Oxford Road Mural HSHAZ

Celebrating Reading’s £1.6 Million High Street Heritage Investment

  • Reading was one of 67 areas of England to receive a share of a £95 million government High Streets Heritage Action Zone fund.
  • Reading Borough Council delivered a four-year £1.6 million programme, investing in community engagement and cultural events alongside buildings and shop fronts.
  • More opportunities for the public to get involved – join the Oxford Road Giant Puppet Parade, and help paint a large outdoor mural.

THE CULMINATION of a £1.6M project to invest in the heritage of Reading’s historic high streets will be celebrated this month.  

Reading was one of 67 areas of England to receive a share of a £95 million High Streets Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) funding pot aimed at generating economic growth and improving the appearance and quality of life on local high streets.  

 In an initiative led by Historic England, the Council secured High Streets Heritage Action Zone funding for three conservation areas in the centre of the town. The Council received £800k from Historic England and match-funded to deliver a total £1.6 million programme over the last four years. 

 The programme focused on high streets in three Conservation Areas: Castle Hill/Russell Street/Oxford Road; St Mary’s Butts/Castle Street and Market Place/London Street.  

It delivered across three key themes: 

  • Physical improvements to buildings: including repairs, reinstating lost features, supporting the conversion of historic buildings for new uses and improvement of shared spaces.
  • Community engagement: giving local communities a key role in deciding what works they want to see happening on their high street and what sort of place they want it to be.
  • Cultural programme: activities and events celebrating the history of the high street and its importance to local communities.

 The programme focused positively on the attributes of the streets’ heritage, future-proofing environment and businesses, making them more attractive, enjoyable and vibrant destinations for people to shop, relax and spend time in. 

Highlights of the last four years include: 

  • Restoration of eight buildings and shopfronts including 8 Castle Street; The Pavilion, Oxford Road; and 32 and 34 St Mary’s Butts.
  • Restoration and conservation of four town centre monuments: Queen Victoria statue, Zinzan Tomb, Jubilee Cross and Simeon Monument.
  • Upgrade of public spaces including new public art, a traditional hand-written sign on the flank of Russell Street with the junction of Oxford Road, the Welcome to Oxford Road mural, and new paving in sections of Oxford Road in front of restored shop fronts.
  • Collaboration with over 30 cultural, community, charity, and heritage organisations, and with schools.
  • Creation of long-lasting reference materials to help the community connect with our heritage through audio walks and school resources.

QV Statue

The project will be celebrated as it comes to a close in March and there are still opportunities for residents to get involved: 

  • Oxford Road Giant Puppet Parade 1pm Saturday 23 March, Broad St Mall, make something, play drums, dance or walk get involved with giant flag making, learn carnival rhythms and dance moves, and join the parade https://whatsonreading.com/venues/high-street-heritage-action-zone/whats-on/oxford-road-giant-parade
  • Help paint a new large public art mural one of the project’s legacy’s will be a large semi-permanent public art installation at St Mary’s Butts which residents can get involved in. Painting workshops Unit 24 Broad Street Mall (opposite TK Maxx) 11am-5pm until 23 March.

HSHAZ TheMarketTree Sign 01

Cllr Barnett-Ward Reading’s Lead for Leisure and Culture said:  “We were fortunate to be one of only 67 areas to benefit from the generous £800K of funding from Historic England. With match funding this became a £1.6 million investment in historic high streets in and around the town centre. Although the programme was not a COVID-response initiative – we applied before the pandemic – the funding and focus it provided mean it has played an important role in the recovery of our town centre high streets post-COVID.” 

“The concept of the HSHAZ was to future-proof high streets by highlighting the heritage that is already there. We have been protecting and enhancing these historic areas and also celebrating their uniqueness. Each area that has seen improvements has its own unique flavour, and each had its own stories to tell. For example, the Oxford Road began as a medieval highway and has a vibrant history that manifests itself today in its multi-cultural, colourful streetscape. The HSHAZ programme has shone a light on the road’s history, heritage, and community.” 

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said: We want our high streets to last. We know how important they are to our collective identity, our local pride and our sense of place. This means reimagining a new future for them so they remain at the heart of our communities. Our High Streets Heritage Action Zone initiative has proven that heritage-led regeneration can unlock a new, positive future for England’s high streets. Across the four years, I have seen the simple yet tangible impact that restoring shop fronts and community spaces makes. And I have witnessed with utter joy the power of bringing people together on our high streets through celebratory cultural events. These places deserve a future.”  

Arts & Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: “Our high streets are the arteries which have provided the lifeblood of our communities down the ages. Each generation has left their mark on them, and the way we use them continues to change.  

"The brilliant High Street Heritage Action Zones have enabled people across the country to learn about the hidden histories of the buildings they pass every day, helping to shed light on the past, bring people together in the present, and inspire new ideas for the future.  

“Historic England has done brilliant work – with the support of the Government, and the involvement of local authorities, community trusts and arts organisations – to deliver this programme over the past four years, helping our high streets to spring back to life after the pandemic, and ensuring that they will remain at the heart of their communities for generations to come."  

Notes to editors

About the High Streets Heritage Action Zone programme 

The High Streets Heritage Action Zone initiative has been funded with £40 million from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Heritage High Street Fund and £52 million from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ Future High Street Fund. A further £3 million has been provided by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to support a cultural programme.  

This investment has seen derelict and underused buildings restored to become new community spaces such as cinemas and market halls, with over half of High Streets Heritage Action Zones in top priority Levelling Up Areas.  

Cultural events brought people back to high streets 

The High Streets Heritage Action Zone programme of cultural events was the largest ever publicly funded community-led cultural programme to date, directly supporting regeneration in places that need it most, encouraging people to visit their local high streets, and breathing new life into them for future generations.  

Three out of every four people who joined in with local events had come to the high street specially and went on to spend money locally while there. 

After attending a cultural event, 80% of people felt more pride in their place and a part of their community. 

Find out more about  Reading High Streets Heritage Action Zone


Reference materials for communities and schools.

Audio Walks link: Activities & Classes | What’s On Reading (whatsonreading.com)) 

Oxford Road: Local History Resources for Schools | Reading Museum 

Oxford Road Stories | Reading Museum 

The Oxford Road: Lifespring Stories | Reading Museum 

About High Streets Heritage Action Zones 

The High Streets Heritage Action Zones is a £95 million government-funded programme led by Historic England, designed to secure lasting improvements and help breathe new life into our historic high streets for the communities and businesses that use them. Historic England is working with local people and partners to unlock the rich heritage on these high streets, through repair and improvement works as well as arts and cultural programmes, making them more attractive to residents, businesses, tourists and investors. https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/heritage-action-zones/regenerating-historic-high-streets/ 

About Historic England 

We are Historic England the public body that helps people care for, enjoy and celebrate England’s spectacular historic environment, from beaches and battlefields to parks and pie shops. We protect, champion and save the places that define who we are and where we’ve come from as a nation. We care passionately about the stories these places tell, the ideas they represent and the people who live, work and play among them. Working with communities and specialists we share our passion, knowledge and skills to inspire interest, care and conservation, so everyone can keep enjoying and looking after the history that surrounds us all. https://historicengland.org.uk/