Reading Black Community
It’s hard to walk or drive through Reading town centre without noticing that black history mural. It’s a strong symbol of the black community, our history and our contribution to this town.
Last week, we sat in a community meeting and listened to passionate speeches about the mural and Central Club. Black people, young and old, spoke of the historical importance of the site and their desire for a cultural home. We had expected an emotive meeting, and last Friday did not disappoint. We wanted to take this opportunity to make it clear where we stand on the old Central Youth Provision and the black history mural.
That mural makes us proud. Those images embody our shared history, our inspiration, and yet also, our losses but the mural is weather-beaten and suffering and we must put measures in place to protect it. We are willing to fight against any plans to demolish or damage the mural. The Labour Council has made it clear that the mural is a first priority whatever happens to the building, we will ensure it is preserved for future generations.
The Central Club has served many purposes in the past, from a tram station to police garage, and most recently, a youth provision. Since it closed, numerous attempts have been made by members of the community, business owners, voluntary organisations and Councillors to regenerate the site. The significant issue being that, with the building derelict for so long, estimates of bringing the building back into use range from £200,000 – £600,000 and likely not the former. Any developer will tell you that redeveloping brownfield sites often has additional hidden costs.
The Council is also facing an uncertain financial future, the Tory Government is cutting some £47m in grant to Reading Borough Council, so selling off assets is one of the few ways the council can help maintain crucial, life altering services for Reading residents. It would be irresponsible for us to support a handover of the site, which did not involve a sale for the benefit of local services.
We share the view that black people deserve a place to call our own but let’s have some perspective on the issue. The MAPP Centre is up the road on Silver Street, with the Apollo project providing educational support to young black people, whilst ACRE is five minutes away at the IDR roundabout. Carnival took place for the first time in years, an event which we were both involved in at various points and many Caribbean groups in Reading have received funding from the Council over the years.
Countless ideas have been proposed for Central over the years. Theatre, arts centre, community provision, youth service, bar, restaurant, housing and even a radio station. Others have proposed finding another site entirely with better facilities and fewer start up costs. Whatever the answer may be, we are willing to work with members of our community. We are also conscious of the following…
Any spiritual home for the black community deserves the investment of time and resources from the black community. If we can commit to that as a people, we can work together to build a home that we are proud of.
|Councillor Sophia James||Councillor Glenn Dennis
Deputy Mayor of Reading