This week Reading East MP Matt Rodda writes exclusively to readers of The Reading Chronicle:

I want to thank everyone who is taking part in my campaign to Save Reading Gaol and I would like to ask anyone who has not yet signed the petition to add their name, to help me persuade the Government to save the gaol and turn it into an arts and heritage hub.

We have to stand up for our heritage and I was deeply disappointed when the Ministry of Justice announced they would sell the gaol to the highest bidder, which could lead to it being redeveloped as luxury flats, something I believe would destroy a vital part of our history and which would be a huge mistake.

More than 2,000 people have signed the petition since it started three weeks ago, with many deciding to sign since last week, when the campaign was supported by the Chronicle. I am very grateful to everyone who has signed and also to the Chronicle, Theatre and Arts Reading and the Borough Council, all of whom support my call for a change of heart by the Government.

I’ve been staggered by the response, both by the speed with which support has grown and also because of the range of offers of help, including those from individual people and arts organisations.

So many people have come up with imaginative and creative ideas for boosting the campaign and I want to thank all of those who have contacted me.

I particularly enjoyed being able to talk to people at Water Fest on Saturday, where several hundred people signed the petition at our stall on Chestnut Walk, it was a wonderful setting for talking to residents about preserving Reading’s heritage.

You can see the gaol very clearly through the Abbey Ruins and I couldn’t help thinking how much better it would be if in future Water Fests people could stroll from Forbury Gardens into the ruins and then on into the gaol, as part of an impressive new arts and cultural space.

It is wonderful that this vision is shared by so many local people and the response to the campaign shows both the strength of our community and our pride in our own history. It makes me very proud to represent Reading and Woodley.