In a departure from suggesting huge infrastructure projects and expensive leisure facilities, in this post I call out a few more modest ideas to improve the image of Reading.
1 More than a “Town Centre”
Local opinion is divided on the long-standing issue of town vs city. For some, we’re a fully fledged city, regardless of the technicality that we’re still a town. For others, the thought of becoming a city is quite repulsive – either because wanting ‘promotion’ to a city incorrectly implies some sort of dissatisfaction with our current status; or because everything should be preserved just as it was in 1960; or because having embarrassingly failed in city bids to the likes of Sunderland and Chelmsford, “we didn’t want it anyway”. I have some sympathy with the latter – perhaps city status isn’t as much of an accolade anymore, especially now they award it to somewhere in Wales every cycle despite nearly running out of villages to upgrade – St Asaph?!.
Nevertheless, the label “Reading Town Centre” just doesn’t sound that inspiring. It’s a bit too much like “Hungerford Town Centre”. So if we’re not to have a “City Centre”, is there another terminology trick we could pull? I’d argue that there is.
The RG postcode stretches from Basingstoke in the South, to Bracknell in the East, and Newbury in the West. In this view of the world, Reading Town Centre has unique status: RG1 – number 1 – as in the best. Hungerford only has RG17 – the seventeenth best place in the area. (Tilehurst, I’m considering you guys as RG3 rather than RG30 – we all know you’re one better than Caversham, rest assured).
I think we could give a little more prominence to our RG1 label – any association with the nineties namesake nightclub is fast fading now that some 15 years have passed since its demolition. Take a look at how the Light Up Reading event (which was excellent by the way) was publicised,
“Light Up Reading will be the culmination of 12 months of Reading Year of Culture as we create a unique trail of illuminations around Reading town centre.”
That could easily become, “Light Up Reading will be the culmination of 12 months of Reading’s Year of Culture as we create a unique trail of illuminations across RG1.”
I believe this shorthand, as an additional alternative term for Reading Town Centre, would catch on, particularly among local radio, print and online journalists who can always use a synonym. I’d upgrade the street name signs too, funded by RG1’s businesses. I would also suggest replacing the council logo on these signs with the existing Business Improvement District’s logo. After all, the maroon Hexagon symbolises the council, not the town, and even then the theatre we can’t afford to replace hardly provides the most inspiring of icons. Here’s my before and after:
Perhaps slightly too London evocative, but you get the idea: a little more self-confidence. As Reading’s noisy neighbours invest heavily in their rival shopping centres, we need to broaden our appeal to bring in visitors and custom from the RG hinterlands, and remind everyone what the Rome of their empire has to offer.
We are just crying out for some fountains in Reading. In fact, any more crying and we could solve the problem right away. Yes, there’s the little pond and ornamental fountain in Forbury Gardens, but we need something kids can splash about in during the summer months. I don’t mean a full-on chlorinated splash park, just knee-high synchronised dancing jets, like Granary Square at Kings Cross, or this one in Manchester.
Forbury Square could fit the bill – take out those raised grass areas that nobody uses and you’d have the space. Somewhere within the Station Hill development might also work, although that scheme continues to struggle to get off the ground (even knee-high). The instragram generation are constantly sharing images, normally selfies, and unwittingly defining perceptions of our towns and cities in the process. I think some public fountains would be Reading’s photogenic opportunity to make our young people briefly pause their scrolling down to say “ooh, that’s cool – where’s that?”.
We’re blessed with two rivers meandering their way through the town, but it would be great to see more activity on the water. We do have a steady flow of boats passing by, particularly through the summer, and there are specific regattas, Dragon Boat races and now plans for a “Reading-on-Thames” festival. Needless to say, I approve of the name (although it was nothing to do with me). There were some negative comments on getreading arguing the label implied “gentrification”. The reason I chose the name for my blog was emphatically not about trying to sound “posh like Henley-on-Thames”. It was about drawing attention to our position on a world-famous river, and what an underused asset it is. I presume this festival’s organisers would concur.
The thing about the river is that everyone using it is doing so purely for recreation. It’s not work, it’s play. Reading is undoubtedly great at work – functional, practical, clearly successful at attracting business. But towns and cities often earn their positive image through being a great place to play.
Messing about on the river certainly shouldn’t be the preserve of the gentry. I don’t understand why our stretch of the Thames isn’t full of families in hired rowing boats on a hot summer’s day, paying just a few pounds for the privilege. There is boat hire available, but for some reason it just isn’t really happening.
Whilst Henley might have the boat thing sewn up at present, I believe there’s room for Reading to offer a distinctive more casual alternative. Could we redefine the Thames Skiff and make it our answer to the Oxford Punt? Or would the pedalo be more our medium?
