In this week's column, Jason Brock, the outgoing leader of Reading Borough Council, celebrates the coming transformation of the area to the rear of Broad Street Mall, where a new building for The Hexagon Theatre is set to be built after the council approved a project just before Easter. Councillor Brock writes:

I think it’s fair to say the western corner of our town centre has seen better days. Since the Council moved away from the old Civic Centre in 2015, our cherished Hexagon Theatre has brightened it up (as has Blue Collar’s offer in more recent years), but it can feel a bit of an afterthought when sat alongside other parts of the town centre. The 1970s architecture, while of its time and certainly very striking, can be a challenge too.

I’m pleased to say things are about to change, however. Last month came the news that the Council’s exciting plans to build a new Studio Theatre, as an addition to the Hexagon, were approved.

Reading’s Hexagon has been going strong now for 45 years with stars, acts, bands (and snooker players) all treading the famous boards. For many, it was the centrepiece of many a Christmas, with the pantomime often a child’s first experience of live theatre. Many of you, your friends, or members of your family will also have shared the same stage for one reason or another.

Our much-loved Hexagon will remain firmly in place for the large, and still very popular, productions but when this new project is complete, residents will additionally benefit from a fantastic extension in the form of a brand-new Studio Theatre which will attract a different kind of show.

The seating at our new Studio Theatre will be designed to be flexible and used in a variety of ways, so it can be tailored to individual performances. Seating will surround the stage so audiences can watch from every angle - a technique used by the capital’s most revered arts centres. All the seating can also be removed to cater for a 300-strong crowd.

The new building will also have rehearsal spaces, community spaces, a café, and a rooftop bar all of which can be used by you, whether you come to watch one of the varied performances or not.

There should be no barriers for all residents to enjoy Reading’s arts offer, and access to the new Studio Theatre will be at street level off Queen’s Walk through a brand new entrance. The venue will also include a Changing Places toilet.

Construction is set to begin later this year and performances will continue at the Hexagon throughout, so don’t forget to keep checking

The new theatre will be part of our broader Minster Quarter, which is set to be transformed. Earlier this year the Council announced it was teaming up with a development partner, McLaren Living, which will help us deliver the scheme.

The project will bring hundreds of new homes – importantly including much-needed affordable housing – new commercial space, a new public Hexagon Square (yes… I know, I know) as a gateway to our updated Hexagon Theatre, and new jobs for the local population.

Renewable energy will be at the heart of the designs, with dedicated new pedestrian pathways, cycle routes, and places to sit and enjoy what will be a much-improved public area. McLaren intends to engage with residents at an early stage in order to shape their proposals, so do look out for details of local consultation when they are publicised.

With the additional announcement that the Council was successful in a £495,000 bid to the Arts Council and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to further improve facilities at all seven local branch libraries in Reading – including our brand new Central Library where construction starts this summer – it promises to be an exciting period for arts and culture in Reading.