ACTRESS Kate Winslet has thrown her weight behind the campaign to transform Reading Gaol into an arts hub.

It comes after artist Banksy confirmed he created the painting which appeared on one of the jail walls earlier this month.

The artwork shows a prisoner escaping over the wall of Reading Prison using a rope of bed sheets tied to a typewriter.

This prompted many to believe the escapee was the infamous inmate Oscar Wilde who spent time in the jail.

Speaking to the BBC, the Titanic star who was born in Reading said: "I just felt incredibly excited for Reading to have a Banksy."

She revealed she was contacted by Toby Davies from Rabble Theatre and felt the need to back the cause.

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She said: "If Reading had a legacy space like that, to hand on to generation after generation, it could really be as valuable as some of those central London theatres."

Reading Gaol has been empty and unused since December 2013 when it was shut by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

The site was put on the market by the MoJ and Reading East MP Matt Rodda has been at the forefront of a campaign to save the site as a community hub.

He said: "I am delighted that Kate Winslet has announced her support for the campaign to save Reading Gaol.

"Our whole community is very grateful for her support, which could make a significant difference.

"Kate has also made some very important points about the potential of the gaol as an arts hub and the importance of arts and heritage to local people."

Reading Borough Council (RBC) has this week given its official seal of approval for a new bid to the MoJ for the Reading Gaol site.

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The preliminary terms of a conditional bid by the council to transform the empty prison into a beacon of arts, heritage and culture for Reading, were agreed by councillors in the closed session of a Policy Committee meeting on March 8.

The bid will now be submitted by March 15, in accordance with the period of exclusivity afforded to the council by the MoJ.