Campaigners march to save Reading Gaol as an arts hub for their community

Hundreds of campaigners gathered in Reading this morning to show their support for turning the former Reading Gaol into an arts hub for the community.

The event was led by the Save Reading Gaol team and supporters waved banners and banged drums as they processed from the Hexagon Theatre, through Forbury Gardens and into the Abbey Ruins.

They say they don’t want the former prison, which was once home to Oscar Wilde, to be turned into flats.

The site has been empty since 2014 and is currently owned by the Ministry of Justice which says no decision has yet been made on the future of the site. It stipulated that any sale will seek the best value for taxpayers.

But there's growing frustration in the town that the building is still standing empty. Heather Snaith says it's time the interested parties held talks about its future.

In recent years the former prison has hit the headlines. In March 2021, Banksy added a piece of artwork to the prison wall showing a prisoner escaping with a typewriter. It was widely thought to be a nod to Oscar Wilde who wrote "The Ballad of Reading Gaol."

The graffiti artist then gave the stencil of the artwork to Reading Borough Council on the condition that the proceeds from its sale - valued at around ten million pounds - will be used to buy the building and stop it from being turned into flats by property developers.

Local campaigners and Reading Borough Council want to see the prison transformed into a beacon of arts, heritage and culture but the council's offer to buy the building in 2021 was rejected.

It's hoped that a decision will be made soon so the grade 11 listed building can be put to good use.