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'Zombies' move into disused Reading shopping centre

image captionThe zombies are professionals and some work as special effects makeup artists in film or TV

It is a place that will make your skin crawl and anyone with a nervous disposition is advised not to set foot there.

Few are brave enough to enter this shopping centre in Reading.

As the multi-million transformation of the nearby railway station is unveiled, this building just around the corner is being taken over by "zombies".

The Mall, in Garrard Street, now looks more like a scene from a horror film, with actors playing the living dead crawling out from disused shops, staircases and public toilets.

It is due to be demolished, as part of the Station Hill project, but no date for this has yet been set.

So in the meantime, the zombies are inviting those brave enough to take them on.

Lee Fields, who runs Zed Events and organises the event in Berkshire, said they had held their first zombie survival experience two weeks ago and people from "all walks of life" have been booking it.

"Pretty much everyone likes a good scare, so the show draws anyone in that love a good horror movie or have gone on a scary fairground ride," he said.

"All our zombies are professionals that take it very seriously.

"They really know how to get inside people's heads.

"Many of them are involved in similar events or are special effects make-up artists working in film or TV."

'Enterprising business'

The idea of making good use out of otherwise empty buildings has been backed by business groups.

The proportion of shops in Britain lying empty hit a new record of 14.6% in February, according to figures compiled by the Local Data Company.

image captionThe shopping centre is due to be demolished

"It's good to see an enterprising business take the opportunity of using The Mall in this way before it is demolished," said Reading Chamber of Commerce's business manager.

"At the same time it's providing a fun experience for both Reading residents and corporate events."

Similarly, a closed down pub in the town's Market Place is now inhabited by arts charity Jelly, which uses the space to showcase local arts and crafts.

Back in the world of the undead, groups of people can now book the shopping centre for the four-hour sessions, which run on Saturdays twice a month.

Each session starts with a briefing by the "Police Special Zombie Bashing Unit", which hands out airsoft "guns" and participants are not allowed to bring their own weapons.

For up to two-and-half hours, zombie fighters take part in a movie-like scenario which unfolds in real time.

They have to try their best to stay alive in gun battles and try to outwit the zombies.

However, nobody gets hurt.

Mr Fields said safety was their "number one concern" but added they had times when frightened participants had to be rescued.

"Fear affects people in different ways and often can be quite surprising who are the ones that buckle," he said.

"I have seen grown men break down while their girlfriends soldier on."

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