Historic Coventry Trust Projects Shortlisted for Planning Award

The Historic Coventry 2021 Programme has been shortlisted in the 2022 Planning Awards’ best use of heritage in placemaking category. The initiative being delivered by Historic Coventry Trust in partnership with Coventry City Council has accelerated plans to restore the city’s heritage to celebrate the year as UK City of Culture.

The programme will be competing against individual projects at Rugby Radio Station, Battersea Power Station and the Horlicks Quarter in Slough at the awards ceremony which will take place at the Mermaid Theatre in London on Thursday, June 9.

The Historic Coventry 2021 Programme for the Planning Awards focuses on a series of restoration projects which were completed in 2021/22.

These include:

  • The restoration of Burges and Hales Street as the Government’s national demonstrator project for its High Streets Heritage Action Zone programme
  • The Grade I listed and Scheduled Monument at The Charterhouse which includes some of the most important medieval and Elizabethan art in the country, 400m of monastic walls, coach house and extensive gardens
  • The two remaining city gates and surviving section of city wall dating from 1385-1440
  • Joseph Paxton’s Arboretum Cemetery at London Road which opened in 1847 and is one of the top five cemeteries in the UK which is listed Grade I as well as the restoration of the Grade II listed Anglican Chapel
  • The timber-framed Lychgate Cottages in Priory Row dating from 1415 and the only remaining buildings from the Benedictine cathedral precinct of St Mary (Grade II*)
  • The Guild Hall of the Coventry Drapers, the city’s finest Regency building, built as performance rooms from 1832 onwards with remarkably intact original interiors (Grade II*)

Ian Harrabin, chairman of Historic Coventry Trust, said it was wonderful to be shortlisted for the national awards for reuse of heritage, which reflected recognition that these largely forgotten buildings have such an important part to play in the city’s economy.

He said: “The trust was initially set up to restore Charterhouse, but we recognised that there was so much more that could be done to capitalise on UK City of Culture and boost the visitor economy.

“This is an extraordinary programme of restoration and reinvention with the partnership delivering multiple projects at the same time and raising over £28 million in funding.

“Historic Coventry Trust has been creative in bringing new use to old buildings, with a balance of income generating properties sustaining those with a more social or community focus.

“The High Street Demonstrator project at The Burges has totally transformed 21 retail properties in this run-down medieval street on the edge of the city centre and has sparked planned private investment on two adjoining sites of £15 million, creating 80 flats.

“Drapers’ Hall has been restored as the home for music education for schoolchildren with an outstanding music performance, and community and business venue operated by Historic Coventry Trust.

“Together The Charterhouse and Cemetery will be an exceptional visitor attraction to boost the tourist economy but will also create an outstanding community resource with 70 acres of woodland, wetland, parks and gardens and a new restaurant and café will bring Michelin-star dining to the city. The chapel is multi-use from community events to music performances and film screenings.

“The Gates and Cottages are special visitor accommodation to boost the high-end visitor economy and changing image of Coventry.

“Our entrepreneurial model is seen as a partnership blueprint for how heritage charities can play their part in the re-imagining of places, and the programme was recently cited as best practice in the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper.”

The award citation states: “This is an extraordinary programme of restoration and reinvention, with delivery of multiple projects in parallel to capitalise on the spotlight of UK City of Culture. Led by Historic Coventry Trust, an energetic and entrepreneurial charity that 3 years ago had no paid staff, in real and close partnership with the council and Governmental bodies. The Trust’s model is seen as a partnership blueprint for how heritage charities can play their part in the reimagining of place. The programme was recently cited as best practice in the Levelling Up White Paper and its replication forms part of WMCA Mayor’s manifesto.”

Cathedral Reflections

As part of the celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of the consecration of the Cathedral, the Friends of the Cathedral have published a small book called Cathedral Reflections.

The book is a miscellany of anecdotes and memories of the cathedral over the past 60 years. More than a dozen short stories tell us some of the unknown or forgotten episodes in the modern history of the Cathedral, its people and its music.

Martin Williams, Chairman of the Friends, tells us the story behind two of the stories. Martin writes…

The Cov Soc newsletter carried a past story about the wartime static water tank opposite the Golden Cross. I remembered that in 1962 the huge Jacob Epstein statue of Christ from Llandaff Cathedral was erected on that water tank site in the middle of an exhibition in support of the World Hunger Campaign.  

“Apart from old news cuttings I could find no written account of it. The Coventry Council of Churches was responsible for the exhibition – largely through its secretary, Allen Edwards, who I knew as a vigorously active member of the Cathedral congregation. I traced and spoke with one of Allen’s children and I was able to put the story together adding some of his photo snaps.  

“It was an important part of the Cathedral Festival that followed the Consecration, and is particularly relevant this year with the big Epstein exhibition in the Cathedral.  The Coventry Council of Churches no longer exists, but it often used the Chapel of Unity which also celebrates its Diamond Jubilee in 2022. The work of the former Council of Churches is now done effectively through the Council of the Chapel.”

On another story that Martin wanted to see documents was the Call to Mission.

“In 1968 I watched with amazement Bishop Bardsley’s “Call To Mission- Learn To Live” which I later learned was the largest Church of England mission in the 20th century. I had never seen anything like it.  For some 10 nights it packed the Cathedral, Holy Trinity, Cov University (then the Lanchester), the Methodist Central Hall and the Cathedral Ruins via TV links and some 50,000 people came to it.  

“Once more, I could find no written account of it, yet I knew it deserved to be recorded. In 1968 it was part of the 50th Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Coventry Diocese. I remembered the name of the young curate from Rugby who was the organising secretary, now Canon Peter Larkin. Today he is in his 80s and retired in Truro, but I managed to trace him and he was really pleased to share with me his memories of that event which had a lasting impact on his life. Fortunately, he still had some of the papers related to it and he was pleased to secure them in the Cathedral Archives.”

