Reading Abbey

Artists announced for commemoration of Reading Abbey’s 900th Anniversary

  • Reading based creative groups Berzerk Productions, StrikeUp, and Ma Bessie have been commissioned to create digital art pieces
  • The digital events will be released in the lead-up to the Water Fest, the flagship celebration event to mark the 900th anniversary of Reading Abbey on Saturday 19th June
  • The commissioned artists will have a share of the £10,000 funding pot, provided by the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage

THREE Reading based creative groups have been commissioned to create digital art pieces in celebration of Reading Abbey’s 900th Anniversary.

2021 marks 900 years since the foundation of Reading Abbey, once one of Europe’s largest royal monasteries, by King Henry I. To mark the anniversary, applications were invited from creatives of all ages across Reading to produce digital artistic content to celebrate the Abbey from 1121 to present day.

Reading Borough Council is proud to announce the commissions from Bezerk Productions, StrikeUp, and Ma Bessie, whose digital events will be released in the lead-up to the Water Fest, the flagship celebration event to mark the 900th anniversary of Reading Abbey on Saturday 19th June.

Berzerk Productions’ digital content will involve over 20 young people from Reading, layering performance spaces by using smartphones or tablets to create an immersive experience. Influenced by the history of the pilgrimage that monks would have taken to the Abbey, spectators will be taken on a journey lead by their smart devices. Readipop will be working with young people to create the soundtrack for this journey.

Berzerk Productions said:

This funding means a huge amount to us and Readipop, but the real value is what it means for the young people involved. This is an opportunity to give them something fun, creative and positive to look forward too since early last year.

“Reading’s history and cultural landscape is rich, it is important for its young people to feel a part of it, play an active role within it and celebrate our amazing town and learn about the place they live.”

Bezerk Productions - Snow Queen

StrikeUp plan to collaborate with Reading Culture Live to engage intergenerational community participants to take part in a 10-week Performance Poetry Course, celebrating the rich history and diverse present of Reading, through the eyes of the Abbey.

StrikeUp’s Artistic Director, Rachel Mary, said:

"StrikeUp are thrilled to receive this funding in support of our 900 Years project! This funding means we can build new connections with local people of all ages, backgrounds and experiences to collaborate with us on a digital performance poem, platforming local creativity in an artwork we can all be proud of.

StrikeUp Productions

Ma Bessie proposes to create an original song that follows Henry I, his progression to the throne, the establishment of the Abbey and his death. 

The song will be recorded in their Reading studio, with a video being filmed at Reading Abbey.

Ma Bessie said:

“We’re so excited to be part of such a historic project. The Abbey is such an important Reading landmark and we are honoured to be asked to write a song to commemorate its 900th anniversary. Reading is Ma Bessie’s hometown, it's great opportunity to give something back to a place that has helped us grow and flourish as a band.”

Ma Bessie

Cllr Karen Rowland, Reading’s Lead for Culture, Heritage and Recreation, said: 

“This year we are marking an incredibly auspicious anniversary for Reading’s Abbey. 1121 was the year that marked the start of our historic Abbey – which in its heyday was a centre point in Europe for pilgrimage, safe-haven and beauty.

“We are delighted to celebrate the 900 years of this site of national and international historical importance with the creation of these exciting digital artworks. I’m really looking forward to seeing the end result of these three very different and intriguing proposals.

“This project would not be possible were it not for the generous funding Reading has received thanks to the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage.  Our celebrations this year may look very different to how we’d originally envisaged them, but as we work towards recovery and celebration, we certainly still plan to make the most of this opportunity to shine a light on Reading’s unique historical destination.

“We announced the date of Water Fest 2021 – which will also be the flagship event celebrating 900 years of Reading Abbey – as Saturday 19 June. You can book your free ticket at and visit if you would like to take part as a volunteer, performer or by running a stall.

The commissioned artists will have a share of the £10,000 funding pot, provided by the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage, distributed by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, in partnership with Historic England, on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).



Notes to editors

About the artists:

Berzerk Productions

Berzerk Productions is a multi-award-winning drama coaching company that has been working in Reading since 1994. They run classes at their private centres as well as working within many local primary, secondary, private and specialist educational schools, based across Berkshire and south Oxfordshire. The innovative workshops have been making believe since 1994 and providing the knowledge through experience, in a fun, safe, inspiring environment. Berzerk Productions have entertained Reading with stimulating performances for all type of events and age groups ranging from musicals, dramas, immersive theatre and T.V & film. They build self-confidence, so students can pursue their dreams, teach acceptance so everyone feels included and give young people community where they can be themselves in a non-judgemental space.


StrikeUp is a highly collaborative Theatre Company based in Reading. They tell big stories of global relevance through the lens of the local, working alongside our communities to create contemporary theatre that feels playful, honest and bold. StrikeUp create original work through live and digital platforms, in regular collaboration with local artists and community partners. They seek to unite people through shared creative experiences, to platform local voices and to facilitate the communities we work with to take ownership of their stories. StrikeUp run a diverse range of education projects through workshops, live and online courses and the development of new work.

Ma Bessie

Building on her passion for the Empress of the Blues, Julia Titus started to perform as Ma Bessie in mid-2015 to share the music of Bessie Smith and her contemporaries with a new generation of listeners. Mixing Julia’s rich, warm vocal sound with a dynamic group of musicians that look as well as sound the part, Ma Bessie combines classic blues and jazz tunes from the inter-war years with a selection of original songs and hand-picked covers from the last 50 years of popular music.

Whether you’re looking for a duo or trio for an intimate club gig or a full five-piece band for a large festival stage, Ma Bessie has something for you. Julia is joined by Ma Bessie regular Matt Foster (guitar and production) for this exciting project to commemorate the 900th anniversary of Reading Abbey. 

About the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage

This project is funded by the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage. The Culture Recovery Fund is a £1.57 billion fund to tackle the crisis facing our most loved cultural organisations and heritage sites. This lifeline shows our commitment to a sector that matters to millions of people and our faith in the creative sector’s ability to bounce back. The Culture Recovery Fund is provided by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and administered by Arts Council England, Historic England in partnership with the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and the British Film Institute (BFI).

For more information:  

Reading Abbey Quarter Funding

Reading Abbey Quarter is one of 445 heritage organisations across the country that has received a lifesaving financial boost from the government thanks to the £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund to help them through the coronavirus pandemic.

The chosen organisations, including Reading Abbey Quarter, will share £103 million, including help restart vital reconstruction work and maintenance on cherished heritage sites, keeping venues open and supporting those working in the sector.

With the challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic, more stringent measures are needed for event planning and risk assessing, a boost of £80,500 funding will give the Council the opportunity to look at delivering event and heritage activities in the Abbey Quarter safely and appropriately.