A tingle went up my spine as Whitley community museum curator Trisha Bennett held up an Ashmead School blazer and tie. The last time I saw this garish, green and gold garb up close was in 1984, when I burnt my tie on a wire fence on Northumberland Avenue the day I left school for good.
This is one of the exhibits shown in a room at South Reading Community Centre on Northumberland Avenue that makes up the Whitley Community Museum. There is already a rich hoard of photos and memories displayed, some of which are relayed on TV screens. The focus is on the social history of the Whitley, its people and their roots.
“We would like to make the museum interactive and be able to display exhibits as accessibly as we can,” said Trisha. “Reading Museum have agreed to help with advice and hopefully a grant will be available for state of the art display facilities. More display items for the museum are always welcome from members of the public.”
The museum is just one of many bold, aspirational and ambitious ideas that Trisha Bennett and her team have planned at the community centre. These include a proposed RG2 community radio station, which has already attracted some interest from advertisers, a drama group and a rock choir. There have also been collaborations with the John Madejski Academy and other local schools along with the Shinfield Players drama group.
I was able to add a copy of the Ashmead School Magazine from 76/77 which has a story from Ricky Gervais and my brother in it. Ricky lived about 200 yards from the centre in his youth. Please seek out Trisha Bennett if you have any contributions to the museum or just want to help out with anything you like.
“The museum is a really good idea and helps build community, showing the roots of where Whitley was and where it’s going,” said PC Bowness. “There has been a marked improvement in crime and anti-social behaviour over the past few years. Mainly due to multi-agency partnership working and community co-operation, making the area a far better place to live and work in.”
I recommend using the Whitley Café at the south Reading community centre. I had a delicious breakfast for £3 and the tea and coffee was pretty good as well.
The nearby Whitley library will be relocated to the community centre when the centre is refurbished and ready. I used to sit in the old library building on a tiny chair reading the look and learn magazines, and there has been interest in the old Whitley library building, so let’s hope the iconic 1930s municipal architecture is preserved, whoever ends up buying it.
Whitley is on the up and the South Reading Community Centre is the beating heart of the community.
Matthew Farrall, the author of this article, died on 20 April 2018.
We are grateful to his family for allowing us to continue to display his work online.