People in Reading have mixed feelings about the news that the long-dormant prison in the town will be sold to a Chinese education foundation.

The Ministry of Justice recently announced that it has sold the prison in The Forbury, affectionately ‘the Reading Gaol’ to the Ziran Education Foundation.

A view of its website shows that it has a collaboration with the Center on Chinese Education at Columbia University in New York, and has a focus on holistic methods.

It was founded by Chinese business Channing Bi and other colleagues.

The ‘about us’ page on its website states: “The Ziran Education Foundation is dedicated to promoting a compassionate, peaceful, and sustainable world through education.

“To achieve this goal, the organization focuses on several key areas of education such as teacher training programs, workshops, and active partnerships with existing schools.

“These programs are designed to provide educators with funding and resources they need to foster the development of emotional, social, and ethical intelligence in students and themselves.”

The news, which was issued by the Ministry of Justice yesterday (Thursday, January 11) has received a mixed reaction from people in Reading on social media.

There have long been hopes that the site would be given over to community use and transformed into an arts and heritage centre, with the ‘Save Reading Gaol’ campaign being launched circa 2019 to advocate for that.

The campaign has not issued an official statement following the news, but did post a quote by Oscar Wilde: “One of the many lessons that one learns in prison is, that things are what they are and will be what they will be.”

The poet was famously imprisoned at the Gaol from 1895 to 1897 after being sentenced for gross indecency.

Micky Leng (Labour, Whitley), the lead councillor for planning and assets on Reading Borough Council, said he was ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the news in an X/Twitter post.

The Gaol has been dormant for more than 10 years, with the last inmates leaving the prison in November 2023.

Reacting to information from the Ministry of Justice, Neil Thompson said: “There’s a real lack of detail in this announcement, like what they paid and how they will make money to cover that cost for example.

“I hold back on the celebrations until there’s more info.

“Glad that it’s not all going to be flats though.”

The foundation has acquired the Prison through a bidding process held by the Ministry of Justice.

Information provided by the ministry declares that the foundation’s initial proposals included plans for an educational centre, a museum outlining the history of the prison and an exhibition space accessible to the public.

A previous bidder, Artisan Real Estate, pulled out of purchasing the Prison in November 2020.

Famed street artist Banksy stencilled an image of a prisoner escaping the prison walls using a typewriter, in a supposed nod to Oscar Wilde, in 2021.