilot the new approach to enable cultural, community and civic organisations to work more closely together.

The full report on Reading, Place of Culture can be viewed at



About The Great Place Scheme

In 2017, Reading Borough Council and its partners, Reading UK CIC and the University of Reading, successfully secured a grant of £558,471 thanks to National Lottery players and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Arts Council England and Historic England for the Great Place Scheme.

The scheme funds projects in areas where there is a commitment to embed arts, culture and heritage in local plans and decision-making.

The Great Place Scheme is designed to put arts, culture and heritage at the heart of successful communities across England. Sixteen areas, including Reading, are piloting a new approach to enable cultural, community and civic organisations to work more closely together.

The Great Place Scheme award is external funding Reading Council has successfully bid for. That means it can only be spent on arts, culture and heritage related projects that formed the bid, rather than any other Council services. Activities proposed as part of the Great Place Scheme bid are strongly aligned with the Council’s priorities for supporting Reading’s economic success and the well-being of its residents.

For more information on the Great Place Scheme visit:

About the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF)

Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about – from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

About Arts Council England

Arts Council England is the national development body for arts and culture across England, working to enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to visual art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2018 and 2022, we will invest £1.45 billion of public money from government and an estimated £860 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.

About Historic England

Historic England is the public body that helps people care for, enjoy and celebrate England’s spectacular historic environment. Find out more at

Victoria Nickless

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