MYSTERY figures from the arts world could be set to donate millions of pounds to back the campaign to save the Reading Gaol.

In a letter to Justice Minister Dominic Raab, Reading East MP Matt Rodda says the potential multi-million-pound pledge from unnamed donors could top up the council’s £2.6 million bid to turn it into an arts and heritage site.

Mr Rodda is calling on Government to work with the arts community so the bid can be successful.

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As well as drawing Mr Raab’s attention to the potential offer, the MP asked for help in saving Reading Gaol and turning it into an arts hub. The plea was backed by the Reading Chronicle during a six-month campaign during 2019/20.

Speculation still surrounds the unconfirmed identities behind the potential pledge but there is a long list of A-listers such as Dame Judi Dench, Kate Winslet and Stephen Fry that have spoken out in support of saving the gaol.

Street artist Banksy also appeared to throw his weight behind the campaign after putting the spotlight on the gaol early this year creating artwork on its outer wall.

The MP added: “There is significant support to redevelop the site and use it for the arts and heritage because of its connection to Oscar Wilde and because it is the burial place of King Henry I, whose tomb is believed to sit among the ruins of Reading Abbey beneath the gaol.”

The reported potential injection of funding from well-known figures in the arts community comes amid the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) attempt to sell the prison. Developer Artisan Real Estate pulled out of plans to buy the prison last year.

RBC was given a period of exclusivity to bid for the site earlier this year. However, the MoJ was not enamoured enough with the offer to go for it but has kept the bid on the table to consider among other offers.

Responding to Mr Rodda, minister Victoria Atkins said “no revised bid has been received from the council following remarketing” and the original bid will be considered alongside other bids received.

The council’s Reading Gaol plan includes a heritage centre celebrating its history and archaeology, a space for theatre, dance, music, cinema and outdoor exhibitions, public spaces, a creative innovation hub, rooftop café and housing.

RBC leader Jason Brock said the council’s bid for Reading Gaol “has widespread support, both from within the community here in Reading and from the wider arts, heritage and cultural community - all of whom recognise its huge historical and cultural value”.

Cllr Brock added: “We have also made very clear we would welcome - indeed, we actively encourage - alternative bids to the MoJ which seek to achieve that, whether that be from community organisations or members of the wider arts and cultural community.

“If any such future offer does emerge, it would only serve to show the strength of feeling to transform the prison into something truly special for Reading.”

There is speculation around who could be behind the offer as several celebrities in the arts community have spoken out in support of the campaign. These include actors Dame Judi Dench, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet and Natalie Dormer, and Stephen Fry.

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Reading Gaol also rose to further fame earlier this year when Banksy painted a mural on the prison walls depicting Oscar Wilde escaping with a typewriter.

He revealed himself as the artist behind the work in a video posted on Instagram shortly after the street art was discovered. The stunt appeared to suggest Banksy is also in support of saving the Gaol.

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Other celebs in the arts world who could potentially have an interest due to their ties to the town include Ricky Gervais and Charlie Brooker, though neither have spoken out about the campaign.