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At the shopping mall …

June 24, 2022

As you know each Thursday, I go to a studio in the town’s centre to make my stop motion films. The building has history and while it is not blindly obvious it is interesting and has its own rhythm.

It is a shopping mall, originally called the Butts Centre and built in the 1970s it became the ‘place’ to go shopping. There is a main street in Reading called Broad Street where the shops and department stores were found but it was then a busy thoroughfare, for cars and buses and open to the elements. The mall provided an integral multistorey carpark and undercover shopping space. It offered a different and modern shopping experience, shoppers could spend hours strolling and relaxing in the cafes.

The beside the mall, was a theatre, garden and local government offices and the infamous Inner Distribution Road, at the time like all major town redevelopments it caused divided opinions. However, over the 50 years, history has become forgotten and redevelopment has continued throughout the town and muddied the situation further. Meanwhile, the Mall was no longer invested in and become shabby and less desirable, the government workers were moved to another site, so buildings were empty and fallen into poor repair, the theatre became less attractive to visiting ‘stars.’

However, the Butts Centre has been modernised and has become the ‘Broad Street Mall’ and remains an inclusive and accessible centre for the local community and those like me a bus ride away.  There is a post office, a medical centre, beauty salon, advisory hubs for the elderly and those less able. There are smaller shops for hardware, hobbies, clothes, food, and gifts at affordable prices. There is a cinema and performance hub, Pound Land, Iceland, and TK MAXX, Cafes including Greggs, so everyone is welcome and catered for.  Nonetheless, rents remain very high, and shops are empty and will remain so until this recent recession is over. Meanwhile, the Jelly Reading, the charity that ‘champions’ creative art in Reading is renowned for its ability to transform vacant plots into art galleries, studios, and creative hubs where they run a variety of opportunities for emerging and established artists like myself at fair prices. 

For me it is a wonderful chance to make films in a warm community, I watch the visitors to the mall as they make their way to from the multistorey car park or the toilet to the shops, cafes, or cinema when they take a moment to look at the current display of stitch work by local mothers or me and the performing dolls.

Other artists use the space for painting, drawing, stitching, and knitting, one comes in the evening when the Mall is less busy to make music. Beside his day job he works tirelessly to raise awareness about the deterioration of the government buildings, theatre, and surrounding gardens.  While the buildings were not always regarded highly, they are a fine example of 1970s architecture and should be retained. They should be restored carefully and wisely employing  local crafts men and not demolished and rebuilt by ruthless property developers and hordes of migrant workers.

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