A community group in Reading have launched a bid to acquire the Cemetery Junction arch and turn it into a National Lottery-funded heritage and arts hub.

The arch was advertised for auction sale by Reading Borough Council (RBC) earlier this month as it was no longer required for council purposes.

Reading Borough Council (RBC) withdrew the listing last week to allow the local community to develop and progress its bid.

Volunteers have set up Junction Arch Heritage and Arts (JAHA) as a Community Interest Company and applied for National Lottery Heritage Funding in their efforts to acquire the iconic arch in east Reading.

The proposals include a café, community herb garden and art exhibitions.

Nick Cooksey, community director of JAHA, said: “Reading is a town steeped in history, which, like other towns and cities in the UK, is experiencing huge regeneration and expansion.

“Although Reading’s heritage is being recognised at sites such as Reading Abbey and the prison, it is important to recognise that heritage is as much about places like the Cemetery Junction arch and the stories of ordinary people as it is about Kings and famous writers.

“The restored arch and community garden will provide the local people with a place they can be together to share their lives and stories.”

The arch, built in 1840, was originally a grand ornamental gatehouse to Reading Old Cemetery and today is a Grade II listed landmark.

The Junction Heritage and Arts Hub would focus on the heritage and arts of the diverse local community and the part they have played in the story of the Cemetery Junction area.

Karen Rowland, RBC’s new lead member for Culture, Heritage and Recreation, said: “Reading’s impressive heritage is woven throughout our town and the grade II listed Cemetery arch is one of our finest iconic and instantly recognisable landmarks.

“Regrettably, cuts to our budgets imposed by the government mean the council is simply not currently in a position to use it ourselves.

“On hearing of the local community plan to create a community space with the Arch, we were happy to withdraw it from auction to allow some time to work on the project and develop a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

“We wish them every success and whilst we are unable to contribute funding to their efforts as a council, we look forward to supporting the group and watching the project develop in the months to come.”

JAHA will now wait to hear if their initial request to the National Lottery Heritage Fund is accepted before progressing to a formal, comprehensive bid.

The group say other benefits will include:

  • A digital interpretative aspect will be a Time Window and periscope, enabling visitors to look out from the exhibition room and see how the area has changed through the centuries.
  • Recorded oral histories of elderly residents, many of whom are in their 90s.
  • A study of the graves and the stories surrounding the people buried in them which would be open to volunteers and encourage student visits from local primary and secondary schools.
  • A study of the flora and fauna of the graveyard, a recognised wildlife haven, that includes Muntjac Deer.