Notes from the Cultural Life event January 2015

By January 26, 2015 August 24th, 2015 highlighted, N4ME, Reading CAN, Readipop Arts & Music Programme

On January 10th 2015 Readipop organised an event that brought together over 50 artists and organisations from Reading to discuss the future of Reading’s cultural life in response to the council’s cultural strategy consultation and emerging plans for a Reading Year of Culture in 2016. This is what came out of the day.

The event was organised by Readipop with support from Reading Borough Council and hosted by The University of Reading.

The original information for the event can be seen here –

Open Space Session

Notes from discussions

Open Space Questions

These questions were generated by the group, at the start of the Open Space discussion. Participants then chose which questions they wanted to discuss. Not all questions were discussed and some discussions were merged. Explore the tabs to see the notes and thoughts from each discussion.

  1. How can Reading Carnival be managed better year on year?
  2. Accommodation is a big challenge for arts organisations in Reading. How can this be addressed?
  3. How can we improve arts marketing and publicity channels in Reading?
  4. Why is Reading perceived as nothing happening artistically? How do we change that perception?
  5. How can the literary heritage of Reading be cultivated and promoted, eg Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen?
  6. How can we work better together to activate positive political change?
  7. How can we continue to promote and make accessible music for and by the people (non professionals) in community pubs?
  8. There is a lot of talk about 2016 year of culture in Reading, but as yet, little by way of concrete proposals. What do people think should be included in Reading’s 2016 year of culture?
  9. Who is not going to arts/music/theatre events and why?
  10. How can we use technology to help the arts in Reading?
  11. Reading has the 5th biggest economy in the UK – how can we boost Reading’s Arts to a commensurate level?
  12. What would need to happen for Reading to be known as a beacon place for arts and culture – to change its identity?
  13. Made in Reading?
  14. What is the strategic leadership/partnership need for the arts in Reading and how can that be developed?
  15. I recently moved to Reading from London and there was nowhere I could find out about arts activities in Reading.  How can this be addressed?
  1. How can an arts events or community festivals be managed better?

Forward Planning – advanced planning and communications

Inclusivity – with schools, having community feel, maintaining the enthusiam by event managers, artistes

and support dams

Reading has a great deal of plus points ‘it’s a world in one place’ – the town has great culture mix

Gaining or re-gaining council support

Delivering timely social commentary – responsible for the actions you said you are going to do and on


tie in with other local groups, create a knowledge pool, share infrastructure – which is cost saving

Using Project Management Skills

Where issues have arisen previously – manage items carefully – learn from past issues

hold regular ‘Think tanks’

Working Collaboratively

Cross Publicising

Some established organisations get more recognition than others

One place to post internal – Artist information – a Reading Arts Hub


A diary of events

Should there be a one public repository for the arts – rather than Alt Reading/OHOS

2016 being a focus and a kickstarter

One brand trademark/logo – this would help the system move forward

Would it be useful to tie people in financially?

There is no a physical publication now as Reading post does not publish and whats on is printed – but only carries information which is about council stuff

Reading CAN – people thought this meeting was Reading CAN?

2. Accommodation is a big challenge for arts organisations in Reading.  How can this be addressed?

Discussion points:

  • No core funding from local authority for arts organisations
  • Not viable for arts organisation to pay commercial rents
  • A champion is needed in local authority planning department to advocate the arts as a key element of Reading’s culture
  • Arts organisations are reliant upon philanthropy
  • Does Reading need regeneration when rents can be paid by commercial users as Reading is relatively affluent.
  • Independent arts organisations are stronger then local authority output
  • Councillors needed to advocate arts


Possible solutions:

