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Reading is a town where it feels as if something big is just around the corner.

Local Engagement Specialist

It’s the people that I love most about the town, and the little secret pockets of resistance to the concrete chains and multinationals that reside here.

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Local Knowledge

Reading local engagement specialist
Personal insight from our local engagement specialist in Reading, Danielle
What do you love about where you live?

Reading is a town where it feels as if something big is just around the corner. There are always new being created, and although they rarely take off and become established, they create a perpetual sense of expectation, anticipation and excitement.

Reading audiences can be difficult to access, but those that do love theatre and performance really love theatre and performance, and really value the programmes that are brought and created in Reading and will support everything that happens.

Reading is a commuter town and has a transient community at first glance but there is a beating heart to Reading of proud locals, and they are calling out for quality performance and events in the town. It’s the people that I love most about the town, and the little secret pockets of resistance to the concrete chains and multinationals that reside here. South Street Arts Centre is a perfect example of that, bringing exemplary contemporary theatre to the town, but little known by the town’s non-theatre goers.

Each surrounding area has a very different feel, like boroughs, that were individual villages and have been engulfed by Reading over the decades as it spreads. Each area has its own identity, but all is overshadowed by the town centre.

In your opinion, what is the most useful piece of information that someone who is coming to your town should know?

As an artist coming to Reading looking for audiences, it’s important to know that they can be extremely difficult to pin down. There are many networks and communities in Reading but very few central organisations, producers or umbrella organisations tasked with collating and presenting the information – so it can be hard to find out who the groups are and how to access them. The arts community in Reading is fairly small and very strong however, and everyone knows each other, so once you find someone to ask in that network, you’ll discover a huge group of people and find your audience.

What are people in town talking about at the moment?

Traffic is an never ending topic of conversation in Reading, it is a significant problem. The development of a the high speed link into the City of London, Cross Rail is driving up house prices that have both negative and positive effects, and is often talked about.

Reading Arts organisations got together in 2016 to create a Year of Culture which was followed by the Reading-on-Thames Festival held in September 2017 which involved several local arts groups.  There was a fantastic outdoor rendition of King Henry I by local professional group, Reading Between the Lines, which was held at the Oracle Riverside and even the pouring rain didn’t spoil our enjoyment.  Also Sitelines (regular suppliers of ‘theatre in unusual places’), put on ‘Playground Victories’ in Broad Street as part of the Festival.  There was also a magical multi-sensory River Stories held at Caversham Court Gardens by Walk the Plank, that involved lights, music, fire and pyrotechnics.

Austerity and the effects on local community are the talk of the voluntary and third sectors: increases in homelessness, cuts to services, and a huge cut in funding to the council is leading controversial decisions and closures of swimming pools, libraries and children’s centres.

Exciting developments are that Reading Abbey will be re-opening to visitors in the Summer of 2018.  They are hoping to find where Henry I is buried so maybe we can compete with Richard III but maybe this time Henry won’t be under a car park!

Thames Lido is the result of a sensitive 3-year restoration of disused King’s Meadow swimming pool.  It is about to open to offer food, swimming and a spa.  There are also exciting developments around the station area of Reading with a new events space at Station Hill including a coffee shop called The Biscuit Tin.

What’s the story that is not featured in the papers this week, but that someone who is visiting should know about?

Reading Borough Council have been awarded funding under the Great Places Scheme so there will be lots more interesting developments coming up over the next 3 years and South Street Arts Centre has just recently undergone a renovation. There is a new Cultural Education Partnership and a growing Reading Dance Professional’s Network.

What is the architecture of the buildings like?

Reading is famous for the three B’s.
Biscuits (Huntley & Palmer), Bulbs (Sutton Seeds) and Beer (Breweries).  There are still some beautiful buildings that reflect the past history and industry of the town dating back to King Henry the first. The outlying areas are Georgian and Victorian Terraces.

We have council estates, but increasingly the town in covered is high rise blocks of flats. The Hexagon Theatre is a Brutalist concrete building. The IDR Inner Distribution Road slices up the centre of town

What are the residents of your town most proud of?

There are two sides to Reading, the shopping and consumer culture, and the counter culture and arts scene. Different communties have different areas of pride. The Oracle, a huge central shopping centre is visited by thousands of people a week, from the surrounding areas. Many are very proud of our new Ikea.

Others would be proud of centres like RISC – a radical left wing global education organisation that hosts a fairtrade shop, alternative music venue selling local ales, and providing community meeting space for activists and social change groups. Reading University is one of the top in the UK and the student community is large, although sometimes isolated up on campus. Students will most often be found in Reading’s town centre music venues, where there is a thriving music scene, with many live music nights.

Reading’s football team who are in and out of the premiership, and their stadium is a source of great pride for many. Kate Winslet and Ricky Gervais are much adored celebrities from Reading. The earliest score of music is recorded on the walls of Reading Abbey, which is currently undergoing restoration and they are currently searching for the remains of Henry I underneath.

What do most people do here for fun?

Shop, without a doubt – it’s taken over our clone town centre. Most people love it, a few people hate it. Sport, running, Reading half marathon. There are lots of clubs in Reading and over 100 local dance schools. There is an amazing outdoor learning organisation called Nature Nurture who organise family events in local green spaces.

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