Reading Prison: Hollywood stars call for jail to be arts venue

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Kenneth Branagh and Natalie Dormer have joined calls to preserve Reading Prison as a centre for culture

Hollywood actors Sir Kenneth Branagh and Natalie Dormer have joined a campaign to transform a former jail into a centre for culture and the arts.

Reading Prison - which famously housed Oscar Wilde between 1895 and 1897 - has been derelict since 2013 and was put up for sale by the government last year.

However, a deal to sell the Grade II listed building to developers fell through last month.

Reading council said it hoped to revive a bid to turn it into an arts complex.

Image source, Marcus J Leith
Image caption,
Reading Prison was closed in November 2013

The prison, located in the town centre, was immortalised by Wilde in his poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol, written after he was convicted of gross indecency for being gay.

In 2016, the empty building was used to host exhibitions as part of the town's Year of Culture events programme and there have been growing calls to make it a permanent arts venue.

Branagh, who spent part of his childhood living in Reading, said the town "deserves to preserve and transform its world-renowned link with a unique piece of social, political and artistic history".

"Despite the undoubted challenges, don't let this wounded beast of a building be killed when it can be cured," he added.

Image source, Getty Images/Morley von Sternberg
Image caption,
The prison was immortalised by Oscar Wilde's poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Dormer, who was born in Reading and has starred in Game of Thrones and Hunger Games, added: "It deserves to be protected and supported as a venue for thriving community spirit, education and creative ideas.

"[It is] a massive opportunity to create a cultural gem for Reading."

The actors join a list of stars already backing the campaign, including Stephen Fry and Dame Judi Dench.

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