  • Could a consortium of arts organisations apply for core funding? – The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) received £1.6m capital funding
  • King’s Point is owned by a private company, it may be demolished but there is a petition to hand it over to local artists.
  • St Barts is offering spaces for rehearsals and performances.
  • Why is it perceived that there is nothing going on in Reading culturally and how can we change this?
  • E Tourist office/information point
  • It was raised there is no longer a tourist office in Reading and then disputed whether ‘tourists’ actually come to Reading.
  • What is clear is that a lot of people visit Reading for a variety of reasons and a point of information would be a very helpful solution to guide visitors to where they are going and inform them of what else is available to do in the town.
  • short term solutions
  • insist the council has an arts/heritage section on their website (unsure of whether it did)
  • have a centralised leaflet point in the town hall to act as tourist info
  • Medium term solution
  • create a centralised website which holds all the listings of what is happening in Reading with sections on music, art, theatre, design this website can feed directly in to a Facebook and twitter feed which can link to local press for Top 5’s
  • long term solutions/suggestions were to incorporate walking trail information in to the redevelopment of the Abbey/Reading station public art amphitheatre
  • When asked where the group found out about the arts events in Reading the answers were:
  • word of mouth
  • social media Facebook/twitter/instagram
  • websites like Alt Reading and Get Reading
  • direct email
  • good quality flyer
  • But it was all generally coming from the organisation or artist directly.
  • The key point to come from the discussion was the complete agreement that we should have a centralised website/web presence, not social media which can only really act as an additional marketing tool.

7. How can we continue to promote and make accessible music for and by the people (non professionals) in community pubs?

  • safe place
  • drum circles
  • key facilitators
  • valuable noise
  • ‘men of a certain age’ don’t have anywhere to go
  • creative activities done by the communities
  • facilitated participation –people won’t do it of their own accord
  • Irish sessions – repertoire, Readifolk club, location? Small communities, distinct lack of musical instruments, keyboard ukulele microphone
  • Amateur dramatic society – do a bit 10 min reading – some people would find it an imposition
  • People of talent to facilitate
  • Kids singing / storytelling
  • Featured act and a bit of an open mic, all age groups, open early, investing in facilitation
  • Electronic music? – needs to grow, open laptop nights
  • Weirdy beardy, cross generational, pigeon holed crowds, not being bothered, want to encourage rap.
  • Landlords taking responsibility
  1. How Can Technology Help the Arts in Reading?


Can we use technology for the creation of art?

Use tech for installations (such as soundscapes)

Share technology and access to it

Fabrication tools (CNC routers; 3D printers)

Welding tools etc.

Connect with local tech groups (RLab; Reading Geek Night etc) for help and involvement

How can we use technology to open access to art?

live streaming of events could encourage a following outside the local area

a central hub for sharing art

encourage the sharing of resources

A tech directory? Props/scenery/equipment?

How can we expose Reading’s artistic heritage/history?

An online Arts Hub

central infrastructure to support the arts in Reading and Berkshire as a whole? Something like OxonArts in Oxfordshire

how can people find out what/where/when? include activities, locations, places of interest, events and exhibitions

Box Office

Reading Arts is frustrating to say the least

Can we have one box office for all Reading events?

Tech can also help with communications



improve the external image of Reading and the arts in Reading

How can we get local tech companies engaged?

12. How can we make Reading a cultural beacon?


The suggestion of setting up an Arts Manifesto

We need to decide whether it’s for Reading and/or Greater Reading. There are pros and cons for both i.e.funding / reaching potential audiences.

Reading already has a huge and dynamic, diverse spread of cultural opportunities but currently we’re not working together.

There is strength jn numbers.

In order to work together we need a co-ordinator to facilitate this.

We also need to be able to communicate/network with each other and to let potential audiences know what is going on 2016 is an extension of what we’re doing already. We need to shout about it.

Generally mainstream arts are well attended. However, nationally alternative arts usually attract small audiences. South Street in READING excels in this area. sign posts or lack of them is a real issue. Other towns get round this. We need a working party to look into

this and creative ways of coming up with a solution that works for us.

A suggestion to have posters on bus routes i.e. you’re now passing The Progress Theatre..

What is stopping us? What is holding Reading back? Is it Reading Borough Council? Is it the divide between ‘Town and Gown’? (Reading University historically have not always been supportive but have let us have this venue and catering today – so maybe things are moving forward positively.

