Ricky Gervais has made a career out of making fun of the world. Still, he saves his cheesiest one-liners for his hometown of Reading.
When asked about his youth on talk shows, he always replies that he grew up in the Berkshire town, then adds with his trademark grin, “That’s why I never go back there.”
But the town Gervais disparages bears little resemblance to modern-day Reading. “In the last decade, independent businesses have flocked to the city,” says Glen Dinning, owner of Blue Collar, a street food pop-up.
“Today the city is full of great bars, breweries, restaurants, cafes and art shops.”
Rejuvenated: Reading’s historic center with the Old Town Hall (left) has welcomed many independent businesses over the last decade
The canal-crossed Oracle Center is the shopping center, while the pedestrianized Broad Street boasts dozens of well-known names, from Primark to John Lewis.
The old enriches the new in the pretty Forbury Gardens and the beautifully restored Lido.
The driving force behind Reading’s renaissance is transport. Commuters can reach Paddington in 15 minutes by train or can take the new Elizabeth line into central London.
Reading is also well connected to Bristol, Manchester and Oxford and there are direct train connections to Gatwick Airport.
Crucially, so many new big-name companies have moved to the nearby M4 corridor – including Microsoft, Amazon and Virgin Media – that it has been nicknamed 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, totaling 598, in the Station Hill development.
At the entrance there is a large hotel-style foyer with cubicles for online work. The upper floor houses a yoga studio, a fitness studio and TV and cinema rooms.
The apartments, just five minutes from the train station, are being furnished by Conran and cost around £2,400 a month for a twin room and £1,200 for a studio.
Some may balk at these prices (the twin room measures just 899 m² and the studio is 214 m²), but that’s missing the point.
The free amenities make up a significant portion of the rent. “This is more than a block of flats,” says community manager Michael McGarry. “It’s a community of like-minded people.”
Green Park Village is similarly ambitious. The 60-hectare site sits on the edge of the city on the M4 and is accessed via a jumble of ugly retail parks.
Suddenly there are bright white houses and New England-style apartment blocks. There is everything a family needs including an elementary school, a fitness center, restaurants, a swimming pool and a lake.
The unique selling point of this “oven-ready” village is its location. Trains from the new station reach Reading in six minutes. A four-bedroom terraced house costs from £550,000.
You can get far more houses for your money in Caversham, just across the river and in the area south of the center around the university.
For a three-bedroom house in Caversham, expect to pay £450,000.
Good value for money: Located just opposite the center of Reading, Caversham offers ‘more house for your money’.
The most expensive houses around Reading are in the Thames villages on the outskirts of the city.
Pangbourne, where the Princess of Wales attended primary school, is popular and places like Goring and Sonning, best known for their home owned by the Clooneys, are expensive.
However, not everything is positive in the new Reading. The road network is still a mess, some fine Victorian architecture has been destroyed and the magnificent Art Deco headquarters of Huntley & Palmers’ biscuits has been replaced by the hideous Prudential Insurance building.
Despite this, Reading continues to receive “Best Place to Live” awards in the national press. One thing is for sure: It’s time for Ricky Gervais to take a second look at his hometown.
At the market… in Reading
Penthouse: This two bedroom, two bathroom penthouse is located in Bankside Gardens, just a short walk from the city center. Winkworth, 0118 402 2300. £500,000
Apartment: This one-bedroom apartment at Brunswick Hill House (with shared gardens) is ideally located for the train station. Savills, 01189 520 540. £269,950
Top floor apartment: This top floor apartment is located on Station Road in the city center and has two bedrooms. It was built in 2022. Prospect, 0118 230 3819. £350,000