1 Aug 2016

Reading a Top 20 UK Destination? Why not?

I have a sharp ear for Reading being mentioned on TV.  We've had entries for Robot Wars two weeks in a row now!  On The One Show this evening it was mentioned that Reading was in the top 20 UK holiday destinations.  The presenters were a bit surprised although Alex Jones said it is a nice town.

I tweeted this gem and the (friendly) cynics responded. Surely Reading isn't a destination town?  Well I think it is and here's why:

Christchurch Bridge
The Thames and Kennet - our beautiful, somewhat under utilised, rivers.  We have lovely Thameside open spaces like Caversham Court Gardens and Christchurch Meadows (complete with paddling pool, beautiful Christchurch bridge and, next year, a Lido/spa!).  You can take a cruise to Mapledurham House, the likely inspiration for Toad Hall. The Kennet runs through The Oracle shopping centre filled with shops (no surprise there) and restaurants.
Caversham Court Gardens with Progress Theatre production
 Theatre - we have The Hexagon which puts on dance, music, comedy and theatre as well as the very popular pantomime.  We have the gem that is South Street, currently undergoing an upgrade but will reopen better than before.  It will be able to build on it's impressive programme of more alternative acts and it's well respected comedy festival.  We have Progress Theatre (with Reading boy Kenneth Branagh as patron!) who have a year round series of productions and the very popular outdoor shows in the summer.  I finally made it to one this year and A Midsummer Night's Dream was brilliant.  In November Reading Between The Lines will premier their dramatisation of Henry I.  I saw the preview and it will certainly be something worth watching. We also have Reading Rep and the joy that is Reading Fringe Festival.

Awful photo but I'm of the age where I sit near the back in a chair.
Music and Festivals - well the first entry requires little research.  It is of course the Reading Festival held (partly) in my very own Battle Ward. This is an internationally renowned music festival pulling in some of the biggest names in the world!  For the rest of the year we have The Purple Turtle, Sub 89, the Readipop Festival and brilliant home grown bands.

Reading has an ever growing Pride event - one of the last free Prides in the country.  This family friendly event takes place on the first Saturday of September - 3 September this year.

Moving away from guitar based music we are lucky to have CultureMix who perform throughout the year and will shortly be at Arena - Carnival of the World.  We also have Reading Symphony Orchestra, Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra, Reading Operatic Society, the Phoenix Choir and the Sainsbury Singers who put on concerts and musicals all year round.

Carnival and World Music - as well as Carnival of the World coming up in a few weeks, recently we had a samba parade through town accompanied by BeatRoots.  We have, until recently, had the West Reading Carnival which I hope will soon be back on the Oxford Road soon.

The Rising Sun Arts Centre (designed by Waterhouse - the same chap who did the Natural History Museum) has a huge variety of music, dance and performance from around the world and recently was awarded a Queen's Award for Voluntary Service.  Just down the road is RISC, also offering a wider world view and home to the awesome Tutu's Ethiopian Table (and moving cleverly onto food).

Our Eat Reading lunch - German, Ethiopian and a burger from Mal!
Food and drink - well you certainly won't go hungry in Reading.  We have your usual chain restaurants but also some very good independents.  There's no way I could compete with the excellent Edible Reading so just take a look at their blog.  This summer we had the Eat Reading food festival and the, now annual, Reading Chilli Festival - the hot wing challenge was a joy to behold.

We have a wide variety of cafes like Picnic and the gluten free Nibsy's and also a fair few pubs. Check out Reading CAMRA, although there are many others both in the town centre and around.  Historically the town was world famous for beer, biscuits and bulbs (don't eat the bulbs).

History - Sir John Betjeman said 'No town in the South of England hides its attractions more successfully from the visitor' and for that I'm sorry and we'll stop it now.  Reading is an ancient town.  It was mentioned in the recent drama The Last Kingdom charting the reign of Alfred the Great and his Dane friend Uhtred.  History tells of a Battle against the Danes in Reading.

Over the years it flourished, being famous for its wool trade among other things.  The town's crest includes two rams in reference to this part of the town's history. Read more here.  But what can you visit?

Reading Abbey and Prison
 Most famous at the moment in Reading Abbey, founded in 1121 by Henry I as his final resting place.  Reading Abbey Revealed  is restoring the Abbey so it can be visited again and the wider Reading Abbey Quarter will see the abbey placed in the wider context of the town.  There is also the Hidden Abbey Project which, using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) is hoping to discover the extent of the buried Abbey and event the High Alter where Henry I was buried (no - they're not going to dig him up). You can occasionally take a tour of the Abbey but it will be fully reopened by 2018.

The Abbey Gateway
The Abbey Quarter also takes in the gateway, were Jane Austen went to school.  We also have Reading Prison which, this autumn, will be home to Art Angel and world renowned artists. It's most famous inmate was Oscar Wilde which inspired the Ballad of Reading Gaol.

