THE CAMPAIGN to save Reading Gaol and turn it into an arts centre has received a boost after the chair of a parliamentary select committee has given his backing.
Julian Knight MP, who chairs the Culture, Media and Sport select Committee, has written to Prisons Minister about Reading Gaol’s future.
In his letter, he urges the minister for prisons Lucy Frazer asking her to reconsider the historic gaol’s future.
Before the pandemic, the justice department had expressed a desire to sell the site to the highest bidder, despite strong local backing to turn it into a community resource.
Both Reading East MP Matt Rodda and Reading West MP Alok Sharma have been pushing for the site, which once housed playwright Oscar Wilde as an inmate, to be kept for the benefit of those who live and work in the greater Reading area.
The gaol has been unused since 2013, and was put up for sale by the Ministry of Justice in October last year, with a preferred bidder found in April.
A bid by Reading Borough Council was rejected, despite more than 8,000 people signing a petition launched by Mr Rodda calling on the government to turn the Grade II listed building into an arts and heritage site and a well-attended hug around the gaol’s grounds last year.
Mr Knight wrote: “(The gaol has) historical and cultural significance cannot be understated, and the people and institutions in support of the gaol are not limited to those in the UK: recognition of the gaol’s importance has also been given by the Irish government; and the building itself is grade-II listed. It is clear that Reading Gaol, with its heritage significance, ought to not only be preserved but also continue to be accessible to the public.”
He added: “Britain has a proud tradition of preserving heritage sites and ensuring they can be explored and enjoyed; and many cultural or heritage sites are also assets which draw tourists to their local communities, generating and driving local tourist spend.
“At a time when much of the tourism industry is suffering due to the coronavirus pandemic, this opportunity takes on an even greater significance.”
Mr Rodda was delighted to have an additional voice cheerleading for the gaol.
“The campaign to save Reading Gaol continues,” he said.
“We have gained the support of Julian Knight MP, the Chair of the powerful Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.
“Julian has written tothe minister for prisons to ask her to consider ways that the Gaol can be preserved for public use and reiterated the significance of the Gaol and its heritage to our community.”