The Kennet could up its game too. Waterfest has become a successful fixture on Reading’s calendar. They run half-hourly narrow boat trips on the canal on a circular route using the two branches of the Kennet . The boat apparently then bases itself at Newbury for regular scheduled trips through the summer. Surely a short extension to the Waterfest route to begin and end at the Oracle Riverside would be very attractive as a more permanent feature, particularly in school holidays. It could retain the stop by the Abbey Ruins as hop-on-hop-off, and when the renovation work is complete that could be a great way to make an afternoon of a trip to the Abbey. Some cafes and leisure/cultural activities at the prison redevelopment would only further help viability and really knit together the historic and shopping areas of the town.
Reading has a number of statues, most famously the Forbury (or Maiwand) lion. But the most prominent people are the statues of Victoria and Edward VII dutifully positioned outside the Town Hall and station respectively. I think we should be celebrating more local contributions. I was wondering whether there might be a case for relocating the George Palmer statue from Palmer Park to a more central location. So you can imagine my surprise when searching for a good image to use in this article that the first to come up showed it standing proudly right in the middle of Broad Street.
It turns out that having occupied this pitch from 1891, George was beginning to cause inconvenience to the growing volumes of traffic building through the 1920’s. So in 1930 he was moved to his present location in Palmer Park to free up more road space. Broad Street was fully pedestrianised in 1995. In my opinion, Reading has simply forgotten to put George back on his prominent plot overlooking our main shopping street.
There are a number of reasons why George Palmer is important. Firstly, he lived (almost) all his life in Reading. Secondly, he was a phenomenally successfully industrialist giving Reading its identity and building one of the first global brands, showing us that you can make it big from Reading. And thirdly, rather than buying yachts and fancy houses all over the world, Palmer shared his fortune with the town that helped him make it, by donating Palmer Park and King’s Meadow for recreation, and funding schools and the university. Surely this is a story that should be inspiring the next generation of children in Reading?
Clearly Palmer Park is not an inappropriate place for this statue, but I feel that he clearly loved Reading and should be brought home to his original prominent location to maximise his legacy to the town. So I’ve started a petition to bring the George Palmer statue back to Broad Street, in the heart of RG1. Perhaps you’d like to sign… click here
What do you think? Comments welcome and can be left below (without registration!)Follow @readingonthames
22 thoughts on “4 ways to improve Reading’s image”
Some good suggestions here – and I especially like the RG1 idea. I’m one of the people that feels no need for city status; being the best town seems like a more beneficial aspiration than “just another city” (and I think the use of “city centre” on signage when everybody knows we’re not one just looks a bit, well, desperate). Another solution to the town/city centre dilemma might be “central business district” – could even be combined with RG1 (the first would work better on direction signage, the latter on street signs).
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thanks T-bird. I know we’re just talking about labels and signs but I do think it would make a difference.
I’m keen on the postcode on the street signs idea perhaps with additional area name, but i would rather they keep the borough council logo rather than modern corporate logos, besides, it’s been around a long time and i even like the way it is included on blocks of flats (take a look at the council flats at the southern end of star road). Other subtle changes can install a bit of civic pride. Road signs directing to ‘town centre’ rather than ‘Reading’ give the impression of already being in part of the town, especially on the northern side of the river where residents often deny being a suburb of the town. Once within the borough ‘Reading’ doesn’t need to be on any sign including those directing toward the station. Placing street name signs on all the previously named alleys, perhaps in the old style, and the council encouraging developers to name their developments after what was on the site in the past preserves our history rather than going for awful modern development names such as ‘west village’ on the former battle hospital site. Although Reading looks a modern town, old street names and so on show it’s old and long established maybe installing a bit of pride. Changing the town route buses back to one colour (crimson lake and cream) highlights that they are owned by the council and part of the town and where they go are suburbs of the town. And George Palmer should definitely take his place back at the end of Broad street, maybe one day joined by tramlines again.
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thanks once again for your thoughts! Good point on the direction signs, and I think the good folk of RG4 have just about all come to terms with their Readingness these days! And very much agree on the naming of new developments, where we’ve had mixed fortunes.
I just can’t really feel the love for the maroon Hexagon logo. Obviously suggesting spending money on creating a new logo would be rightly slammed in these times of austerity, hence my suggestion of taking the existing local business group’s one, which I quite like.
Do you know whether Reading Buses attribute any success to rainbow-coloured strategy?
Glad you like the George Palmer statue suggestion – it had a lot of positive reaction on the ‘Old Reading’ Facebook group. Please sign and share that petition!
Not sure what Reading buses think, but i can’t see much point in it when many routes are covered with the same bus. I think the multi colours look rather tacky and a little scruffy. Already signed the statue petition, this should have occured when the street was closed to traffic.
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Additionally, encouraging a bit of colour around the town similar to the shops at Norcot junction would be great. Maybe some murals referencing history or local things on the blank ends of buildings such as the house side on to the railway at the end of George street in west Reading. A town that is proud of it’s history, even if it is a little average, is good for it’s image.
If the council, local media and local companies could stop promoting Reading as being merely convenient for london and promote the town itself, this would be great for it’s image.