Reading Museum is a lovely museum and home to Britain's Bayeux Tapestry.   It also has the Silchester Gallery which holds finds from the nearby Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum as well as galleries on natural history and, of course, Reading.

In October the University of Reading's Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) re-opens.  The university also has the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology and the Cole Museum of Zoology as well as an award winning 'green' Whiteknights campus and the London Road campus with it's beautiful cloister.

We have a rather impressive collection of blue plaques including William Henry Fox Talbot! Famous names from the town include the aforementioned Kenneth Branagh (we went to the same secondary school, at different times I'll add), Kate Winslett, Marianne Faithful, Mike Oldfield and, of course, Ricky Gervais who made a film based on his life in Reading and named it after our very own Cemetery Junction!  Bugsy Malone has scenes filmed here. There's a long list of notable types from Reading here.

Art and Culture - we are lucky to have a thriving arts scene in Reading.  It's well worth looking up Jelly, OpenHand OpenSpace, The Whiteknights Studio Trail, Caversham Arts Trail, and Reading Arts Week.  New to the town is the Art Scope Gallery and if you are looking for something with a bit more history, Reading Museum has a very impressive collection!

                                                                          2016 is also Reading's Year of Culture.  We may be over half-way through but there's still loads to see and do. There are regular festivals and celebrations held by Reading's diverse community.  Highlights this year include Chinese New Year and and at the very end of last year, The Winter Giant.

And finally shopping - During my travels around the UK I've visited many a shopping centre.  I may be biased but few match Reading.  For a start the main shopping street, Broad Street is pedestrianised.  I'm always surprised when the main shopping street isn't.  We have two shopping malls, The Oracle and the Broad Street Mall, both in the town centre ensuring trade doesn't vanish out-of-town. We have a nice bit of architecture if you glance above the modern shop fronts and you can still find some independent gems in places like the Harris Arcade.

So as you can see there's lots to do in Reading.  You could easily fill a weekend and there are plenty of places nearby to stay.  We have a spanking new station and you can be in London in 25 minutes.  We are close to Heathrow and the M4, with park and ride schemes and the best bus company in the UK - Reading Buses. Oh, and we've just got an Ikea which we're very excited about.

This list is by no means exhaustive.  Follow Alt Reading and Get Reading to keep up to date.

Disclosure: I was Mayor of Reading 2015/2016 and patron of the year of Culture and Reading Pride so I am biased.

29 Jun 2016

July councillors surgery change!

We're at the Oxford Road Fun Day on Saturday 2 July from 12 to 4 so we won't be holding our usual surgery at Battle library on the same morning. The fun day is a great event so please come along and say hello!

7 Jun 2016

Imagine: a future without creativity

I've just got back from the launch of Imagine at the University of Reading (more info here).  It is a fundraising campaign with the ambition to raise £150 million to enable the university to make a real-world impact with the research it does.

Part of the launch was a debate on this topic:

To dream and imagine: the impact of our research in the coming 90 years.

The panel contained experts in cellular and molecular neuroscience, integrative neuroscience and neuro dynamics,  film, theatre and television, leadership and leadership and organisational behaviour and meteorology.  At first glance they don't seem to have much in common but there was one theme that they all shared, the importance of creativity and imagination in research.

We were only discussing how important creativity was in the workplace in the Cultural Education Partnership meeting yesterday. One of the aims of the partnership is to increase the number of young people with qualifications preparing them for work in the  creative industries.  We started talking about what the creative industries are and I mentioned that creativity is important in many careers, not just those in the arts. This evenings panel discussion qualified my remark and all panellists agreed that creative thinking, and imagination, are vital when it come to designing experiments, theories and pushing our understanding of the world.

I mentioned in my farewell speech as mayor that I felt the arts were being pushed out of the school curriculum in favour of more academic subjects. Don't get me wrong, a good solid foundation  in maths, English and science are important but we must not stifle creativity. Creative thinking should be encouraged alongside these subjects and art and heritage are great ways to encourage a creative thought process.

I hope the work of the Cultural Education Partnership helps fill the gap in our children's education because, without creativity, we are limiting the scientists, experts and academics of the future.

You van read more about the Cultural Education Partnership here.

25 May 2016

My retiring Mayor's speech

Mr Mayor, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen.

What an amazing year it's been. I've met celebrities and royalty, travelled to Düsseldorf and gone to balls and dinners. I opened and named Christchurch bridge, one of my new favourite things and cut numerous ribbons.  Ive been spotted in Lidl and at bus stops. I went to my first classical music concert as Deputy Mayor and bought my first original pieces of art. I nominated Jelly, The Rising Sun Arts centre, Progress Theatre and Reading Fringe for Queens Awards for Voluntary Service. I've experienced the huge relief of The Force Awakens being very good. I have also, literally, had a ball.

