By Adam Harrington and John Howard.

Members of Reading’s Afro-Caribbean communities marched from the Central Club at the corner of London Street and Mill Lane to the Civic Offices on Monday 25 September to protest Reading Borough Council’s (RBC) decision to reject their bid to acquire the club and its famous mural.

Reading’s Caribbean Associations Group, through its Aspire community interest company, made their bid earlier this year. The council rejected it in July, preferring instead to put the building on the open market.

“The Central Club mural is of significant cultural and historical importance as part of Reading’s history, as well as educating the public about the journey of the black race,” said community volunteer Claudette Henry to the protesters.

“RBC gave this centre to the black community when Chain Street [the previous community centre] was sold. This new site became an essential hub for the black community, with facilities to provide youth services, work and education.”

“For 14 years we have been denied the use of our centre, after the club was closed down by the council… allegedly due to an incident that caused minor damage to the building,” she said.

Alan Howard, artist facilitor of the black history mural

“Many of you never knew a time when there wasn’t a mural,” said Alan Howard, artist facilitator of the work. “We undertook that project back in the late eighties, although members of the Central Club discussed putting something on that wall even earlier.”

“We set out to create a monument to our ancestors. The wall tells a story; it starts in ancient Nile civilisations, which isn’t even the beginning, but we wanted to make the point that our history is not just yesterday or post-war. The inspiration for the Egyptian image was Akhenaten, the heretic pharaoh who proclaimed one creator, not a multiplicity of gods. The idea of one god originates in Africa.”

The protest route took in Broad Street, and Reading Borough councillors accepted the petition at the Civic Centre.

Later that evening, RBC leader Councillor Jo Lovelock (Labour) responded to a question from Councillor Rob White (Green) about the mural:

Since July the council has been repeatedly frustrated by the fact it cannot make full details of Aspire’s bid public. Despite requests to Aspire to waive confidentiality, this has been refused by Aspire. The fact that the Council cannot divulge the full detail of the bid has been used to mislead the public…

I will reiterate that Reading Borough Council remains fully committed to securing the future of the mural. It is wholly inaccurate and disingenuous to suggest otherwise. It is also misleading to imply only the Aspire bid would secure its future – that is simply not true. The mural is a cultural icon and remains of huge importance to the black community, the wider community and the council as it represents Reading’s long history of celebrating different cultures and promoting tolerance.

The struggle continues…

  1. Katesgrove councillor Sophia James talks about the future of the Central Club and the Black History Mural
  2. Council attempting to ‘erase’ Reading’s Afro-Caribbean history
  3. Reading’s Caribbean groups ‘demand their birthright’ with the Central Club
  4. Aspire CIC website and Facebook page
  5. RBC policy committee 25 September webcast (Councillor Rob White’s mural question starts at 16’50”)
  6. Do not sell the Central Club to commercial developers petition
  7. Spiritual home for the black community in Reading (Councillor Sophia James)
  8. Nice Mural, Shame About The Green-Wash (Councillor Tony Jones)