BERKSHIRE Breaking Reading

Reading is one of 68 areas of England to receive a share of a £95 million government fund having secured High Street Heritage Action Zone

HSHAZ updated map August

For three conservation areas in the centre of the town. As a result, Reading will receive up to £806,500 for the implementation of a four-year programme agreed with Historic England. This amount will be match funded by Reading Borough Council.

What is a High Street Heritage Action Zone?

High Street Heritage Action Zones (HSHAZ) are a heritage-led regeneration initiative lead by Historic England, working with local councils and the community to create economic growth and improve the quality of life in our historic high streets.

Map of HSHAZs

The high streets, on which our High Street Heritage Action Zone programme is based, are Oxford Road, Castle Street, Gun Street, the southern end of St Mary’s Butts and Market Place.  These streets lie in three different conservation areas with distinct characters but sharing similar challenges and potential to benefit from the investment in time, expertise and finance, which will flow from our programme.

This map shows the High Street Heritage Action Zones in Reading - Downshire Square, Castle Hill/Russell Street/Oxford Road, St Mary's Butts/Castle Street and Market Place/London Street conservation areas.
This map shows the High Street Heritage Action Zones in Reading – Downshire Square, Castle Hill/Russell Street/Oxford Road, St Mary’s Butts/Castle Street and Market Place/London Street conservation areas.

Reading HSHAZ Objectives

  • To enhance the understanding of Reading’s heritage by revealing it’s hidden histories and to give the community a sense of pride and ownership in developing the town’s future
  • To improve the physical condition and viability of the high streets within the three conservation areas by identifying those properties most at risk and engaging with property owners to help them to restore the buildings, to show them how to maintain the buildings and to share best practice.  We want to see premises viably and fully occupied and footfall and customer satisfaction increasing.
  • To develop a comprehensive strategy to improve the public realm across the HSHAZ. The outcome will be a better experience and sense of place for those living or working in or visiting the town centre.
  • To support local businesses, the economy and local community and cultural initiatives by creating a positive sense of place through contributing to the heritage of their high street.
 Market Place Conservation Area
Market Place Conservation Area

The HSHAZ programme

The programme combines three complementary strands:

  • Physical interventions: to buildings, including repair, reinstating lost features, supporting the conversion of historic buildings for new uses and improvement of shared spaces, drawing on the lessons learnt in Streets for All
  • Community engagement: giving local communities a key role in deciding what works they want to see happening on their high street and what sort of place they want it to be
  • Cultural programme of: activities and events celebrating the history of the high street and its importance to local communities over the generations.
Castle Street and St Mary’s Butts junction
Castle Street and St Mary’s Butts junction

HSHAZ Pilot Grant

In advance of the wider Cultural Programme, Historic England offered several Pilot Grants to initiate and test projects to engage communities. Reading has been successful in achieving a grant of £9,231 to run a pilot project for the HSHAZ. This pilot project titled ‘Re-imagining the high street through your stories’ will focus on the Oxford Road conservation area, specifically the East end of Oxford Road (from Howard Street to Russel Street).

This map shows the Castle Hill/Russell Street/Oxford Road conservation area, the High Street Heritage Action Zone and the pilot project area (specifically the East end of Oxford Road, from Howard Street to Russel Street).
This map shows the Castle Hill/Russell Street/Oxford Road conservation area, the High Street Heritage Action Zone and the pilot project area (specifically the East end of Oxford Road, from Howard Street to Russell Street).

The aim of the project is to engage with the Oxford Road communities, to explore people’s real stories of Oxford Road and to link them with their local heritage and rich multicultural history.

This will be achieved through the successful implementation of four core activities:

  1. The first activity of the pilot aims to engage with real people and real lives on the Oxford Road in creating a ‘Story board’ around the challenging identity-based theme of ‘Who we are’. This co-created ‘Story Board will inform the artistic interpretations of the other activities. 
  2. The second activity will be a collective community art exhibition, where artists will collaborate with shop keepers and the local community to bring the collected stories of activity one to life in the form of art installations along the Oxford Road. The result aims to encourage increased engagement with the high street and it’s heritage, and to bring more community groups into the high street and encourage a sense of community.
  3. The third activity will also be inspired by the story board created in activity one. The result will be in the form of both a story telling promenade performance and digital iteration derived from the stories captured.
  4. The fourth activity will work with a local artist in collaboration with the collected community stories, to perform interventions on the public realm. These interventions will be creative and inventive Covid public safety artworks which link to both heritage and the Oxford Road businesses, generating positive engagement with the local area.

These interventions will be creative and inventive social distancing artworks which link to both heritage and the Oxford Road businesses, generating positive engagement with the local area.

Street view of Oxford Road shops
Oxford Road

Get Involved

Community engagement is critical to the development of the project and safe ways to engage with the community are being put together. Further details of how you can be involved will appear here shortly.

A short history of Reading’s heritage high streets

The town’s origins appear to be in the Saxon period around St Mary’s Minster Church at the crossing of an east-west route (Castle Street/Gun Street) and the north west-south east route along Bridge Street/St Mary’s Butts.

With the foundation of Reading Abbey by Henry I in 1121 the town flourished as the monastery was a major pilgrimage destination and one of Europe’s largest Royal monasteries.  The town’s layout had a new focus with the triangular Market Place outside the Abbey’s main gate into The Forbury and the parallel east–west running Broad Street and Friar Street, and a new north–south route of London Street/Duke Street.

The many channels of the River Kennet are likely to have been important for waterpower for fulling mills as the town developed its cloth industry processing wool and this became the town’s chief industry until it declined in by the mid 17th century. The plan of the town recorded by Speed’s map of 1610 is still largely recognisable.

John Speed’s map of Reading, 1610
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