Alok Sharma, the Member of Parliament for Reading West, has organised and attended a meeting with Robert Buckland QC MP, Minister of State for Prisons and Probation, to discuss the future of Reading Gaol as a cultural hub, together with representatives of Theatre and Arts Reading (TAR).
In September 2016, Alok attended the preview of the ‘Inside: artists and writers in Reading Prison’ exhibition which had been inspired in part by the life and works of the prison’s most famous resident, Oscar Wilde. This was a major international exhibition at Reading Gaol of new visual art and writing, including a dramatisation of Oscar Wilde’s trial, lectures on the author’s life and legacy, and contributions from a huge number of other artists and writers.
It was extremely fitting that the Gaol had been opened for this purpose in Reading’s Year of Culture and Alok was delighted to have played a part, with other advocates of the arts in Reading, in helping to persuade the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to open its doors to allow this exhibition to take place. Alok wrote to the Ministry of Justice requesting them to grant permission for this exhibition and also championed the idea in discussions with the former Justice Secretary.
In 2016, Alok also organised an ‘Arts Summit’ in Parliament to bring together representatives of many of the key players in the area which want to help develop and deliver a long-term vision and programme for the arts in the Reading area. This was the first time that such a meeting had been organised.
Alok is supporting Theatre and Arts Reading (TAR) in their plans to develop Reading Gaol into a culture and arts hub. TAR is a group of interested parties from Reading’s arts and business communities, working together to develop the resources that will enable more people to have the opportunity to experience and participate in theatre and arts.
Last year Alok assisted TAR gain access to Reading Gaol for a feasibility study, by raising the matter with the MoJ to champion TAR’s case.
Alok organised this week’s meeting with the Prisons Minister to give TAR’s Chairman Melvin Benn and Executive Secretary Hilary Scott the opportunity to discuss their plans for Reading Gaol further.
Alok Sharma said: “I would like to thank the Minister for taking the time to meet with me, Melvin and Hilary, and wish TAR the best of luck with their bid to secure the Reading Gaol site as a cultural hub.”
Hilary Scott said: “It was a very useful meeting with Prisons Minister Robert Buckland MP where we got to explain TAR’s vision for Reading Gaol as a cultural hub, and we look forward to hearing from the Ministry of Justice about the next steps for the site.”
Photo (from left to right): Alok Sharma MP, TAR Executive Secretary Hilary Scott, TAR Chairman Melvin Benn, Prisons Minister Robert Buckland QC MP