Save Reading Gaol campaigners push for 10,000 signatures

The campaign to save Reading prison from redevelopment and turn it into an arts hub has received a second wind as activists are pushing for thousands more to sign a petition.

The prison in Forbury Road, affectionately known by its original spelling Reading Gaol, was closed as a prison in 2014.

In recent years, the Ministry of Justice which owns the prison has been hoping to sell it off to generate income from the government, with the most predicted outcome being that it will be sold to the highest bidder and transformed into luxury flats.

However, a spirited campaign called ‘Save Reading Gaol’ was launched to oppose such a sale, and has received the active support of Matt Rodda, the Labour MP for Reading East, and the backing of Alok Sharma, the Conservative MP for Reading West.

Mr Rodda recently met the prison minister Victoria Atkins, the Conservative MP for Louth and Horncastle , and Mr Sharma to discuss the prison sale process.

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A petition calling for the Ministry of Justice to approve a bid that would convert the prison for arts use has approximately 9,000 signatures, with campaigners pushing to get 10,000 in coming months.

Mr Rodda said: “I’m stepping up the campaign to save Reading Gaol.

“I hope we can reach 10,000 signatures on the petition to save the historic building and I am encouraging anyone who hasn’t yet signed it to sign.

“I hope this will show the strength of feeling locally and will encourage the Ministry of Justice to work with me, the Borough Council and other campaigners to help save the gaol.”

He added that he is working with local arts and community groups and Reading Borough Council  to develop an alternative proposal for the Gaol’s future.

The campaign received a boon in March last year when acclaimed street artist Banksy painted the ‘escaped prisoner’ on the exterior wall of the prison.

Reading Chronicle: The Banksy mural on the wall of Reading PrisonThe Banksy mural on the wall of Reading Prison

Mr Rodda said that he is also communicating with Banksy as part of the campaign.

Activists have argued Reading Gaol is an important national heritage site, as poet Oscar Wilde was imprisoned there for gross indecency with two other men from 1895 to 1897.

King Henry I is also thought to be buried nearby.

The ‘Save Reading Gaol’ petition states: “This wonderful site should stay open to the public, it is too important to be redeveloped as luxury flats.”

The petition can be signed online here.

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Activists were seen handing out physical copies of the petition in East Reading on Saturday, August 6.

The campaign also encourages people to write to their MP and the Ministry of Justice, and join the ‘Friends of Reading Gaol’ Facebook group.

It is understood the meeting between Mr Rodda and prison minister Mrs Atkins took place in early July.

Mrs Atkins has since been replaced in her position by Stuart Andrew, the Conservative MP for Pudsey.

Reading Chronicle | Town Centre