Martin says “I am really pleased that the new book tells both these stories for posterity! Bishop Bardsley had a film made of the Coventry “Call To Mission”, but I have asked everywhere and have not been able to trace it.   Personally, I think it is probably sitting at the back of a cupboard in a parish church somewhere in the Diocese, but we will never know.” Perhaps you have some information about this?

There are also stories in the book about Royal visits, the history of the Cathedral’s music, Benjamin Brittain’s War Requiem, the story of the stonemasons who cut the stone for the Cathedral, the Deans and Bishops of the Cathedral and the three Cathedral offices.

Cathedral Reflections is published on 25th May and is on sale at the Cathedral Nave shop and St Clares in St. Michael’s Way for £5 or by post with postage extra – order online via MRWLegal@aol.com

The Sahara as palimpsest.

The next Arts Society Coventry lecture, on Tuesday May 24th, provides insights into the richness and variety of art from what many regard as one of the most inhospitable places in the world – the Sahara. Eamonn Gearon, an author and historian who also describes himself as ‘a recovering journalist’, who has lived and worked across the greater Middle East – from Kabul to Casablanca – for more than 20 years, and will talk about The Sahara as palimpsest.

The word ‘palimpsest’ was originally used of ancient papyrus scrolls that had been not-quite-erased and reused, but now more commonly refers to artistic or cultural works that are built upon or retain traces of previous creativity or cultures. In this talk, he will the complexity of cultural layers left and built upon by those who have inhabited, passed through and been inspired by the world’s greatest desert, revealing a creative history of the world’s greatest desert, from rock art and myth to the desert fathers, sons of the desert, Klee and Matisse, to Schultz and Lucas.

As well as living in the Sahara with the Bedu, Eamonn conducted a number of solo, camel-powered expeditions … and has never lost money when re-selling a camel. Don’t miss this fascinating speaker!

Tuesday 24th May 2022

Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, doors open 6.30 pm, lecture 7.00 – 8.00 pm
Free to members, non-members £10 at the door, students £5
For membership offer, email membership.coventry@theartssociety.org

Political Party Founded in Coventry Finally Gets Seat on City Council

Stephen Gray, Green Councillor for Holbrook (photo Ellie Brown)

At the elections in May 2022 the Green Party, which was founded in Coventry in 1972, finally achieved a seat on the City Council.

Originally known as the “People Party” the Green Party was founded in Coventry in 1972/3 by four professional friends (Michael Benfield, Freda Sanders, Tony Whittaker and Lesley Whittaker). It then changed its name to the more descriptive Ecology Party in 1975, and to the Green Party ten years later.

Fifty years after the party was formed it finally secured a seat on Coventry City Council. Stephen Gray won Holbrook Ward, following the retirement of long serving Labour Councillor Ann Lucas.

Interestingly, one of the four co-founders of the party, Michael Benfield, was the son of long serving Conservative councillor and Lord Mayor of Coventry in 1978, Ken Benfield.

Michael Benfield now runs a company building environmentally friendly timber framed buildings in Wales together with Freda Sanders, another of the four founder members. He is also a visiting Professor of Civil & Construction Engineering Research at the University of Wales.

Redevelopment of Spon End

Proposed redevelopment of Spon End

Local Housing Association Citizen, previously known as Whitefriars Housing, has today announced plans that will see an investment of £120 million to transform the Spon End estate in Coventry.

The proposed plans include an ambitious redevelopment programme of the below areas which will see 750 new homes built over the next 10 years.

  • Kerry House / Milestone House / Trafalgar House
  • Spon Gate House
  • Grindlay House / Drinkwater House / George Poole House
  • Gardner House / Fennel House / Winslow House / Corrie House and Givens House
  • Wellington Gardens / Sherbourne Street and Upper Spon Street (85-99).
The redevelopment shown against the current situation (courtesy of Paul Maddocks)

The announcement follows a Planning for Real Consultation Event where residents said that they want Spon End to be a safe place to live. They want their homes to be more modern, warm and energy efficient, with a pleasant environment with more quality green space, and they want the car parking in the area to be improved.

Spon End, ripe for redevelopment

Citizen believe that their ambitious redevelopment proposals for Spon End will:

  • Deliver new, modern, safer homes which are energy efficient
  • Create a central green space in middle of the estate
  • Improve and open up the River Sherbourne for residents
  • Improve connectivity across the estate
  • Increase car parking
  • Create a community fund to deliver local projects along with employment and training opportunities for local people.

Proposed plans are subject to consultation with the community and planning permission. The announcement follows the first phase of plans outlined for Spon End in 2020 which will see Kerry House, Milestone House, and Trafalgar House demolished and replaced by a mix of new homes.

Kevin Rodgers, Chief Executive at Citizen, said: “I’m delighted to announce our ambitious proposed plans for Spon End today.

“Alongside working on the rehousing of residents in Kerry House, Milestone House, and Trafalgar House over the last two years, we have been developing a masterplan for the rest of Spon End to ensure we deliver what members of the community have told us is important to them and what they think we need to do to improve the area.

“After careful consideration of all the options available we believe undertaking extensive redevelopment of Spon End will enable us to deliver the transformation our customers have told us they want to see.

“I look forward to hearing feedback on our proposed plans from the community and I really hope our proposed £120 million redevelopment of Spon End is well received.”

The demolition of Kerry House, Milestone House and Trafalgar House will start Spring 2023 and if the proposed plans are approved the construction of the first homes will commence in 2024.