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Page last updated at 17:30 GMT, Monday, 22 February 2010
Reading Steel Band evicted from Abbey Gate
Raspo players
The RASPO group is popular with Reading teenagers

A steel band orchestra which has been based in Reading for 12 years has nowhere to rehearse after losing their practice rooms at Reading's Abbey Gate.

Reading Abbey was founded by Henry I in 1121 and the gateway is one of only two of its non-ruined buildings remaining.

For the past five years it has been the headquarters of the Reading All Steel Percussion Orchestra (RASPO).

However, the gateway was closed on February 15, due to concerns over the building structures.

Now the orchestra, which has performed at Womad and Reading Carnival has no premises in which to practise.

Mary Genis runs the group which has been performing in Reading since 1997.

She said that the group had been forced to abandon its half term activities due to lack of rehearsal space and was now falling behind with practice.

"The steel orchestra does not have anywhere to rehearse at the moment," she said. "We are desperate for a space so that they can continue their rehearsals and young people can continue to develop their musical skills and professionals can develop as well.

"Every day that the orchestra don't rehearse and the workshops don't take place, people start to feel disenfranchised, and the orchestra will start to dissipate.

Reading Abbey Gate
Reading Abbey was founded by Henry I

"It's the only orchestra of its kind in Reading, it attracts people of all ages, all cultures, all backgrounds and all creeds. It keeps young people off the streets. It gives those same young people an opportunity so they can go out at weekends and earn money in our function ensemble.

"It's been going about 12 years and in that 12 years we've had regular rehearsals so we've been able to build up the orchestra and do festivals like Womad, as well as the functions and private parties that generate income for the orchestra and covers the expenses for the individuals that play in it."

Grade I listed

The council were unable to say how much it will cost to repair the gate or how long it will take, but deputy leader of Reading Council Tony Page said that the building was of great importance to Reading.

He said: "The Abbey Gateway is a Grade I listed building, which also features on English Heritage's schedule of historical monuments. It's associated with many hundreds of years of Reading's history.

"It's important that we do everything we can to retain the building.

"We will be looking to secure grant aid from external organisations once we have decided what is to be done and how much it will cost."

The council has had to change the route of the annual Reading half marathon, which passes under the Abbey Gateway. The race will now be held along Abbey Square, along Abbey Street and along Kings Road to the Butter Market, rejoining the original route at Friar Street.

Reading Borough Council has closed the access route under the gateway while more detailed investigations take place and temporary fencing and a two metre safety zone has been put up around the gateway, redirecting pedestrians to an alternative route around the building.

Cllr Page said: "We cannot take any risks with public safety either within or in the vicinity of the Gateway, and have therefore moved swiftly to erect the necessary scaffolding and security fencing. We will be working closely with neighbours and the current occupants to ensure as little disruption as possible."

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