Some years are defined by great songs, some by great personalities, some by great tragedies. This year has been alarming both nationally and internationally, but on the oft-ignored local level, the year was defined by the sound of the tide going out on civic society. The world clearly has bigger problems than the damage wrought by the tortured thrashing of Reading Borough Council as it gets strangled by central government, but one can only be dismayed at the prospect of more of the same next year, exacerbated by the council’s difficulty in controlling its finances.
The tide goes out
The South Street Arts Centre was under threat of closure at the beginning of year, despite being a popular and successful venue. It was saved by an Arts Council grant of half a million and, one suspects, the fact that the council had declared 2016 Reading’s ‘year of culture.’
Whitley Library on Northumberland Avenue may move to the South Reading Community Centre. The nearest swimming pool to Katesgrove, Arthur Hill Baths at Cemetery junction, has already been closed and local residents have mounted an impressive campaign to fund it privately until a replacement is opened.
The council has also proposed closing many of the town’s children’s centres. Services may be withdrawn from Katesgrove Children’s Centre, on Waterloo Meadows, and Katesgrove parents will then be expected to use the Sun Street Youth Centre, north of Cemetery Junction. The final decision has not yet been made, pending public consultation starting in January.
Local elections and the EU referendum
About 58% of those who voted in the EU referendum in Reading voted to remain. This was broadly in line with much of London and the Thames Valley and several of the country’s large cities, which sparked jesting proposals that the Thames Valley should declare independence from the rest of the country. Later in the year, both local MPs Rob Wilson and Alok Sharma voted against proposals to declare that EU citizens living in the UK have the right to remain in the country post-Brexit.
Sitting Katesgrove councillor Rose Williams was re-elected in local elections with 60% of the votes cast, albeit on a 29% turnout. The number of registered voters in Katesgrove, Redlands and Whitley wards was down this year, partly due to a change in rules about how people living in multiple occupation could be registered.
The Katesgrove Community Association (KCA) came in for praise by the council’s Chris Bloomfield at their AGM in October. The KCA updated its constitution to allow electronic voting in an attempt to encourage participation. They also took part in a survey of IDR tunnel users on Katesgrove Lane so they could obtain funding to improve the underpass.
Alcohol, crime and traffic
Neighbourhood policing teams have concentrated on helping vulnerable people this year. This included referring rough sleepers to specialist charities and helping people who were being exploited by criminals. There was an attempted murder on London Street and a distraction burglary on Highgrove Street, and the police have identified a new form of vehicle crime where criminals broadcast a radio signal that interferes with remote locking devices so that cars aren’t locked when owners think they are.
Whitley has a new neighbourhood action group (NAG) and are looking for both new members and a new name.
Crime in Katesgrove appears to be up slightly, comparing twelve months up to October with the twelve months before that. The majority of crime was anti-social behaviour and violence. A report from earlier this year suggested that the town has a drug and alcohol problem.
Redlands got several new 20mph zones, including Kendrick Road. Katesgrove police have cracked down on speeding on Waldeck Street and Whitley police have attempted to discourage illegal and dangerous parking near zebra crossings and schools. Whitley mother Lauren Heath was killed by a lorry on Basingstoke Road in April in a heartbreaking incident involving her baby, who survived with minor injuries.
Mixed reports on local GP surgeries
The redevelopment of the Milman Road Health centre finally came to an end in November, although the CQC report into Dr Kumar’s surgery said that it required improvement, as did the report into Longbarn Lane surgery. Dr Mittal’s surgery on MIlman Road was rated good. The London Street surgery of Drs Harrold and Essa came out of special measures and was rated good by the CQC later in the year.
Art and music
Katesgrove, Redlands and Whitley continue to have a busy cultural life. The Rising Sun Arts Centre celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, and the Museum of English Rural Life on Redlands road re-opened with a new layout and exhibits.
Katesgrove and Redlands is home to many artists. Barbara Newcomb displayed some of her work in Reading Museum, Robert Fitzmaurice was very busy with his own Oxford Road exhibition called the peace which passes all understanding, as well as the WordUp! collaboration with Peter Driver and a special woodcut for the new play Henry I. Tom Cartmill opened his studio to the public and the Art Scope gallery at the Circle Reading hospital, curated by Rukshi Brownlow, was opened to the public.
The Whitley Pump
We have had over 21,000* views of our website this year, and over 9000 individual visitors; more if you include our Twitter and Facebook pages. Our most popular story was about the opening of the new Gooi Nara Korean restaurant on Whitley Street, with the opening of the new Aldi on Basingstoke Road coming in second.
We also has a series about Katesgrove cats, and stories on bee hotels, swifts, foraging for food on Waterloo meadows, vegetarian dining at the Rising Sun and an attempt to follow the borders of Katesgrove on foot.
The prize for the best story of the year (an entirely unfair competition against which there is no appeal) goes to The Story of a Wall that showed how much could be done by co-operating neighbours and a bit of time.
I would like to extend my thanks to Whitley Pump’s contributors; not only to those whose names appear as authors, but all those people interested in Katesgrove Hill who have helped by talking to us, by allowing us to attend their events, by lending us pictures, or who have been tolerant of our still amateurish attempts at a hyperlocal blog!
- A year in planning
- A look ahead to Reading’s 2017
- Reading Borough Council – the constructive destructor
* about 19,000 of whom were from the UK.