Exciting times ahead for Reading Abbey's ruins
PUBLISHED: 16:54 24 November 2015 | UPDATED: 16:54 24 November 2015
Take a look on Trip Advisor and you'll find people bemoaning the fact that Reading Abbey's ruins are closed to visitors: but exciting times are ahead, says Claire Pitcher
The grand plan for Reading’s Abbey precinct is for it to become a unique historical and cultural destination for residents and visitors, so that all can enjoy the nationally important remains. But these things take time, and a lot of expertise. For a start, there’s been the thorny question of funding and planning projects on such a sensitive site with 900 years of history.
The Reading Abbey Revealed project is designed to deliver this vision. In June 2014 Reading Council secured initial funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This allowed Museum Manager Matthew Williams and his team to develop more detailed plans for the project. “These include widespread conservation work on the Abbey Ruins and Gate, site-wide interpretation of the Abbey Quarter area, and events and activities co-ordinated by Reading Museum and its partners,” he explains.
There’s no mistaking the level of interest. In January last year Reading Museum held a consultation to find out what people thought about the Abbey Quarter project. “We received a record number of 1,156 responses, the most ever received for an online consultation held by the council,” Matthew points out. Another survey, carried out in January and February this year by Activity Plan consultants for the Reading Abbey Revealed project, asked people their thoughts on the proposals. “Again, the number of responses we had was amazing, at 1,053,” says Matthew. “The results have helped develop the activity and interpretation plans for the project.”
For the past year, the project team has been working on the development of the Reading Abbey Revealed Application. Just a couple of months ago they submitted the Second Round Application to Heritage Lottery Fund (£1.77 million grant, match funded by £1.37 million from Reading Borough Council). A decision on this is expected in the New Year and, if it’s successful, work will begin in spring 2016, with the aim to reopen the site in summer 2018.
What to expect
Reading Abbey is the historic heart of Berkshire’s county town and for the first time, visitors will have extensive signage and interpretation, including new displays at Reading Museum. “This will ensure that they are no longer a hidden gem, giving people of all ages and all backgrounds opportunities to explore and enjoy the newly conserved and reopened heritage site; while revealing the prominent role that Reading has played across 1,000 years of English and European history,” enthuses Matthew.
Indeed, he hopes the project will mean Reading Abbey will get the international recognition it deserves. “After all, what’s most fascinating is the scale and importance of the Abbey in the Middle Ages; it would have been one of the largest monastic sites in Europe and of not just local significance, as it was a royal foundation of a Norman King of England.”
The best place to find out more is to visit Reading Museum, or online at www.readingabbeyquarter.org.uk. They offer tours in warmer months, keep an eye on the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ReadingAbbeyQuarter. You can also email Reading.AbbeyQuarter@reading.gov.uk to join the project mailing list and receive regular email newsletters.
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