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Campaigners fight for Reading prison site to become community hub

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Campaigners are fighting for the site of Reading's former prison to be turned into an arts hub, and not used for luxury housing.

It is owned by the Ministry of Justice, which is planning to sell the site to the highest bidder.

Local MP Matt Rodda is urging residents to sign a petition to turn the national heritage site into a hub for the local community.

At the moment it's empty and the government is spending, or wasting, hundreds of thousands of pounds keeping it looked after as an empty building. We think it will be much better if it's used for the community as an arts hub. Reading currently doesn't have anything in the town centre of this type. It's right next to the Abbey ruins which already are attracting a lot of visitors and we could then have a proper cultural quarter, which would attract people to Reading and will provide all sorts of opportunities for the arts community."

– Matt Rodda MP, Reading East
The prison was closed in 2013.

The prison has accommodated tens of thousands of people in its 170 year history, including famous writer Oscar Wilde, who spent two years of his life there.

Since it's closure it has been used as a film location and housed an art exhibition.

Theatre and Arts Reading, who have been looking for a site to replace the ageing Hexagon theatre, say it would be an "ideal" arts venue.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are in the process of preparing to sell the former HMP&YOI Reading site and are working with the local planning authority to look at alternative uses including housing. Our aim is to get value for money for taxpayers. Any future use of the site will be guided by the local planning authority and will be in accordance with their requirements. Proceeds will be invested back into the prison estate to support rehabilitation.”

A feasibility study, funded by arts council England, has been carried out to see if the site would be suitable for a theatre and arts centre.

The results have not yet been made public, with the future of the former prison hanging in the balance.