Ricky Gervais has made a career out of poking fun at the world. Yet he saves his most disdainful one-liners for his home town of Reading.
Asked on chat shows about his youth, he invariably replies that he was brought up in the Berkshire town, before adding with his trademark smirk: ‘That’s why I never go back there.’
Yet the town that Gervais disparages bears little resemblance to today’s Reading. ‘Independent businesses have flocked to the town in the past ten years,’ says Glen Dinning, who owns Blue Collar, a street food pop-up.
‘Now the town is full of brilliant bars, breweries, restaurants, cafes and art shops.’
Rejuvenated: Reading’s historic centre with the Old Town Hall, left, has pulled in many independent businesses over the past ten years
The Oracle Centre, bisected by the canal, is the shopping hub while pedestrianised Broad Street has dozens of familiar names, from Primark to John Lewis.
The old enhances the new in the pretty Forbury Gardens and the beautifully restored lido.
The driving force behind the Reading renaissance is transport. Commuters are a 15-minute train ride from Paddington or can take the new Elizabeth line into Central London.
Crucially, so many new big-name companies have moved to the nearby M4 corridor — the likes of Microsoft, Amazon and Virgin Media — that it carries the tag of the Silicon Valley of the UK.
Residential developers have designed their homes with young professionals in mind. Ebb & Flow, for example, are two blocks of rental apartments, making 598 in total, on the Station Hill development.
At the entrance, there’s a large, hotel-style foyer, with booths for working online. Upstairs, space is given over to a yoga studio, gym, and TV and cinema rooms.
The apartments, only five minutes from the station, are furnished by Conran and cost about £2,400 a month for a two-bed and £1,200 for a studio.
Some may baulk at these prices (the two-bed measures only 899 sq ft and the studio 214 sq ft) but that’s to miss the point.
The free amenities make up a fair chunk of the rental. ‘This is more than an apartment block,’ says community manager Michael McGarry. ‘It’s a community of like-minded people.’
Green Park Village is similarly ambitious. Located on the edge of town alongside the M4, the 60-acre site is approached through a jumble of ugly retail parks.
Suddenly there are shiny white New England-style homes and apartment blocks. It has everything a family could need, including a primary school, a fitness centre, restaurants, a swimming pool and a lake.
This ‘oven-ready’ village’s USP is its situation. Trains from its new station get to Reading in six minutes. A four-bed terraced house costs from £550,000.
You get far more house for your money in Caversham, just across the river and the area south of the centre, around the university.
Expect to pay £450,000 for a three-bedroom home in Caversham.
Good value: Caversham is just across the river from the centre of Reading and offers ‘more house for your money’
The most expensive homes around Reading are found in the Thames-side villages on its outskirts.
Pangbourne, where the Princess of Wales went to primary school, is popular and places like Goring and Sonning, best known for having a house owned by the Clooneys, are pricey.
Not all is positive in the new Reading, however. The road system is still a mess, some fine Victorian architecture has been destroyed and the magnificent Art Deco headquarters of Huntley & Palmers’ biscuits was replaced by the hideous Prudential Insurance building.
Yet Reading repeatedly wins ‘best place to live’ accolades in the national press. One thing is for sure: it’s time that Ricky Gervais gave his home town a second look.
On the market… in Reading
Penthouse: This two-bedroom, two-bathroom Penthouse is in Bankside Gardens, a short walk from the town centre. Winkworth, 0118 402 2300. £500,000
Apartment: This one-bed apartment in Brunswick Hill House (with communal gardens) is ideally placed for the station. Savills, 01189 520 540. £269,950
Top-floor flat: Located in Station Road, in the town centre, this top-floor apartment has two bedrooms and was built in 2022. Prospect, 0118 230 3819. £350,000