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Agreed. London proximity is a double-edged sword. It clearly is a huge part of the attraction of locating big business here and benefiting our residents with access to all the West End has to offer. But equally, banging on being “26 minutes from London” just re-enforces that view that it’s all about the capital.
That said, based on recent announcements we’ll have four huge Crossrail trains per hour to arrive into Reading from local towns, along with another four now to trundle in from Waterloo. That’s many thousands of places to fill up inbound in the mornings for work and evenings for leisure – a huge growth opportunity for RG1 to shake off Project Dormitory – we just need to shout about what we’ve got, and improve it here and there.
I would like to see the statistics for how many of our boroughs residents (rather than numbers from the three stations, where journeys could have begun outside the borough) travel to london daily, occasionally or if ever. I think the results may be surprising.
According to this: http://www.nomisweb.co.uk/census/2011/wu03uk/chart
1444 per day by train ending within “Westminster”
Blimey, thats it?
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I like all those ideas. The postcode idea is very good but how about putting the town coat of arms on the signs as well. You are then looking forward and back into our history which is impressive to say the least. The fountain idea again is very good, isn’t it an opportunity to do something that is a one off. People will then be able to say “oh yes, Reading. Isn’t that where…”
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Thanks. Agree it would be great to have one or two more icons/landmarks. Nice idea on the coat of arms!
How about something like this outside the station south or north side?
Yeah, why not! It could just say TOWN.
Friendly, colourful lettering offering a welcome to visitors, whilst providing reassurance to locals that we’re a Town and proud of it.
Plus this should go somewhere more prominent
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[…] 4 ways to improve Reading’s image […]
Boats cannot stop at The Oracle due to the bend in the river. Despite many telling Hammerson so, they did not think about it until too late.
Such a waste of a useful river frontage.
Thanks Miranda. Did the building of the Oracle alter the river? I’d assumed it didn’t. Is the river too narrow for boats to turn, or is it too curvy to moor? Surely by Debenhams it’s straight enough?
No, the route of the Kennet has always been narrow there and had that sharp kink and then the narrow (and low at times if the water is high) Duke Street Bridge, it has been ‘no stopping’ and there are traffic lights on the whole section from just after County Lock to approx the back of the Queens Road Car park for many (40 or 50+?) years as there were plenty of accidents. The lights were always there when I was at Kendrick in the early 1970s and I walked the footbridge from Yield Hall Place.
After starting construction of both sides at The Oracle, Hammerson suddenly hit on the idea they could utilise the low area of the steps as a berthing area for boats only to find it would not be possible due to the narrowness, the sharp bends, and the speed of the river at that point. To park involves stopping and turning – you need plenty of room, ditto if reversing out into the river, you need room for other traffic to see you and to stop if needs be.
Had they they thought of this before they started building (and I know several people were suggesting this including I think from memory the Civic Society – wasn’t a member myself but my parents both were) we would now have a far lovelier aspect of a community on the river with visiting boats (more akin to, say Bath or Henley) instead of this rather sterile aspect of both banks built up with no stopping so it’s really restaurants each side of a deep sided wide ditch.
If they had widened the Kennet into where Jamie’s is/was (can you tell i don’t visit?) and again straightened and widened it a little by taking the edge off Debenhams and a wider Yield Hall lane bridge then they could perhaps have established moorings on the northern side, as there would then be clearer sight of the Duke Street Bridge..that would still need traffic lights though!
So you can imagine the loss of sq footage of chargeable shop by Hammerson’s had they done this!
A lost opportunity. Can’t see any likelihood of any changes for at least another 50 years.
Haha, “ditch” is slightly harsh. But thanks for explaining and you do paint a good picture – a missed opportunity. Maybe something could be done if they redeveloped the riverside car park site, as has been mooted as a possibility.
But wouldn’t it still be possible for a narrow boat, even if it couldn’t be permanently moored, to run little public cruises from The Oracle round the Abbey loop and back. Could be popular in the school holidays…
Thought they were just adding more restaurant in the gap next to Jamie’s? Making it even more unpleasant, and less likely to redesign the route of the river http://www.getreading.co.uk/whats-on/whats-on-news/oracle-reveals-57-million-plans-12102729
Whilst running a small boat would sound a nice idea, it would simply be too dangerous. That stretch of river is fast in high water, and there really is no room to play around with – to moor up is a lot trickier than reverse parking a car, you would at some point be blocking the main channel even if just stopping briefly when you turn. It would me more feasible to run boat trips round the Abbey loop with the commercialisation of the Abbey Quarter – but there isn’t the ‘stop and shop’ (or eat) appeal at that end of town.
I think what Maidenhead are planning with opening their waterways is forward thinking, adventurous and likely to be an absolute winner as a shop/dine/leisure destination based along waterways.
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They’ve added a new restaurant on the north side, which I was sceptical about but they have landscaped it quite nicely with new wooden terracing. I think they could still theoretically do something on the southern side but would be a huge undertaking. Could a boat more safely turn around the other side of Bridge St just before the lock? Slightly wider there isn’t it?
Will Maidenhead’s renewed waterways be navigable?