Contractor Appointed for Reading Abbey Revealed Project

Reading Abbey

WORK to conserve one of Reading’s oldest gems moved a step closer this month.

Reading Council has appointed the main contractor responsible for implementing the conservation side of the Reading Abbey Revealed project.

CRL Restoration, who specialise in the restoration, conservation, and refurbishment of historic, period and modern buildings and structures, are a locally based multi-disciplined specialist contractor and one of the leading companies in the UK in this field. CRL signed contracts this month, with the plan to start on site from Monday 13th February.

The contractors will erect the necessary scaffolding in the Abbey Ruins before moving onto adjusting the safety scaffold on the Abbey Gateway into a working scaffold. Conservation work will commence in early March and will be carried out in four phases.

Temporary interpretation will inform the public of the work being carried out and the history of the Abbey Quarter.

CRL Restoration will work closely with a number of specialist trades, who have long pedigrees in the field of conservation. These will include such works as a new roof to the gate house along with extensive conservation works to the ruins.

There is also good news for the site wide interpretation and public engagement side of the project, with two part-time project staff appointed in January: Abbey Community Engagement Officer, Jess Freeland and Abbey Volunteer Co-ordinator, Nicolette Evans. They will be implementing a varied events programme, providing opportunities to volunteer, learn and enjoy the Abbey Quarter.

Abbey Ruins
Abbey Ruins

Councillor Paul Gittings, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Culture, said: 

“In the Abbey, Reading boasts a site of national significance. I’m delighted we’ve appointed our main contractor, CRL Restoration and that work will begin in February. I’d also like to welcome the newest members of the Abbey Quarter project team, Jess and Nicolette.

“The Council is another step closer to fulfilling its long-standing ambition to open the Abbey up fully to the public, alongside an exciting programme of events and activities, and to preserve the ruins and gate for generations of people to explore and enjoy.

“This of course, would not be possible without the generosity of the HLF, and their recognition of the unique history of the Abbey and the importance of the Reading Abbey Revealed project.” 

Councillor Tony Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said:

“Reading’s heritage deserves to be celebrated, as does a site of such historical significance in the heart of Reading. By opening it up to residents and visitors the Council hopes many more people will have the opportunity to appreciate the Abbey and its history. The HLF award allows us to do that. With this month’s appointment of CRL Restoration, work can now begin in earnest to give Reading Abbey the prominence and platform it deserves.”

Kevin Jones, Senior Conservation Manager of CRL Restoration, said:

“Our Board and Project Team are proud and honoured to have been awarded this contract to conserve and restore part of Reading’s heritage and again make it accessible to Reading residents and visitors. We believe it is important to maintain our heritage buildings and structures so that our children, and theirs, can view these structures and hopefully learn from them. We are excited to be part of the Reading Abbey Revealed Project and to be working with Reading Borough Council, HLF and Historic England. We look forward to a beneficial and mutually rewarding project.”

Stuart McLeod, Head of HLF South East, said: 

“The 900-year-old Reading Abbey ruins and gate provide a visual connection to the important, but little known, role that the city has played in European history since medieval times. Our National Lottery investment to stabilise the ruins and open them to the public for the first time since 2009 will help people to rediscover the fantastic heritage on their doorstep.” 

In December 2015, Reading Borough Council announced its successful £1.77 million bid for Heritage Lottery Fund support for the ‘Reading Abbey Revealed’ project. The award meant the Council could finally fulfil its long-standing ambition to re-open the Abbey Ruins to the public. The Council will contribute £1.38million in match funding to the project to reinvigorate Reading’s pre-eminent and nationally important heritage site.

There are plans for an exciting programme of events and educational activities to breathe new life into the Abbey Ruins, which sits alongside an extensive programme of conservation works to the Abbey Ruins and the Abbey Gateway, which starts this February. Site-wide interpretation of the Abbey Quarter will include a new display at Reading Museum.

