MP supports campaign to restore Brocks Barracks Keep

Alok Sharma, the Member of Parliament for Reading West, on Friday 25th October 2013, visited Open Hand Open Space at Brocks Barracks Keep.

Open Hand Open Space is an artist-led community charity group that occupies three floors of the Keep on the Oxford Road. It has been a tenant there for 30 years, providing affordable studio space for artists, as well as organising exhibitions, open-studios tours, and a range of other art education activities.

Alok was given a tour of the Brocks Barracks Keep, where he heard about the history of the barracks, which was established as a result of the 1868-74 Army reforms of the then Secretary of State for War, Edward Cardwell. Cardwell’s reforms were instrumental in modernising the British Army, which included the redistribution of barracks around the country to encourage local connections and assist recruitment. Cardwell also made the Army both more humane and meritocratic by abolishing flogging and the purchasing of commissions, whereby promotions had to be purchased by officers.

Brocks Barracks Keep, which is a Grade II listed building, is one of only ten surviving barracks from that period and very few remain open to the public and in near original condition. However the Barracks Keep, which is owned by Reading Borough Council, is in urgent need of major repair and is at risk of closing unless funding can be found to cover these costs.

During the visit, Alok was also given an advanced preview of the Giant Hand sculpture, which was Open Hand Open Space’s contribution to the ‘Constellation’ art trail, and which later that evening was illuminated and travelled along Oxford Road to Reading town centre. Ten venues in Reading contributed to this all night art trail on 25 October, which featured a wide range of artist disciplines, as part of the Whitley Arts Festival.

The Handstellation exhibition was a participatory collaboration which involved artists and visitors making their mark in the form of a hand, a hand print, or the outline or the impression of a hand.

Alok Sharma said: “I was delighted to visit the historic Brock Barracks Keep and to learn more about the Open Hand Open Space group. This is a fantastic initiative and I was impressed by many of the works of art on display.”

Alok continued: “It was very concerning to hear about the deterioration of the Keep and I will be raising this issue with Reading Borough Council and with ministers at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to find out what financial assistance can be made available to save this fantastic historical building.”

Ingrid Jensen, Chair of Open Hand Open Space said: “We are delighted to have Alok’s support to help save the Brocks Barracks Keep, which has been home to Open Hand Open Space for decades and is an extremely valuable resource for nurturing local artistic talent.”

Ingrid continued: “Even if suitable alternative space should come up for us to relocate, we feel strongly that the Keep should be preserved as a building with public access as part of Reading's heritage for future generations. It is an important landmark that gives a focus on Oxford Road, and is nationally important as a marker for Cardwell’s Army reforms.”

More information about Open Hand Open Space is available on the website:

Photo: Alok Sharma with artist Jenny Kiehn and Ingrid Jensen, Chair of Open Hand Open Space

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