A new year is upon us, and an unmissable chance to revisit some of last year’s highlights and to look ahead to what might be making waves in 2018.
Undoubtedly, the opening of the Thames Lido was a huge boost for Reading, attracting national press coverage. I managed a visit shortly before Christmas and enjoyed a very relaxing evening. The pool is beautiful at night – very serene. There was the distant sound of the party music drifting over from the corporate big tent events further down the meadow. The lido staff felt the need to apologise. But personally, I’d rather see Reading become noisier, not quieter. One place that could do with turning up the volume is the Mad Stad, with both Reading and London Irish faring miserably towards the end of 2017. London Irish have announced their departure from Reading in 2019 to share a new stadium in Brentford. With their certain relegation this season, I hope they leave early and find a temporary home in London for a season, rather than churning up the Madejski for another year in front of tiny crowds, already down to 5000 even in the top flight. The end of rugby should leave room for an arrival whose fortunes are on the up. Reading women’s football team now attracts crowds above 1000 despite their exile in High Wycombe. They’re holding their own as one of ten teams that make up the super league. Now there’s something to shout about.
The decibels should be cranked up during 2018 in the town centre too, with a planned extension to the Purple Turtle now likely to go ahead after the venue was granted the necessary license. The plans involve merging the basement of the adjoining property into the popular Gun Street bar. There are also plans for yet another reincarnation of the former Apple Jacks/Litten Tree/Dogma/RYND/Public on Castle Street, this time as Brew Dog, which may well prove to be 2018’s most popular new food & drink opening. Sadly, however, it looks like one of Reading’s oldest favourites will fall silent. The After Dark will be knocked down to make way for six flats.
The annual thumping bass of Reading Festival was accompanied by more refined tones in 2017, with a highlight of the year being the new Reading-on-Thames festival. It’s nothing to do with me, I hasten to add. Although I’m hoping it will become the next big thing and they offer me a fortune for my domain name! In the meantime, here’s theirs. Be sure to keep an eye on it for plans for this year. I believe they have a couple more years’ funding to establish an Arts Festival that can attract sponsorship to secure its long term future, so well worth getting behind in 2018 – spread the word.
My most commented-on article of 2017 saw my speaking up for the East Reading MRT met with a chorus of disapproval. If we want a vibrant and successful town centre then we need to ensure we improve transport links to bring people in, especially by environmentally friendly means. I hope to see the scheme approved in 2018. I’d also like to see progress on the third bridge. This wish is carried over from my 2017 list. Sadly, I don’t expect to see any traffic carried over a new Thames bridge for a little while yet – last I heard work to prepare a business case to secure funding for the bridge has stalled because there’s no funding for work on the business case. I presume they’re now preparing a business case for the funding of the preparation of a business case – if they can afford to? An update would be welcome…
Back to swimming, and early 2018 will see more changes. A new temporary pool will open at Rivermead to coincide with the closure of the old Central Pool. We should expect more details on plans for permanent new pools at Palmer Park and at Rivermead to emerge during 2018. Let’s hope that the latter will include a wider upgrade to the ageing riverside complex that currently flatters to deceive as Reading’s premier leisure offering.
There are further changes to look out for in town this year. Next is relocating to the Oracle, presumably into the large area currently cordoned off where Waterstones used to be. Talking of Waterstones, I abandoned my shopping at their Broad St store this Christmas upon the sight of payment queues right back to the street – it’s almost as if Reading could support more than one book shop! It looks like the town is weathering the storm of new retail schemes in Oxford and Bracknell well. To look out for in 2018 is the fortunes of this stretch of Broad St, with Next relocating and H&M also having closed. Can Reading’s business lobby muster a rallying call and sign up suitable replacements, or even better, some wider regeneration?
Reading’s highlight of the coming year will, however, surely be the long-awaited re-opening of the Abbey Ruins. I’m sure there’ll be lots of events and new creative ideas on how to use the area. The media attention will offer the opportunity to revitalise interest in our rich local history.
One aspect of local history that I played a small part in boosting in 2017 was through my petition to return the George Palmer statue to Broad Street. I’d love to see someone with more profile pick up this campaign in 2018. So much political air time is dedicated to discussions on whether and how to tax the rich. That whole issue would be moot if we could see a return to era of philanthropy that George Palmer typified. Modern gazillionaires buy umpteen foreign homes. George Palmer used his success to fund parks, and education in Reading, as well as pioneering improved working conditions. The people of Reading funded his statue on Broad Street, which was only moved to allow more room for traffic on the now pedestrianised section. Time to put him back – it could inspire the next local phenomenon to give something back.
Thankfully, it appears we might have found a new local hero. Melvin Benn, who made his fortune through music festivals since first taking over Reading Festival in 1989, has emerged as the leading figure trying to acquire the prison for future development as an arts centre, including as a replacement for the Hexagon. Some further good news here could be 2018’s most lasting contribution, and ensure that the Abbey Ruins reopening is just the first step in the creation of a permanent arts and culture quarter for Reading.
This year I’d also expect to see further news on plans for Caversham Park as the BBC prepares to move out. My slightly over-imaginative suggestions proved my most read article of 2017. I hope for something more interesting than purely housing, and would-be developers should be wary of noisy locals. Parody alert.
Further developments should get going in 2018, which GetReading did a good job of covering the other day. To add to that, a new Escape Room centre is set to open in Kings Walk – joining the excellent Time Trap. It certainly looks like there’ll be plenty to keep us talking in 2018. A big thank you to those who used my pages to take part in the discussion in 2017. Happy New Year to everyone – I hope it’s a loud one!Follow @readingonthames