Reading Borough Council, the University of Reading and Reading UK CIC welcomed a group from the Heritage Lottery Fund to Reading for their away day. The focus of the first half of the day was their new Great Place scheme is the first time they have run the scheme, which is partnered by the Arts Council England and Historic England. The aims of the project are:

The Great Place scheme will enable cultural and heritage organisations to make a step-change in how they work together, and with other organisations in other sectors, in order that arts, culture and heritage contribute more to meeting local social and economic objectives.’

Reading was successful in it’s application to the scheme and has been awarded £558,471. This is for a three year project with the following five key strands:

  1. A new Delivery Board – effectively a revamped Cultural Partnership providing strategic drive and creating effective sub-groups for delivery;
  2. Research and Evaluation – identifying best practice, researching local needs and ongoing evaluation to inform the iterative development of new initiatives and interventions.
  3. Cultural Outreach and Commissioning – linking to the research strand above, connecting cultural organisations and partners such as public health, adult social care and education to create a platform for mainstream commissioning of cultural activities to deliver on key social outcomes;
  4. A new ‘Reading-on-Thames’ Festival – celebrating Reading’s identity and providing a platform for cultural excellence, engagement of local cultural organisations and widely accessible for local people (N.B the Great Place Scheme will provide funding to support this new festival for 3 years from 2018 but it will be piloted in September 2017 with the support of a separate grant approval by ACE to Reading UK CIC);
  5. Economic Development and Business Engagement – build from the strong support from the business community for the Year of Culture 2016 and embed culture and heritage in economic development and business strategies.

After being presented with our plans for the Great Place scheme we took the group on a short tour of Reading. We started in Forbury Gardens, with its glimpses of Reading Abbey, the Abbey Gateway and Reading prison.

We told the group about the Heritage Lottery funding that is supporting the Reading Abbey Revealed project (find out more here ), the plans to locate the burial place of Henry I and I shared my ambition for the prison site. We then walked over Reading Bridge and admired views up and down the Thames then a trip over Christchurch Bridge back into the town.

As this point, I left the group but after lunch, they had a choice of a tour of the Abbey Ruins or a trip to the Museum of English Rural Life which, in partnership with reading Museum, is now an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation. I hope today’s visit gave them the opportunity to discover what an exciting, historic and vibrant town Reading is.

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