A community group’s bid to turn the Cemetery Junction archway into an arts and heritage hub with a food court has been approved by the council.

Reading Borough Council (RBC) has given the local arts group Junction Arch Heritage & Arts (JAHA) 18 months to win funding for its proposals for a community Heritage and Arts Hub at Reading’s iconic Cemetery Junction arch.

The council’s Policy committee approved JAHA’s £40,000 bid to turn the arch into offices and build a food court of shipping containers on Monday, July 12.

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Whilst not the top offer financially, with other bids to turn the arch into homes coming in at £100,000 and £110,000, the council said it provides economic, community and social wellbeing opportunities.

Councillor Jason Brock, RBC’s leader, “I think this is a really positive third-sector bid from JAHA which offers an opporutnity to secure a heritage asset and turn it into a good use in the community.”

Fellow Labour councillor Ruth McEwan added: “I live relatively close to the area and I think this will be a really positive project for the area and will be really popular with the community.”

Green councillor Rob White said the state of the arch saddens him and “it will be great to see the arch back in use by the community, for the community”.  

The development is proposed in two phases and is subject to funding.

The first phase focuses on the conservation of the Cemetery Arch building, the restoration of rooms to create affordable office space and the creation of a food court area made of shipping containers.

The food court area would be run by Blue Collar, who run a food market twice-weekly at Market Place and recently submitted plans for a new shipping container food and drink market on Hosier Street.

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Lib Dem councillor Ricky Duveen queried using a cemetery for a food court, saying if he was visiting a relative he is not sure he would want to see “hot food outlets and a bohemian art studio”.

Responding, Cllr Brock said JAHA acknowledges it will have to be sensitive.

And councillor Karen Rowland, lead member for Culture, Heritage and Recreation, said the Victorian garden cemetery was “designed for enjoyment as well as for burial”. 

If the group gets the second portion of funding, the 250-year lease would be offered and the second phase would follow, subject to planning permission, which would include:

  • The creation of exhibition space of heritage and art
  • A single-storey building and gardens for local businesses and community groups

If funding is not secured for phase two, JAHA would still continue with the food court and offices elements of the project.

The arch’s history

The archway gives access to Reading Old Cemetery and gained nationwide prominence as the setting for 2010 film Cemetery Junction, directed by Stephen Merchant and Reading-born Ricky Gervais.

Originally built in the 1840s, the archway was designed by local architect William Brown and is constructed in imposing bath stone.

The cemetery was taken over by the council in 1959.