The Oracle – Overview
The Oracle is a large, multi-award winning indoor shopping centre to the south of Reading Town Centre. Building commenced in 1997 on a site largely formerly occupied by Simond’s Brewery and the Bus Depot. The decision was taken to name this cathedral of consumerism, or “Retail for Leisure” as they would have it, after a workhouse which had occupied a part of the site from the 17th to the 19th century. It covers an amazing 76,200 square metres, and is co-owned by original developers Hammerson and the Abu Dhabi Investment Group.
Today, a number of big brand retail outlets occupy The Oracle, with its 90 shops including John Lewis, Next and House of Fraser.
Of course, there are extensive food and drink facilities in the charmingly named “Brewery Gut” facility, which spans a narrow stretch of the River Kennet, including indoor and outdoor dining facilities. Two delightful bridges have been created to span the Kennet – the Cook’s Bridge, which is a simple footbridge, and The Delhi Bridge, a far more imposing elliptical bridge, which leads to Debenhams.
Overall, the centre’s emphasis is on fashion, with many international labels having their only UK presence in the centre, and it is viewed as more upmarket than much of the nearby retail area. Indeed, it has gone on to win Best New Shopping Centre, Best International shopping centre, and has been the deserving recipient of no less than 15 Secure Car Park awards.
The arts have an important part to play in this development; the Free Form Arts Trust we charged with infusing The Oracle with cultural artefacts linking with a historical heritage trail through the town, and the crowning glory of their achievement is a large translucent prism on top of the multi-storey car park, called “The Crystal Beacon”, the creation of a Welsh artist called John Gingell.
The Riverside, Oracle’s restaurant and leisure section, is home to 20 cafés and restaurants including names such as Las Iguanas and Wagamama, as well as a 10-screen Vue cinema.
Over £30m has been so far invested into both the car park and the riverside refurbishment, as well as extending and bolstering the double height shop fronts.