The current project timetable is as follows:

  • March 2016: Project starts with the procurement and appointment of the main contractors for the capital conservation and interpretation programmes.
  • February 2017: Work starts on site and will take up to 2 years to complete.
  • Mid/late 2018: the Abbey Ruins fully open to the public, complemented by a programme of events and activities.
  • The successful HLF award means the accompanying activity programme will continue beyond the opening until the end of 2020.


Notes to editor

To keep up to date with the project progress, people can follow the @RdgAbbey Twitter account or visit the Abbey Quarter Facebook page

People can also find out more about the Abbey Quarter project on the Reading Museum website

About CRL

CRL Restoration, with over 60 years’ experience, is one of the leading contractors in the UK specialising in the restoration, conservation, and refurbishment of historic, period and modern buildings and structures.

CRL Restoration has the experience and capacity to undertake projects throughout the UK, either as the Principal Contractor, or as a Specialist Contractor, with values ranging from £5k to £5 million, either under competitive tender or through Partnering/Framework arrangements.
Clients include English Heritage, The Royal Household and National Trust.

To find out more about CRL Restoration, visit:

Follow CRL Restorations progress on the project:

Reading’s Successful HLF Bid

Following the announcement in June 2014 that Reading Borough Council had been successful in its ‘first round’ HLF bid, the Council began the process to developing detailed plans. It embarked on an extensive consultation with stakeholders and the public. More than 1,000 Reading residents responded to an online survey conducted earlier this year on the Abbey Quarter project, indicating widespread public support for the Council’s Reading Abbey Revealed project.

Conservation proposals for the Ruins and Gateway have been prepared following detailed condition surveys and trial repairs undertaken during the project’s development phase with specialists, architects and in close relationship with Historic England.

People will have the opportunity to learn about the Abbey Quarter through extensive and accessible new interpretation information that will uncover its hidden heritage and reveal its pivotal significance to Reading’s history.

A 5-year programme of events and activities in and around the site that will be coordinated by newly appointed specialist staff managed by Reading Museum, and in collaboration with a variety of organisations and partners. These activities will range from hard-hat tours during the conservation work to a high profile opening event.

Local people and visitors from further afield will also benefit from the Museum’s well known track-record in both community engagement and volunteering. The Museum has recently successfully renewed its ‘Investing in Volunteer’ status and will use this expertise to establish a wider Abbey volunteering programme that will actively engage 35 new regular volunteers who will contribute across a broad range of activities to care for and share the Abbey’s heritage.

The Abbey Quarter

Reading’s Abbey Quarter has been the traditional civic and ceremonial heart of the county town of Royal Berkshire since the 12th century. The Quarter is defined by the medieval streets and rivers that outline the precinct of Reading Abbey. This area contains the substantial standing remains and buried archaeology of Reading Abbey, telling its story from the foundation by Henry I in 1121 to its dissolution by Henry VIII in 1539.

The Quarter shows evidence of all periods since the Abbey’s dissolution: a royal residence, civil war defences, Jane Austen’s school, the impressive municipal buildings, Victorian public gardens and Oscar Wilde’s infamous Reading Gaol. There are buildings by famous architects including Sir John Soane, A.W.N. Pugin, Alfred Waterhouse and Sir George Gilbert Scott. Significant public sculpture within the Quarter includes Simond’s Maiwand Lion and statue of Queen Victoria, and contemporary artworks such as the Oscar Wilde Memorial Walk.

Reading Museum is also located within the Quarter and has important collections relating to the heritage of Reading and the Quarter, particularly Reading Abbey and later Victorian industrial heritage.

The current Abbey precinct area has piecemeal protection under several local and national designations and policies. Key parts of the site are a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and as such are protected under the provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979; the Abbey Ruins and the Abbey Gate are also Grade I listed.

About the Heritage Lottery Fund

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.  @heritagelottery

Victoria Nickless

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