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Banksy pledges £10million to transform Reading prison

The prison was shut down in 2013 and plans to revamp the space have continuously fallen through. World renowned street artist Banksy is pledging money to transform it into a positive space for art and culture.

What happens to prisons once they shut down indefinitely? In the case of England’s Reading Prison, the massive building became derelict, sitting empty for almost a decade.

The Ministry of Justice put the prison up for sale in 2019, hoping it would no longer have to fork out £20k a month for its upkeep. The ministry then announced that the building would be sold to bidder with the highest offer.

Plans swirled around turning it into an apartment complex, a luxury hotel, or a World Heritage Site. After all, it was where the famous poet Oscar Wilde spent two years of his life just for being gay – these were different (and backwards) times, remember.

Several bidders came forward with offers that were deemed too low for the property. Now, the artist who remains unidentified, Banksy, has pledged to raise £10 million to buy out the space, with plans to transform the massive plot of land into an arts centre.

In March, the street artist painted a mural called ‘Create Escape’ on the outside walls of the prison, which depicts an escaping prisoner using a rope made from bedsheets emerging from a typewriter – a clear nod to Oscar Wilde.

Banksy has announced his desire to preserve the historic building, which is built on the site of the former Reading Abbey, where King Henry I was buried.

He plans to sell the stencil used to create the prison wall artwork to meet the £10 million asking price of the building – a rare move, considering selling his stencils is something the artist has only done once before.

Presenting his idea for the prison-turned-art-centre, Banksy said: ‘Oscar Wilde is the patron saint of smashing two contrasting ideas together to create magic. Converting the place that destroyed him into a refuge for art feels so perfect we have to do it.’



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Several big names from Reading, including Kate Winslet, described Banky’s decision as monumental for the area, which is known for its music festivals and performance theatres.

‘If Reading had a legacy space [started by Banksy], to hand on to generation after generation, it could really be as valuable as some of those central London theatres,’ Kate Winslet stated.

She promised to attend on the opening night if Banksy’s art venue plan – and budget – is accepted by the Ministry of Justice. Banksy also has the support of Reading’s local Labour MP, Matt Rodda, who hopes to convince the body to accept his offer in upcoming parliament meetings.

We’ll have to wait to see what happens, but with an offer of £10 million – and an intention to preserve the historical building – from one of the world’s most well-known and controversial artists, it’s likely we’ll hear an update very soon.