Alok Sharma, the Member of Parliament for Reading West, has attended the Reading Gaol Hug event which was held on Sunday 13 October.
Local community group Theatre and Arts Reading (TAR) have been campaigning since 2015 for the Reading Gaol site to become a cultural hub. TAR consists of a group of relevant parties from Reading’s arts and business communities, working together to develop resources that will enable more people to participate in and experience the theatre and arts.
Alok has been involved with TAR since 2016, when he attended the preview of the ‘Inside: artists and writers in Reading Prison’ international exhibition which has been inspired in part by the life and works of the prison’s most famous resident, Oscar Wilde. The major exhibition at Reading Gaol of new visual art and writing included a dramatisation of Oscar Wilde’s trial, contributions from a huge number of other artists, and writers and lectures on the author’s life.
Alok was delighted to have played a part, along 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 MoJ to request that they grant permission for this exhibition to take place and also championed the idea in discussions with the former Justice Secretary.
In 2018, Alok assisted TAR in gaining access to Reading Gaol for a feasibility study to assess the suitability of the site as an arts hub, writing to the MoJ to again raise TAR’s case with them.
Earlier this year, Alok organised a meeting between then Minister of State for Prisons and Probation, Robert Buckland MP, and representatives from TAR, Hilary Scott and Melvin Benn, to further raise their case with the MoJ.
In October, the MoJ put the Reading Gaol site up for sale. Alok will now continue to work alongside TAR and Reading Borough Council to support their bid to secure the future of Reading Gaol as a cultural hub, promoting the work they do to enrich the arts and culture in Reading.
Alok spoke to large crowds at the Reading Gaol Hug event, informing them that he would give his full support to local community group TAR and Reading Borough Council in their bid for the prison site. Alok was invited to discuss the positive contribution that the Gaol as an arts and cultural hub would make to Reading and what he envisages the next steps to be. The 1,000 strong group of campaigners were asked to surround the walls, partaking in a giant hug gesture.
Alok Sharma said: “I was delighted to attend the Reading Gaol Hug, which was a fantastic event showcasing the widespread support in Reading for securing Reading Gaol’s future as a cultural hub. I will continue to work with TAR and Reading Borough Council to ensure that the Reading bid submitted to the Ministry of Justice has the best chance of success.”
Photo 1: Alok Sharma at Reading Gaol Hug event.
Photo 2 (L-R): Janet Lake, Ian Lowry, Alok Sharma MP, Gill Tunley, Victoria Nickless, Marie Mason.
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