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29 Nov 2011

Council to Submit Multi-Million Pound Lottery Bid For New Abbey Quarter

Reading Borough Council Press Release

Reading Borough Council is to submit an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund next week for £6.7m to create an Abbey Quarter for the town..

Reading's bid to the HLF will transform Reading 's historic heart, conserving and promoting this nationally significant heritage, to encourage more visitors and investment in the area. It will also create opportunities for people to participate and learn about their heritage whilst enjoying this hidden gem right in the town centre.

A new Abbey Quarter would pull together a number of important historic sites, buildings and structures. It would include conservation and stabilisation work to the Abbey Ruins, Abbey Gateway and other historic elements including St Laurence's Churchyard and wall, the 1943 air raid memorial, Reading war memorial, and Queen Victoria's statue.

There will be site-wide interpretation for the first time, giving people access to 1,000 years of heritage. This will be through information boards, mobile phone apps and photographs telling the history of the site, and maximising the appreciation and enjoyment of the Abbey Quarter's heritage through creative and learning opportunities.

Another aspiration behind the lottery bid is to transform the ground floor of Reading Museum to become the orientation point and learning hub for the Abbey Quarter and also for Reading 's history. This will provide in-depth information using traditional and digital inter-actives and have more Reading artefacts on display.

There would be learning opportunities for visitors of all ages through a programme of both school and life-long learning courses and increased opportunities for volunteering in all aspects of the heritage work. In addition, two apprenticeship posts would be created   one in traditional building skills and the other in heritage and museum skills.

There will also be viewing areas located around the site so people can observe specialists at work as the Abbey Quarter takes shape.

The proposals are estimated to cost around £7.5million. This includes an £850k contribution from Reading Borough Council that has already been identified, the majority of which has been secured from section 106 agreements:- contributions towards leisure and environmental improvements from new developments in the area.

The Council has been working on the proposals for a new Abbey Quarter for two years and an independent board, representing heritage groups, Reading Youth Cabinet, councillors and community representatives, was established to oversee the fundraising and conservation process for the Quarter. .

In April 2012, the Council will find out whether this first stage application has been successful and if the HLF will invite it to make a more detailed application for grant funding. If successful, work could start on site in the summer of 2013.

Councillor Marian Livingston, Chair of the Abbey Quarter Board, said: 'The Council and Abbey Quarter Board has put in a great deal of work behind this bid to the HLF to create a new Abbey Quarter for Reading, which, if the funding is approved, will provide fantastic cultural and learning opportunities for many people for years to come.

'The Abbey Ruins is an important historical site and we want to preserve that. People will be able to find out about progress of the creation of the quarter and be involved in a number of volunteering opportunities that will come up throughout the project. There will be many learning opportunities and it will attract a real visitor hub for people coming to the town.'

In November 2010, HLF announced it was increasing its allocation for major projects from £20million a year to £30million a year and reducing the match-funding applicants must raise for projects from 25% to 10%..

Reading Abbey is designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and is recognised both locally and nationally as an important and significant historical site, other official designations within the Quarter also include Grade I listings for Abbey Ruins, Abbey Gateway and St Laurence's church; Grade II* for Reading Town Hall, the archway tunnel connecting The Forbury Gardens to the Abbey Ruins and Simeon Monument; numerous Grade II buildings and structures. The Forbury Gardens is also a Registered Victorian public pleasure garden. The project is essential to preserve its legacy.

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