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West Reading Great Get Together - a big thank you

Our  West Reading Great Get Together is over and it was a wonderful event.  People from all over Reading came along and had fun in the sun. ...

17 Aug 2017

From A Levels to talking culture with the Vice-Chancellor

It's A level results day and I still remember getting my results.  They were handed out in sealed envelopes so you had the added stress of having to open the envelope to find out what they were.  It felt like the rest of my life was in that envelope - of course it wasn't and many things in the years since have had nothing to do with those slips of paper.

One thing that those results did influence was my relationship with the University of Reading.  I got the results I needed to accept my first choice course but, being contrary, I decided I wanted to accept my second choice and I graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Rural Environmental Science in 2000.

Yesterday I returned to my former university to meet with Vice-Chancellor Sir David Bell.  We were meeting to discuss the future of art and culture in the town.

I believe a close relationship with our university in very important to the future success of Reading.  It's a major employer and brings thousands of students into the town, many of whom stay and settle in Reading adding to the town's economy.

During our meeting it became apparent that Sir David Bell and I have similar ambitions for the town's cultural scene.  We both recognise that we are entering a very exciting period in the town's cultural development and acknowledge how hard our cultural groups, musicians and artists have worked over the past few years to make this happen.

The University has Reading International in progress and has recently opened the institute of Heritage and Creativity.  Town and gown have also worked together to gain joint National Portfolio Organisation status for the University's Museum of English Rural Life and Reading Museum.  I look forward to the university and council working together for many years to come.

Sir David Bell asked me what my main aims were for culture in the town and initially it's solving the communication problems we have.  Creating a single website that lists all that's going on is much needed as is the promotion of our Made In Reading offering in local restaurants, bars and, importantly, hotels.

We also had a quick chat about how we'd like to see the Reading Prison site developed.  Personally I'm keen to see the site used to enhance the town's historical and cultural offering.  The prison is a grade one listed building next to Reading abbey, which is a scheduled ancient monument, and the Green Flag winning Forbury Gardens.  Although I recognise a need for housing, and most importantly affordable housing, but I do no think the prison site is the right place for it.

When it comes to art and culture in Reading I am confident our relationship with the University will be a productive one and, together, we will achieve more than we ever could alone.

16 Aug 2017

Green flags flying across the town

Today I received the news that two of Reading's most beautiful and historically important parks had been awarded Green Flag and Green heritage Site awards.

Forbury Gardens and Caversham Court Gardens have once again been awarded Green Flag status.  This just confirms what I already knew and that is these parks are wonderful additions to the town.

I've known both of them for a very long time. I remember drawing the holly tree in Forbury Gardens during a primary school trip and, when I got married at Reading Town Hall, we had our wedding pictures in it's beautiful surroundings.

I have memories of Caversham Court from when I was little as my grandparents lived in Caversham but my favourite memories are more recent.  I visited several times as mayor and even had a go at Morris Dancing! I also spent a wonderful warm evening with friends watching Progress Theatre's A Midsummer Night's Dream last year.

Both these park are free to enter and enjoy all year round, which I think is very important.  You can have a stroll, enjoy a picnic, relax and enjoy some much needed fresh air.  Our parks benefit both body and mind and should be treasured.

Reading Borough Council Press release:

Green Flag Award recognition for two of Reading’s most popular green spaces 

TWO of Reading’s most popular open spaces have been recognised as among the best in the country after receiving Green Flag and Green Heritage Site awards.

Once again, Forbury Gardens and Caversham Court Gardens have both received Green Heritage Site awards, which is awarded for parks which have conserved their historical features to a high standard and maintain their historic character and appearance. Green Heritage Site awards are made to sites that have particular local or national historic interest.
To be recognised with a Green Flag award, parks or open spaces have to demonstrate not only that standard is maintained but that continuous improvements are being achieved.

Cllr Sarah Hacker, Lead Member for Culture, Sport and Consumer Services, said:
“I am delighted that yet again, two of our most popular open spaces have been recognised by Green Flag. It is a clear reflection of the hard work put in by both the Council and from voluntary organisations throughout the year to keep these parks in such good condition.
I would like to extend my congratulations to all of those involved in the maintenance of these open spaces for their achievement.”

