Innovative project putting arts at the heart of Reading celebrates a successful second year

Dance workshops
Dance Workshops Rosetta Life

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

The Reading, Place of Culture project 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 11th March 2020, provides an overview of the second year and details the four main strands of the scheme: The Cultural Commissioning Programme, led by Reading Council; The Cultural Research Programme, co-produced by the University of Reading and the Whitley Researchers; Culture & Business Engagement and Reading Thames Festival managed by Reading UK.

There has been some great work carried out during the second year, building on the scheme’s successful first year.

In the second year, the Cultural Commissioning Programme has provided £75,000 (including partner match funding from Berkshire Community Foundation and Brighter Futures for Children) for exciting projects including: performance workshops to improve the mental and physical health of older people living with the effects of neurological illnesses or brain injury; the use of dance and movement in the treatment, management and prevention of mental illness; and a programme of visual art and drama workshops for children with special educational needs.

These sit alongside three mini pilot projects – two exploring the barriers faced by older people when accessing arts and one to deliver mental health wellbeing themed work with young people. The report also celebrates the scheme’s success in its first year and looks ahead to some exciting future projects in year 3.

Reading Thames Festival 2019 took place in late September. It built on the work of the 2018 festival and continued to celebrate Reading’s unique identity and present new works of performing arts, design, literature, moving image, visual arts and popular culture. From audience feedback 78% strongly agreed or agreed that it increased their pride in Reading, and 82% strongly agreed or agreed that it brought communities together.

The Culture and Business Engagement Strand, led by Reading UK, aims to further develop the relationships between the business community and cultural organisations in order to support key economic development objectives for ‘inclusive growth’ and delivery of the long-term 2050 Vision for the town.

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. A growing body of work has been developed of shared learning and findings illustrating what local communities think about art, culture, heritage and civic pride with a focus on ageing well and diversity.

Cllr Karen Rowland, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Culture, Heritage and Recreation, said: “As this highlight report shows, the second year of the Reading, Place of Culture Scheme has seen some fantastic work achieved. Thanks to the generous support from the Arts Council England, Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund via the Great Places Scheme, Reading really is moving 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 beginning to gain in reputation as a location of cultural excellence. It is because of this that we are seeing visitor numbers increase to the town and we are becoming increasing well-known as a town whose cultural offerings are not only of exceptional quality, but also reach previously untapped audiences for whom culture is an ‘elusive and inaccessible idea’.

“The projects we have funded during the first two years are already having a significant impact on the lives of the people involved. We will continue to work closely with our partners to ensure that our resources are adding value and being carefully targeted to broaden the reach and impact of cultural activity in the town to accessibility for all. There is still much more to do and look forward to as we approach the project’s final year, but the first two years have provided a great deal of positive learning to build upon. We will use what we’ve achieved to date to carefully guide the rest of the programme and to maximise impact.”

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



Cultural Commissioning Case Studies

Key successes of the scheme’s first year have included: building vulnerable women’s self-confidence by developing photographic and digital story-telling skills; activities with over 170 older people to improve wellbeing and reduce loneliness using reminiscence, gardening, dance and knitting; and a series of performing arts workshops to boost self-esteem, confidence and life skills for older people, adults with mental health illness and people with complex learning difficulties.

To find out more and to view case studies of year 1 projects, visit:

About the Great Places Scheme

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.

In 2017, Reading Borough Council and its partners – including Reading UK 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 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.

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 agency for creativity and culture. By 2030 we want England to be a country in which the creativity of each of us is valued and given the chance to flourish and where everyone of us has access to a remarkable range of high-quality cultural experiences. 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 deliver this vision.

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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