Why South Street Matters
A guest post by Niall Norbury, Founder, Alt Reading
Reading doesn’t have the greatest reputation for culture. When I first set up Alt Reading we received several comments saying we would run out of content within six months. Over a year later we are still discovering new events and organisations worth celebrating.
Alt Reading was set up to promote and support arts, culture and independent businesses in Reading and in our short existence I believe we have seen a huge change in attitudes towards our town’s creative potential and output culminating with the planned Year of Culture in 2016. One week ago, I would say the arts are stronger in Reading than ever before. Then I heard the news about South Street…
Reading Borough Council is currently facing difficult budget cuts and one of the options being discussed is the closure of South Street and movement of its programme to other venues across town.
Since the news broke on Friday we launched a petition that has received thousands of signatures and a Facebook group with over one thousand people committed to protecting South Street. It is hard to imagine people rallying the same way around somewhere like the Hexagon and the reason is because South Street demonstrates what Reading is capable of.
Each week on Alt Reading we post two ‘what’s on’ features: one for the week, and one for the weekend. I have the difficult task of compiling everything going on in Reading into just five recommendations, but hardly a week goes by without South Street making the shortlist.
Our petition and Facebook group are full of incredible stories of what South Street has achieved. It has supported up and coming talent such as Radiohead, Mumford & Sons and Eddie Izzard, it has provided a space for local groups such as Real Time Video and RedCape and it has attracted some of the UK’s best artists, theatre-makers and musicians to Reading.
People from Brighton, Bristol, Oxford and London have responded to our campaign: saying the programme at South Street is enough to warrant the train fare to Reading as it is a venue that is rare in the UK, let alone in the Thames Valley.
Yet all of this is currently under threat: the programme at South Street could not be moved to other venues without a huge loss. The Hexagon is too large and South Street’s programming would have to be cut to fit into the Hexagon’s already busy schedule.
The Concert Hall is not built for live theatre and the 3Bs Bar would require an expensive refurbishment to be able to host South Street’s current programming.
Additionally, many of the costs of South Street are offset by using the building as a hireable space for local groups – the loss of the building will only increase the cost of the putting on shows of the calibre that South Street attracts.
Our campaign is not about which political party is to blame or which services should or shouldn’t be cut. At over 4,000 signatures this is a campaign to save a venue which matters not only to Reading’s arts community but to the entire town.
As we prepare for a Year of Culture which aims to demonstrate what Reading is capable of – it would be wrong not to feature South Street as a shining example of how Reading can compete culturally with Oxford, Bristol or London.
South Street is not just a programme of contemporary theatre or comedy, it is not just a space for local groups and organisations – it is a representation of what Reading is capable of.