Physical interventions and public realm improvements

The picture shows the existing and proposed elevation sketches at 183a Oxford Road as a part of the HSHAZ scheme. Deawings by Purcell
Existing and proposed elevations at 183a Oxford Road as a part of the HSHAZ scheme. Drawings by Purcell

Town Centres and High Streets are important places not just for local economies, but also for social cohesion and well-being by providing a destination where people gather and mix. The High Street Heritage Action Zone programme focuses on understanding and regenerating historic buildings on the high streets, investing in the public realm, restoring local character and supporting the features that make these places unique.

By unlocking the potential and revealing the heritage in Reading, the intention is that historic buildings will be put back into use, conservation areas will be improved to kick-start regeneration and renewal, and unsung places will be recognised and celebrated for their unique character helping to instil a sense of local pride within the High Street Heritage Action Zone in addition to making them more attractive to residents, businesses, tourists and investors.

The aim of the Reading High Street Heritage Action Zone is to secure sustainable, heritage-led town centre growth to create a more vibrant, connected and enhanced historic centre. There will be greater economic activity, lower vacancy, better fabric condition, diverse employment opportunities, more visitors who stay longer, and more activities to engage local people in Reading’s heritage.

St Marys Butts and Castle Street HSHAZ

St Marys Butts and Castle Street HSHAZ

What are we doing?

The picture shows the before and after of the cleaning of queen Victoria statue. On the left shows the dirty statue and on the right shows the clean statue.
Before and after the cleaning of the Queen Victoria Statue as a part of the HSHAZ scheme. Photos by Chris Forsey
  • Investment in listed buildings, including facades, fore­courts and boundaries.
  • Shopfront improvements in the HSHAZ Conservation Areas through providing individual shop owners with grants to enable the works to be carried out.
  • Surveys to support, protect and enhance culturally significant assets.
  • Improvements to public realm in the HSHAZ high streets.

What are the potential outcomes and benefits of the grants scheme?

Grant funding has the potential for:

  • Appropriate re-use of vacant historic buildings, increasing the property occupancy rate and improving economic viability and diversity
  • Improving the condition of buildings along the Oxford Road and Castle Street/St. Mary’s Butts
  • Improving the day and night-time vibrancy of the town centre and to increase the number of visitors
  • Greater employment opportunities for people in the town centre, particularly amongst 18-24 year olds
  • To engage local people in Reading’s rich heritage
  • Making the Oxford Road and St Mary’s Butts/Castle Street a more attractive place to live, work and visit.

What are we doing?

Building condition surveys have been carried out on all properties involved with the scheme, which focused on the external facades and shopfronts, identifying missing architectural elements and what works can be done to improve the visual appearance of these buildings.

Reading Borough Council have now appointed a contractor to carry out the works with the majority of properties having gained relevant planning consents where necessary. Works to most of the shopfronts commenced in spring 2023 and are due to complete in the summer of 2023. 

As a part of the physical improvements, the HSHAZ has also funded the cleaning of four town centre historic monuments, including the Queen Victoria Statue, Simeon Monument, Jubilee Cross, and Zinzan Tomb (St Mary’s Churchyard). In addition, we have helped fund the installation of 6 x new lampposts within St Mary’s Churchyard to ensure a higher level of safety for pedestrians walking through the minster.

HSHAZ ZinZan Tomb HSHAZ The Simeon Monument HSHAZ The Queen Victoria Statue HSHAZ The Jubilee Cross

What else have we done?

Historic Area Assessment

Archway Heritage together with the Built Heritage Consultancy and Ultranyx have carried out a Level 2 Historic Area Assessment in Reading’s Town Centre together with a review of heritage assets, identifying their significance and analysing historic urban character areas in and around the town centre. This work is to be submitted for an RTPI award and is a useful document that can be used to identify future heritage assets and designated conservation areas within the town.

Public Realm Improvements

Picture shows a woman and a child interacting with the Ideas board for Oxford Road.

In 2021, the Reading HSHAZ team, with support from urban design practice Feria Urbanism, conducted a series of on-site public engagement encounters across the three conservation areas in Reading town centre – Oxford Road, St Mary’s Butts & Castle Street and Market Place & London Street.

You may have encountered the team with their big wooden board, covered with ideas and suggestions for change. The team were also making audio recordings so you may have seen them with their microphone and headphones! The purpose of these encounters was to gather information from people in the street to better understand what changes people would like to see in in these three heritage areas. The team now wish to share their research with a wider audience through a dedicated website.

See the results so far. You can listen to what people have told the team and have your say by answering the short survey questions.

A woman is standing infront of the ideas board for Saint Mary's Butts & Castle Street.
Picture shows a comparison between an artists impression of the shopfront improvements.
An artist’s early impression of shopfront improvements
3 logos: HM Government, Historic England and Reading Borough Council
Last updated on 28/03/2023