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Prison provides theatre hope

2 January 2018
Melvin Benn

A DISUSED prison could be transformed into a new theatre in Reading after Arts Council England (ACE) pledged £20,000 towards the project.

The funds, which have been matched by Festival Republic and Trafalgar Entertainment Group, will go towards a feasibility study to see if the plans for Reading Prison, closed in 2013, are viable.

Melvin Benn, MD of Festival Republic, which runs Reading (cap. 90,000) and Leeds (80,000) festivals, is chairman of Theatre and Arts Reading (TAR), the organisation working with Reading Borough Council on the project.

“Soon after we formed the jail closed and we’ve explored all sorts of other options about where it could be and concluded that actually the best place for it would be the jail site,” says Benn.

“It would be a wonderful place to have a new theatre and possibly other arts facilities.”

TAR was set up to find a replacement for Reading’s Hexagon (cap. 1,970), which was built in 1977. Reading Council announced three years that the Hexagon’s days were numbered, but it would not close until a new theatre was built.

It is estimated that the project for the new theatre could cost up to £20 million.

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