We need to work together.

Possibly start a petition. (What one thing are we starting with?)

Reading Borough Council are concentrating on basics. They have no spare cash. We need to think outside the box.

We need to develop audiences for Off beat work. Work on our relationships with schools etc.

Freshers week at Reading University is a good forum to promote the arts but it is very expensive to attend. Could we do something as a joint organisation. Someone mentioned forming GRAN – GREATER READING ARTS NETWORK.

13. Made in Reading.

The group felt there was no practical method to manage the use of the logo/brand and that it would only have value if it was being used by arts organisation.

  • The Made in Reading logos to be made freely available for all to use in the manner of a twitter hasthag.
  • The logo can be used in conjunction with the hashtag #MadeInRGD
  • More download links will be added to this page.

The logo was commissioned by Toby Davies from Reading Between The Lines theatre company with the students from the Reading University Typography Department through their Real Jobs scheme.

Download from

14. What is the strategic leadership/partnership need for the arts in Reading and how can that be developed?

  • collapse of local authorities – can’t find who to talk to
  • ACE don’t know who is on the ground
  • Need for a visual art space as a focus?
  • Closer working between unitary authorities
  • Expand Berkshire arts partners
  • Investment in existing building and structures, urgent need for space for organisations, set up a strategic partnership? To include arts organisations and council reps, university etc
  • Must include action rather than a talking shop
  • Unitary authorities need to co-operate in their work
  • Career progression for young arts graduates
  • A big project to galvanise partnership

15.I recently moved to Reading from London and there was nowhere I could find out about arts activities in Reading.  How can this be addressed?

  • Reading is in the top 20 visited destinations in the UK with the Reading Festival a major factor
  • Alt Reading has a facebook page
  • Find out how other towns and cities promote and improve their cultural profile
  • Reading needs a physical central base that has promotional material – perhaps the Town Hall / Museum as it is near the station, but does it require a building or could it be a pop up information centre in the railway station.  Either way physical brochures with culture and heritage information needed with ‘Things to do in Reading’.
  • We are dealing with fragmented channels as individual organisations are distributing their own information
  • Get Reading – Linda Forte suggested people contact her to add information to the website
  • Brighton has public information along the Lanes and around town.
  • How about a zone in Reading?  The Abbey Quarter could signpost activities.
  • Create ‘party time’ buzz on one Saturday afternoon per month where galleries and workshops are open free to the public creating a buzz generated by the arts organisations themselves
  • Arts forum meetings should be publicised so more people can attend although it is not a decision making body.
  • A ‘Made in Reading‘ facebook page could be set up
  • 2016 Year of Culture website needed with Made in Reading as the brand and #madeinReading.  (Check out Made in Bristol blog)

Afternoon discussions

The afternoon discussion notes can be explored via these tabs as well as a summary of some events already planned for 2016.

Reading Year of Culture Discussion

short term goals:

  • Raise schools awareness
    Work out what school offer may be
    use hashtag MadeInRdg
    tell stories/ share experiences of good models
    look at Henley Youth Festival and successes
  • A calendar, curated by the council but filled with all arts organisations events. The calendar started at this meeting would be the best way to start Creating a timeline of events
  • Centralised website
  • A steering group lobbying the Arts Forum meetings – made up of people from today and open to any others to join, one for each of the main areas, linked to ACE headings, i.e. dance, theatre, visual arts, music, etc… Matthew Foster offered to host a music group, Beautiful Creatures offered to host a theatre one, and Suzanne from Jelly offered to host a visual arts one, Thea offered to host a dance one, Aisha offered to host a carnival one. These sub groups would contribute to the Arts Forum meetings, which have been hard to access. Next meeting is 31st ? (please can someone confirm when this is?)
  • Email addresses of everyone present need to be circulated
  • Marketing support should be in place – could be provided by money ringfenced from Cultural Partnership – to support smaller organisations promote their events.
  • Beautiful Creatures are planning a launch event, want to work with many local organisations, at beginning of 2016
  • Regular meetings and events

medium term goals:

