Chazey Barn: a sad state of repair

Sad and historic barn, neglected for decades and seeking a loving future use. Will someone please look after this barn?”

Chazey Barn 14 Feb 2020 with the crack showing clearly
Chazey Barn (at the far end of the Warren, Caversham) is Reading’s only Grade I building which is not a religious building. The Listing information is HERE. It has been dated as being built in Spring 1611. Some history is provided HERE. Owned by the Mapledurham Estate it was let out in the mid 2000’s to a company who planned to erect a Care Home. Despite protests by local groups (“folly to build on a site which regularly floods, the difficulty of getting emergency vehicles down the Warren, and the isolation of people in such a care home”) permission was given by a Planning Officer under Delegated powers. A revised , larger, scheme was submitted but refused at the Planning Applications Committee, the applicant Appealed but the Planning Inspector rejected the appeal, however the company still had the original consent to do “something”. Groundworks were undertaken to the site in 2009, thus anchoring consent.
In early 2012 concerned about the gradually deteriorating condition of the barn, the brickwork has several large cracks in it and there are missing tiles etc, the Warren and District Residents Association and CADRA, supported by RCS, started to write to Historic England and RBC asking that action be take to require the leaseholders of Chazey Barn to undertake essential repairs. In 2016 we gained and understanding that the lease had gone bust. In August 2016 we finally had a letter from RBC Planning Dept: “In conjunction with Historic England, we have written to the landowners, developers and prospective occupier of the site ( the Inmind Healthcare Group) stating that unless work to prevent the barn deteriorating any further begins by the autumn, we will issue an Urgent Works Notice. HE has conducted a structural survey identifying work that needs to be carried out, and a copy of this was sent with each letter. We have had responses from the landowner and the prospective occupier and understand that the latter is currently looking for a contractor to undertake the work.” Despite correspondence with HE by W&DRA and CADRA nothing happened. We hassled again. In 2017 we were told by RBC that the Care Home company had gone bust and that they were liaising with . SAVE added the building to its Buildings at Risk in 2017. January 2017 letter from HE that they were ” assisting Reading Borough Council in the steps needed for them to serve an urgent works notice.” October 2018 correspondence from HE that “they were doing all they could to persuade Reading BC to take the appropriate action“. June 2019 RBC Planning Dept ” I am liaising with Historic England in order to issue an Urgent Works Notice in relation to Chazey Barn. The process for this requires several steps and that the Council has funding and contractor in place to undertake the works if the owner/ responsible party for the Barn do not carry out the works within a required time frame.”
In January 2020 the Reading Chronicle reported HERE. Cllr Tony Page said: “This is a completely unacceptable situation where the owners and developers of a Grade I listed building in Reading have allowed it to deteriorate more than 21 years after planning permission was originally given. Planning officers have continued to monitor the condition of the structure since the last warning letter in 2016 and the council is now in the position where it intends to issue a further warning. A Reading Chronicle article in Feb 2020 HERE, where Cllr Page is quoted ” …the council held back from serving the urgent works notice because the leaseholder said it was interested in carrying out the repairs. It is of course disappointing that two months on the works have still not been carried out but officers are now in dialogue themselves with the leaseholder.”

So I wonder when, or indeed if, works will be undertaken.

What are the options for the future?

We understand the council’s rational for approving a planning application which they hoped it would allow the barn “to be brought back into beneficial use”. d, perhaps, be seen as a desperate throw of the dice to find a solution, almost any solution. Whilst we thought it was sheer folly the council would have been engaged in deeper discussions with the applicant and would have known more. Sadly it proved to be a flawed solution then, it seems to us still to be a flawed solution. There are however no easy solutions. A community use which would be practical, generate funds which would facilitate restoration and ongoing maintenance, would be ideal and good ideas are sought.  They are challenging to find.  Some barns such as this have been successfully converted to homes, however the extremely close proximity of the proposed large Care Home might discourage such an innovation. In the meantime we support fully RBC’s action to have protective repairs undertaken. These will however not restore the barn so that it could find a new use. So all innovative ideas (and money) are welcome.

Chestnut Walk trees to be replaced

Removal of the Trees in Chestnut Walk

Chestnut Walk

(some text with thanks to Friends of Reading Abbey, image Reading Chronicle whose report is HERE)

Chestnut Walk Tree Replacement is part of £160,000 Improvement Plan by Reading Council. A total of 18 distinctive mature horse chestnut trees along the Walk have been declining for a number of years, suffering from canker, fungal brackets and other defects. Inspections have found they are a risk to public safety and four have been felled previously for the same reason. Work to remove the remaining horse chestnuts is set to begin on 17 February. They will be replaced with sweet chestnuts, a large, robust species known to be resilient to the issues that affected these trees, and for their tolerance in urban environments. Depending on the condition of the felled horse chestnut trees, some of the wood may be recyclable with a view using it for artwork or seating in other parks and open spaces across Reading. Chestnut Walk did not have any pedestrian lighting. As part of the wider Council Improvement scheme, new lighting will also be installed, as well as a CCTV camera to improve security along what is already a popular direct route into the town centre. There was a lot of ill-informed (being kind) opposition on social media to RBC’s well researched rational for having to take this action. One protestor suggested that the diseased trees had to be preserved as they “could have been seen by Oscar Wilde” . This being in 1897 so the trees would have been 123 years lower so hardly likely to have been higher than the wall at best. Simply bonkers!

