In this week’s column, Jason Brock, the leader of Reading Borough Council, hails the council’s successful bid for government funding to improve the “cherished” Hexagon Theatre and create a new Central Library. Councillor Brock writes:
Incredible news for Reading last week when it was announced the Council has been awarded funding to breathe new life into the town’s much cherished, if a little dated, Hexagon Theatre. An amazing 45th birthday present for the Hex if ever there was one.
Putting aside all the good memories I’m sure you have of watching shows at the Hexagon, and as wonderful a venue as it is, there is little doubt it lacks the intimacy a smaller venue can bring to theatre. By extending the right-hand side of the building and adding a new surface level entrance from Queen’s Walk, we plan to build a new, fully accessible space for performances, adding another valuable layer to what the Hexagon already offers in terms of big name shows.
Importantly, this would be a multi-function space for the local community that can accommodate a wide variety of uses.
When designing the Council’s bid for the Levelling Up Fund process, community benefit was key.
The development also supercharges our broader plans for redevelopment of the Minster Quarter, where we are working towards bringing in a development partner for an area of the town centre that offers massive potential to deliver new homes, including affordable homes, and employment opportunities through investment.
Our successful bid last week has just made it an even more attractive proposition.
We are determined to make this part of our town a major destination once again, just as it was when it was originally built in the 1970s.
The second part of our successful bid involves building a modern new library at the site of the current Civic Offices, incorporating it into the existing building on the left-hand side (as you look from Bridge Street).
Libraries have evolved over the years to become much more than a place where you can hire books. We’ll build a space which looks to the future, where residents can take advantage of our digital and learning offer. Once again, then, an open and multi-purpose space for the local community.
Reading’s new Central Library would replace the existing one on the Kings Road. Again, well-used and understandably loved, but a dated building set across several floors which makes ensuring accessibility for all members of our community difficult without significant investment.
Following the news of the Council’s successful bid last week, I’ve seen a few throwaway comments from people saying the money should be spent on more important things, like rough sleepers or affordable housing for example. I have sympathy with those arguments, to be honest – and the Government’s process of allocating funding via competitive bidding processes is patently absurd – but the funding requirements prevent us from doing so. You cannot just spend that money on something else, even if you might think it’s a better thing to do.
I’m also proud to say that the support the Council already provides to rough sleepers in Reading is more than in most local authority areas, and I’m similarly proud that we continue to deliver Reading’s biggest council house building programme in a generation (which has recently grown in scale).
The overarching aim of the Levelling Up Fund was to create more opportunities for people in less well-off areas. Regular readers of this column will already know that mine and the Council’s priority is to do everything we can to ensure that every single resident – whatever their circumstances or background – can share in our town’s success. Our latest successful bid for funding will allow us to breathe new life into our cultural and learning offer for Reading residents. Exciting times.