  • engage with everyone/ schools
    go out to engage
  • Delivery of HLF/ Trail map and workshops
  • Instil pride about Reading
  • Tell stories outside of town
  • Year of Culture should be a spotlight on Reading, not an opportunity to get funding for new work necessarily, but a platform to raise profile to be better able to secure funding in future.
  • Groups would like clearer way to communicate with Cultural Partnerships
  • Headline event for each month
  • International connections – export
  • #madeinreading
  • Linking organisations betterlong term goals:
  • launch of heritage trail
  • 90th anniversary Rdg Uni
  • Youth Arts Festival 2016 (Maestros – Beautiful Creatures?)
  • 2016 year of culture should be about improving the quality and reach of our work.
  • key words: promoting what we do, improving, sustainability, communicating, collaborating, meta festival (see Jon Lockhart email)
  • creating a legacy
  • fertile environment for creativity
  • sustainability and growth
  • pre and post engagement strategy
  • more outdoor art
  • visual messaging
  • opening and closing ceremony
  • Reading is our canvas

Strategic Leadership/infrastructure

Short term goals:

events/ getting to know each other
don’t expect fast change
decide on what to be achieved
pop-up manager for empty shops
art representative at business meets

Identify real needs and create a list of requirements with targets

Better use of Reading’s cultural strategy 2020

Medium term goals:
arts education
arts support for creative futures
arts development officer

Acquiring a space cooperatively – space for the sole artist as well

Evaluation and measurement

Learning from other arts projects

Including arts venues rather than bars and cafes, as part of residential blocks increase the value

Freedom of information request funding


Improve quality to raise profile of arts in Reading

Make use of 4 different areas – need to space to bring them all together

Need for overarching diversity and sustainability and accessibility policies to improve quality of arts provision.

Long term goals:
purpose built venues – meet aspirations of users,sprung dance floor, theatre with wing space, shop to sell local artists/makers
be inspired by whats going on
initiate ideas from within Rdg

Calendar of events already planned or booked in for 2016


  • Redlands Winterval Windows Fair (Arts In Redlands Community Group AIR)
  • Beautiful Creatures Theatre – Large Scale outdoor arts event to Launch Reading Year of Culture – made by young people
  • Progress Theatre family show



  • Progress Theatre show
  • Lantern Parade (Arts in Redlands AIR)



  • Reading Rep show
  • Progress Theatre joint adult – youth theatre show



  • Reading Contemporary Art Fair – Deborah James
  • Festival of 1000 Ukes (Readipop)
  • Reflections 2016 festival of music arts and learning (Readipop)
  • Progress theatre show
  • Easter egg hunt (AIR)
  • Reading rep show



  • Progress Theatre show
  • Reading between the Lines – Off the Block – new writing at South Street
  • Launch of Reading On Tour cultural heritage map and trail (Readipop)



  • Progress Theatre Show
  • East Reading Festival



  • Reading Rep tour show
  • Progress theatre youth show
  • Caversham Festival (Readipop)
  • Beautiful Creatures ‘Theatre Corner’ – programme of outdoor theatre at Caversham Festival
  • Reading Fringe Festival – 14th and 15th
  • Progress theatre open air caversham court



  • Reading rep show
  • Here comes the sun



  • Opening of enhanced main hall and new music and media centre at Leighton Park School
  • Urban scarecrow trail (AIR)
  • Progress theatre season opens
  • Reading Between the Lines – new commission



  • Beatroots 20th Anniversary Samba Project (Beatroots/Readipop)
  • Night of 1000 Ukes (Readipop)
  • Progress theatre write fest



  • Festival of noise 2016 (Readipop)
  • Progress theatre show



  • Reading rep show
  • Readipop Hootenanny (Readipop)
  • Proposed Town Centre lantern parade (Readipop)
  • Progress theatre youth show
  • Redlands winterval windows (AIR)