Campaigners call to transform Reading Gaol into arts centre commemorating Oscar Wilde

Stephen Fry has added his name to the campaign calling for the prison, which has been left derelict since 2013, to be put to good use.

Oscar Wilde (left) Reading Gaol (right)

Campaigners are calling for the HM Prison Reading, formerly known as Reading Gaol, where Oscar Wilde was imprisoned, to be reopened as an arts centre in memorial of the Irish playwright and poet. Wilde was famously arrested and sentenced to two years prison time in Reading Gaol in 1895 for gross indecency under the UK’s anti-gay laws that were in place at the time. The jail has remained derelict since 2013 and was put up for sale by the British government last year. 

The building which is located in Berkshire, Reading, has previously re-opened in the past for exhibitions dedicated to the late writer, however now campaigners are crusading to create a more permanent fixture and use for the largely unused historic building. 

One such advocate for this initiative is the English comedian, actor and writer Stephen Fry. Fry who played Wilde in the biographical film of the same title is for the motion to have the desolate building transformed into a useful community space as a full-time arts centre honouring the famous writer. Speaking on the topic Fry said; “If living art can rise up from the place where Oscar and so many others suffered, then how perfect that will be.”

The fear among campaigners is that the prison, which is currently owned by the Ministry of Justice will be turned into luxury apartments and the group are planning to march in protest of this decision in the coming weeks. 

Reading East MP Matt Rodda started a petition for the cause stating; “Reading Gaol is an important national heritage site, where Oscar Wilde was imprisoned and Henry I is believed to be buried nearby. We the undersigned want to see it preserved and enhanced to become an arts hub and to celebrate Reading’s heritage. We call on the Ministry of Justice to support this and not to sell it off to the highest bidder. This wonderful site should stay open to the public, it is too important to be redeveloped as luxury flats.”

Novelist Julian Barnes has also shown his support for the creation of the arts centre, telling the BBC; “Turning a prison into an arts centre is the equivalent of beating swords into ploughshares. I fully support this ambitious and enterprising project.”

Hopefully the large backing from both the general public and celebs alike will drive forward change and see the creation of the ambitious arts centre in the future. 

To add your name to the petition click here.

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