I've been to over 300 events and raised at least £15,000, with more to come, for my charities Babies in Buscot and Fibromyalgia UK.
All this has been wonderful but the greatest part of my year, and the thing I'll miss the most, is meeting you, the residents of Reading.

You've got me dancing, morris, Nepalese, clog, Bengali and good old fashioned disco bopping. I've heard your stories over a piece of cake, learned about your passions and how committed you are to the hundreds of groups,  charities and projects we have in the town.

I've learned about Reading’s history, about our twinned towns of Düsseldorf,  Speightstown, Clonmel and San Francisco Libre and their great groups in Reading. I've discovered what you want for the future and what you need right now.

Youve also supoorted me during my year. I need to thank, although not the full list:

University of Reading, especially  Henley Business School and Dr Daniel Gozman who's students helped local Reading charities and also raised £230 for my charities.

The Broad Street Mall for letting us collect money and put up a stall selling my christmas cards.

Jelly and Suzanne Stallard who have supported my design a Christmas Decoration competition,  and ball among many other things.

Matthew Foster, Richard Bentley  and the Rising Sun Arts centre for putting on Float that raised £200 for my charities.

And of course I need to thank the representatives from my charities Babies in Buscot and  Reading Fibromyalgia support group who've collected money in buckets, manned stalls and helped arrange events.

I owe huge thanks to the Reading Borough Council team who support the mayor. Kirsty who had organised my diary, meetings and events and made sure I knew where I was going, who I was seeing and what I was doing. Lucy, Sian and Debbie who planned and organised events and ensured they ran smoothly and Craig, Kit and Chris who helped me get to where I was going.

My greatest thanks have to go to my family. Without their support I wouldn't have been able to fulfil my duties. My husband Marcel has escorted me to balls and dinners and adjusted his life to help me this year. He's done more boys bedtimes than ever before. Isaac and Haiden have been well behaved, polite boys who, despite protesting about by being dragged away for their tablets, have enjoyed the events they've gone to.

My parents Chris and Dorothy have babysat, collected boys from school, dropped boys off from school fed them and looked after them when I've been busy. We've even had weekly diary sessions to ensure My engagements are covered.  My sister Victoria has also given me a tremendous amount of support by helping me with the boys, babysitting, having the boys overnight all while working extremely hard as a teacher. I will always be grateful.

Finally I need to thank the people of Reading. Without them being Mayor would be a dull job. With them we have a town filled with people making it more beautiful, more interesting, more fair, more friendly, more equal and we have a town that's filled with music, dance, art, love, friendship, ambition and hope.

So what does the future hold?  As you can imagine I won't be idle.  I have a motion going to my union, Unite’s,  July policy conference asking the a fibromyalgia information pack be created.  We are getting to a very exciting phase of the Hidden Abbey Project and I am pleased to say I will still be very much involved.  I'll remain chair of the Cultural Education Partnership helping to fill the gap as the arts are squeezed out of the curriculum and our children become exam machines. I'll remain chair of the Arts and Heritage forum and a strong voice for our arts community.  I'll work to ensure our Year of Culture has a legacy to be proud of. I am delighted to announce that I am now going to be an official patron of the Year of Culture is recognition of the support I have given very the past year. I am really looking forward the the next 7 months.

Finally I am very pleased to announce that I have been made a patron of Reading Pride, a role I will fulfill with energy, enthusiasm and and, of course, pride. I may be biased but I believe Reading Pride is one of the best in the country, still free to attend, inclusive, family friendly and, more importantly, growing.

I thought I couldn't love this town more but I was wrong. My year as mayor has showed me what a great town we have and my love for it has deepened. I am confident our new Mayor will do the town proud. He is a kind, caring man and friend. Enjoy your year Mr Mayor.

2 Jun 2015

Deputy Mayor Diaries: Reading Fringe Festival Launch

On Friday 1 May I was lucky enough to be at the Reading Fringe Festival launch at Penta Hotel.  I know that Reading is filled with tonnes of talented people and culture but people still bash the town saying there's nothing going on.  The Reading Fringe Festival is an example of one of the many brilliant things that happen in our town.

I was there to present the prizes for the Design a SuperHero and Mayor for the Day competition. Crazies Hill Primary won the Design a Superhero competition with Beerskit and Anais Buche from Chiltern Edge School won Mayor for a Day and actually had some excellent ideas for the Year of Culture next year (which I will be taking with me to my meeting about the Year of Culture tomorrow).

I was also treated to another performance from the brilliant Gog, who won Alternative Queen of Reading, and Mad Monkey Improv who were very funny and will be at the festival.The Reading Fringe Festival will run 15-19 July this year and the line-up looks like there's something for everyone.

This pic is from the Reading Post's excellent gallery which you can view by clicking on the photo.  Here I am with the winning and highly commended Mayor for a Day entry writers