HUNDREDS of people turned up to "hug" Reading gaol yesterday as part of a campaign to turn the prison into an arts and heritage site.

Campaigners came out in their masses, despite the rain, to descend on the Abbey Ruins, ready for an afternoon of hugging.

READ MORE: Gallery: Reading gaol hug.

Organiser and chief hugger, Linda Saul, arranged the movement to physically demonstrate the people of Reading's wish to save the jail as an asset for the community.

Amongst supporters were various councillors and key players in the campaign to save the site - even some historic characters, including Kings and Queens, joined in the fun.

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To kickstart the event, campaigners sang the Reading gaol hug song before the Mayor of Reading, Paul Woodward, gave a speech, asking people "do you want a hug?"

People encircled the Boundary Walls following speeches from Reading East MP, Matt Rodda, Reading West MP, Alok Sharma, councillor Karen Rowland, Theatre and Arts Reading executive secretary, Hilary Scott, and Linda Saul.

Reading Chronicle:

Once in position, everybody held hands and at the sound of St James' Church bells, the hug began.

Around 700 people were needed to fully surround the prison and this number was certainly exceeded.

Reading Chronicle:

Despite the heavy rain, huggers remained united, taking part in a Mexican wave, until the bells chimed a second time to signal the end of the hug - a huge cheer and celebration followed.

Ms Saul was pleased with the "fantastic turnout" and thought the event was "absolutely superb".

Mr Rodda, a key campaigner, also expressed his support.

He said: “I’m so proud of our town and our people for doing this - I think it’s brilliant.”

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has put Reading prison on the market and intends to sell it to the highest bidder but Ms Saul explained she will continue to campaign to save the prison.

She said: “We certainly need to keep campaigning.

“We formed a Reading Gaol Hug society, the organising team, and our society will continue to exist until the sale happens one way or the other.”

But, the hug is not over yet.

Ms Saul has more plans for those who couldn't make the hug event and is urging people to continue to support the movement.

She said: “Anybody who is here today if they can post on social media and use the hashtag Reading Gaol Hug and post their photographs that would be great.

"And anybody who couldn’t make it, if you could take photographs of yourselves together in a hug of some sort and post it with the same hashtag that would be great because we are going to be launching a virtual Reading gaol hug for people who couldn’t make it.”

She added: “Thank you to everybody who came, particularly all the volunteers and the organising team.

"They have been fantastic.”