William Marshal: ‘The Greatest Knight’

8 November 2019.

The information panel about William Marshal, The Greatest Knight, was unveiled on 7th November. The cost of some £5,000 was funded by donations from some 50 members of Reading Civic Society and Caversham and District Residents Association, Gift Aid and CADRA itself. Eight Key Stage 2 children from Marshal House from Caversham Heights Primary School walked to the viewing point on Caversham Bridge to help ‘unwrap’ the plaque. The children really enjoyed learning more about the impressive life of William Marshal and his legacy, not only for Caversham, but for the whole country. They agreed it was a lovely event and were very grateful to Helen Lambert and CADRA for inviting them. The project would not have been possible without the excellent response to the appeal for funds and we would like to thank the very kind donors for their generous donations. Reading Borough Council have been very supportive of the project. Reading Civic Society (a registered charity) has agreed to receive donations and apply for Gift Aid for the project. See also CADRA’s Website CADRA Page about Wm Marshal Info Panel

Local Listing update: November 2019

Local Listing Update: 5 November 2019

The government has decided to encourage councils to develop Local Lists (Lists of buildings which are important locally but which do not make the cut to be added to the National List managed by Historic England). We will give more information about this in due course. In the meantime Get Reading today provides information about, and images of, the buildings currently on Reading’s Local List.

Reading Borough Council’s process of adding buildings to the Local List is not visible on their website. Anyone however can propose a building to be added to the local list. Reading Civic Society and the CAAC have had some success in having buildings added to this list. The council also proposes and consults with us about their ideas. The link to the RCS page about how to go about adding a building to the list is

What is the weight given to Locally Listed buildings? Does it count for anything as two of the buildings which were formerly on the list have now been demolished? The recent evidence of Planning Appeal decisions in Reading is that it does. The Planning Inspector decided against the proposal to demolish 3 Craven Road – a key element of his decision was the Local Listing. The University’s proposals at St Patrick’s Hall, which would have led to demolition of part of the building, were also turned down by the Planning Inspector, after a hearing of 5 days, partly based on the Local Listing. However Local listing is not the ultimate protection and a use has to be found for buildings. Grovelands Church has we understand been sold by the church (so we hope for imagination there). The lease for the Rising Sun is £100,000 per year- so who on earth is going to pay that for the site… the owner is setting that up to say “we have tried to let it but surprise no one wants it so we now want to demolish it.” The building on the SSE site does not feature in the new plans for the site, though we have sought to encourage the developers several times to do so.

Planning update: November 2019

Planning update 4 November 16:25 An interesting perspective on the Build to Let from Haslams MD Steve Woodford. The company research shows a total pipeline of 6.268 flats coming to EBC area with 1,650 being Build to Rent. Last week he spoke to Thames Tap about the numbers of Build-to-Rent flats in the Reading pipeline. He said: “My view is, ok, they can’t all go on the open market, but how many can Reading absorb and deal with?”

New website for all Arts, Culture and Heritage Events

New website for all Arts, Culture and Heritage Events was launched at South Street Arts Centre on 29 October. It will replace the existing Reading Arts and Venues website shortly.  The big change is that groups other than RBC related venues are able to add their events to the programme (after some training) and so far 60 groups have signed up to take part. Additionally a full time post has been funded jointly by the Council and Reading UK for 4 years.  The site will become the Time Out for Reading and a Virtual Cultural and Heritage Hub.



Reading Gaol Hug

13 October 2019 – READING GAOL HUG 

Alok Sharma MP and Matt Rodda MP

Coming together for the Big Hug

Coming together for the Big Hug Reading’s MPs – (L-R) Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP and Matt Rodda MP

The Councillors join the Hug

The Councillors join the Hug

The Deputy Mayor and Councillors join the MPs in the Hug and Oscar is there too.

The Hug in the Abbey

The Hug within the Abbey Ruins

A video by Andy Jones of BBC Radio Berkshire of the Hug In Progress may be seen:

Party politics were transcended on Sunday 13th October when Reading’s two MPs, Matt Rodda, the Rt Hon Alok Sharma (Secretary of State for International Development), and Reading Borough Councillors from all parties joined the 1,000 people who assembled in Reading Abbey Ruins on Sunday afternoon to stage a community Hug of the boundary walls of Reading Gaol. This was successfully completed despite downpours. People of all ages took part.

The aim of the campaign is to encourage a more imaginative use for the closed Gaol than selling it for housing. The vision of Theatre and Arts in Reading and RBC is for it to be an Arts / Cultural Hub.

The event was initiated by Artist Linda Saul. The Reading Gaol Hug Society was formed to make her vision happen and was composed of 4 members of Reading Civic Society. We were guided on any issues about running the event by Cllr Karen Rowland (RBC’s Lead Councillor for Culture, Heritage and Recreation), RBC staff and a member of the Baker Street Area Neighbourhood Association. On the day the support of around 30 Marshals and First Aiders, to ensure it all happened safely, was vital.

A press release can be seen HERE.

Matt Rodda MP’s Petition campaigning for this vision has now reached over 7,000 signatures.

Support has come from many quarters including the Oscar Wilde Society and
the Vice Chancellor of the University of Reading.

Students out in Taiwan also did a virtual hug which may be seen on the
Facebook site.  HERE 

A good report was provided by The Wokingham Paper.

The report from the Reading Chronicle is Reading Chronicle report

The Reading Gaol Website is

Reading Civic Society Annual Party, 2 March 2019 – Pepe Sale

57 members and their guests attended the annual Civic Society party at Pepe Sale on Saturday 2 March. As ever we were brilliantly looked after by Toni and the Pepe Sale team. It was terrific to see such an enthusiastic turnout with some new members attending and some long standing members attending an event for the first time in many years.

We were very grateful for the donations of prizes for the raffle which raised £130.

A selection of images by Chris Widdows is below:

The Quiz by Chris Widdows