The sale of Reading Prison has finally been undertaken after years of bidding.

This month, the Ministry of Justice announced the site has been sold to the Ziran Education Foundation, with no sum being disclosed. 

The sale has been called an 'absurdly lengthy and unnecessarily chaotic process' by Jason Brock the leader of Reading Borough Council.

There have long been hopes that the Prison could become a theatre, arts and heritage hub. 

News that the Ziran Education Foundation has bought the prison has been met with 'cautious optimism' from some people in Reading.

But there has been disappointment in some quarters and questions about who the purchasers are.

You can see how the prison sale unfolded in the timeline below:

2013-2014: Reading Prison closed

Reading Chronicle:

 In 2013, it was announced that Reading Prison would be closed as part of the government's Closure of Prisons Order.

By November of that year, all of the inmates of the jail were removed, with the site officially being closed in January 2014. 

September 2016: Artangel project opens prison for first time in years

In 2016, a project by the group Artangel opened up the prison in a unique way as part of the Reading Year of Culture.

The project involved multiple poetry performances and artists. 

The exhibition was in part inspired by the fact that Oscar Wilde was an inmate of the prison from 1895 to 1897. 

The event seeded hopes that the Prison could become an arts, theatre and heritage space. 

November 2017: Theatre and Arts Reading announce £20 million vision for Prison

A group called Theatre and Arts Reading (TAR), patronised by festival organiser Melvin announced a £20 million vision for the site, which involved creating a new theatre, restaurant and bar.

August  2018: MP pushes for theatre hopes in Parliament

Matt Rodda, the Labour MP for Reading East, spoke in Parliament calling for the site to become a theatre and arts hub. 

July 2019: The Reading Chronicle launches campaign to save the gaol 

The Reading Chronicle added its backing to the campaign to preserve the prison site for the community, which focused on its place in LGBT history and the desire to preserve it as a cultural hub for Reading

October 2019: Sales begins, Reading Gaol Hug

Reading Chronicle: The Reading Gaol hug in 2019. Credit: Chris ForseyThe Reading Gaol hug in 2019. Credit: Chris Forsey

In October 2019 the sale process began. Later that month, the Save Reading Gaol campaign organised a 'Gaol Hug'.  

The protest was attended by the mayor, leading councillors, Mr Rodda and Alok Sharma, the Conservative MP for Reading West. 

READ MORE: Reading gaol hug great success as hundreds hold hands around prison

The campaign sprung up to support its conversion into a theatre and arts hub. 

This activism was followed up by further 'hugs' and marches in the following years. 

2020: First bidder selected, council's project rejected

In 2020 the first bidder for the prison was selected. 

Ultimately TAR withdrew its bid for the prison in December 2019 in an effort to support the council's push

Yet the MoJ selected Artisan Real Estate as the winning bidder instead. 

However, that November it was announced that the developer had pulled out of the sale, triggering a second bidding process. 

March 2021: Banksy graffiti appears on Reading Prison

Reading Chronicle: The Banksy mural on the wall of Reading PrisonThe Banksy mural on the wall of Reading Prison

In 2021, a genuine Banksy appeared on the border wall of the site in Forbury Road, showing a prisoner escaping using a typewriter, in a nod to Oscar Wilde. 

February 2021: TAR plans emerge 

Reading Chronicle: Theatre and Arts Reading's proposal for the siteTheatre and Arts Reading's proposal for the site

The council held a summit on the feature of Reading Gaol in February 2021.

It was given a period of exclusivity to develop its plan for the Prison. 

After the summit, TARs vision for the site was published, with Mr Benn complaining that the work of the group had been 'ignored'. 

Its plans involved establishing a theatre, hotel and food hall on the site. 

May 2021: Council's project rejected again 

Despite the sale process restarting, the council's £2.6 million vision for the Gaol was rejected a second time by the MoJ, as its bid was not high enough.

December 2021: Banksy linked with £10 million bid to 'save' Gaol

In December 2021, The Times reported that the elusive artist Banksy, who stencilled the prison wall with the work 'The Great Escape' was linked with a £10 million effort to save it from development

It is understood that move would have involved the 'sale' of the artwork, which would have funded a community bid for the Prison. 

2022-2023: MP continues to campaign for prison sale to community bidder 

Mr Rodda continued to campaign for the Prison to be sold to a community bidder, which involved meeting theorists who believe King Henry I is buried at the site

In September 2023, now-retired BBC radio host Andrew Peach grilled Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on the sale, questioning why it had been left vacant for so long. 

According to a report by ITV, the MoJ has spent an estimated £2.5 million to £3 million on the vacant site. 

Mr Rodda's petition calling for the Prison to be turned into an arts hub received more than 13,000 signatures

January 2024: Prison sold to Chinese education foundation 

The prison has been sold to the Ziran Education Foundation in an announcement by the MoJ. 

It stated that initial proposals involve creating an educational centre, a museum and exhibition space. 

Bizarrely, there is no mention of the Prison purchase on the foundation's website. 

The Local Democracy Reporting Service has emailed the Ziran Education for more information about its vision for the site.