The Green Flag is recognition of excellence in six important areas: high-quality horticulture, cleanliness, sustainable practices, being welcoming, being safe, and encouraging community involvement.

15 Aug 2017

Art for more than arts sake.

Some people see art as some thing to be admired, a painting on a wall or sculpture in a park but it does so much more than look pretty.  Today I visited a group of young adults improving their art skills and receiving information about underage drinking.

Reading's Community Alcohol Partnership and Diverted U18 have been running a series of manga workshops over the summer both on Facebook (here) and in group classes like the one I attended today.

 Local manga artist Stephanie O'Brien has been running workshops that teach young people how to draw in the distinctive manga style while producing short comic stories on the dangers of underage drinking. 

This is a great example of using art and creativity to engage young people and change their lives for the better.

Here's the Reading Borough Council press release from when the activity was launched:

 A MANGA drawing project aimed at raising alcohol awareness for 13-17 year-olds is launching this summer.
The project, which was previously held during the Christmas and Easter school holidays, hopes to raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol consumption through art-based activities for young people throughout the summer period.

As before, the project, which is organised by Reading Borough Council’s Community Alcohol Partnership Officer, will be run by artist Stephanie O’Brien. She will be on hand throughout to help young people to create their own manga-style artwork with focus on the theme of alcohol awareness. Those taking part will have created their own manga-style comic book strip by the end of the project.
There will also be regular drop in sessions available for those involved in the project to go along if they wish to and get guidance for their art projects from Stephanie. A Facebook group – ‘Diverted U18’ – run by Stephanie, will also be offering daily updates on the project, guidance, and other competitions for the young project members.

Reading’s Lead Councillor for Culture, Sport and Consumer Services, Councillor Sarah Hacker said:
“This exciting diversionary project is a great opportunity to raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol abuse and to promote the responsible use of alcohol to young people in a creative and engaging way. It is something creative that they can do with friends as well to keep busy during the summer. This is a great example of how art can be used to improve someone’s well-being”

Reading’s Lead Councillor for Health, Councillor Graeme Hoskin said:
“Young people are especially susceptible to the damage caused by alcohol abuse. I hope that this fun diversionary activity will go some way to educate young people through something creative. It’s also a great way to keep young people engaged during the long summer period as well as to spread key health and well-being messages.”

27 Jun 2017

An outstanding day for art and culture in Reading

I knew today was the day we'd find out if Reading Museum and the Museum of English Rural Life had been awarded joint National Portfolio status by Arts Council England.  I was in London on union business when I received the news and was delighted to see they had been successful. 

Once I got home I had a look on the Arts Council website and was even more delighted when I saw Readipop and Culture Mix Arts on the list! Between them they will receive over £1.7 million in funding during the four years of their National Portfolio Status. Add to this our recent success with the Great Place Scheme (more info here) this is incredible news for Reading.

There is a blog from Arts Council Chief Executive Darren Henley.  You can read it in full here but here is an excerpt:

'Today, we announced our new National Portfolio for 2018-22 - a fresh, ambitious and wide-ranging group of organisations that we believe will bring new energy to the arts and cultural sector, while reaching more people in more places than ever before.

In all, 831 organisations will receive a total of £1.6 billion over four years for 844 projects. Importantly, we’ll be investing £170 million more outside London and there will be significantly increased investment in places like Reading, Bradford, Plymouth, Northumberland and Stoke.'

As lead councillor for Culture, Sport and Consumer Services I couldn't be more pleased and, having been chair of the Art and Heritage Forum and a supporter of the arts for many years, I think it well deserved by all those awarded with National Portfolio status today.

I hope this encourages those organisations who weren't awarded the status this time and those who may apply for the next round of awards. Reading really is the place to watch!

Discover more here: http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/NPO

18 Jun 2017

West Reading Great Get Together - a big thank you

Our  West Reading Great Get Together is over and it was a wonderful event.  People from all over Reading came along and had fun in the sun.  A big thank you to 103rd Oxford Road Scouts for their BBQ, Eddie Winship for his music and PA, Jasmine for helping me with the paperwork and organising the leaflet gazebo and Clare for getting our posters up along the Oxford Road.

Matt Rodda, the new Labour MP for Reading East also popped in as well as our local PCSO's and friends from the Art & Heritage Forum who couldn't stay for the whole event.

Here are a few pictures from the day: