The Coventry Society was formed in 1970 as the Coventry Civic Amenity Society by a group of people concerned at the loss of some 80 historic and listed buildings in the City which had either been destroyed or were under threat of destruction. The most significant at that time was seen to be Kirby House, one of only three buildings with a classical Georgian façade still left in the City Centre. It was also considered to be one of the finest in Warwickshire.
A group of enthusiasts came together and began a campaign to save the building. It was this group of people whose determination and enthusiasm eventually triumphed saving this important, attractive and historic building. They went on to form the Coventry Civic Amenity Society.
The Coventry Society exists today to act as a watchdog over all developments which may affect properties or open spaces of character in the City. It actively encourages conservation and enhancement schemes, to foster pride in the City. It seeks to promote quality in the built and green environment. The Society encourages the active involvement of its members in these aims and to bring to the attention of the wider population plans affecting important or historic building and sites of public amenity.
The Society today has developed links with the City Council and gives support and encouragement to other local groups dealing with matters of community concern, particularly with respect to historic buildings, conservation areas and planning proposals. We have gone on to form strong relationships with national bodies such as Historic England and most recently Civic Voice; we were the first civic society to join the organisation when it formed in 2010.
Over the years the Coventry Society have carried out significant research and auditing to encourage the City Council to designate several locations within the City as Conservation Areas, thereby giving them considerable protection against unwelcome or inappropriate development. Examples of these include Hill Top, Chapelfields, Hawkesbury Junction and the Canal Basin.
However, no matter how hard we work and campaign, we are not always successful and sadly many historic sites and much-loved buildings have been lost to us. The Drill Hall, Barr’s Hill House, Coventry Theatre, Theatre One and the old Wheatley Street School are amongst those buildings which no longer exist. The Coventry Cross being one of the most recent structures to have been torn down.
The Society led a campaign to save the “Big Five” – five emblematic buildings that were at that time all under threat (County Hall, the Old Grammar School, Draper’s Hall, Charterhouse and Whitefriars). The Society organised a conference to focus attention on these buildings and later was part of the establishment of the Coventry Charterhouse Trust, which became the Coventry Heritage Trust, with many Coventry buildings now its responsibility. All of these buildings has been given a secure future, although we might have to wait for a few years to see Whitefriars put to a more suitable use.
The Society has been actively involved in the national Heritage Open Days celebrations. We were involved in the first ever event in 1994 and we have been involved every year since, celebrating 25 years of Heritage Open Days last year. We have also been involved in the annual Civic Day events, which are held on the nearest Saturday to midsummer.
Last year the Society organised an important Heritage Conference, bringing together all the organisations in the city that are involved in the city’s heritage. This was a great success and we are planning to repeat it this year and possibly make it an annual event. This complements our regular programme of talks and visits to enlighten ourselves and our members about architecture, arts, planning and history.
The Society is sometimes mistakenly thought to be a historical society. Whilst we are very interested in the city’s history and its conservation, we are equally interested in ensuring that there is quality in the city’s development and design. We campaign on public art, street planning, trees, green spaces and the maintenance of the environment. We welcome good quality new architecture as well as respecting old and post war buildings and environments.
Today as many Coventrians will not fail to notice, our City has been changing out of all recognition. Although some of the developments have been completed or are being converted with a great deal of sympathy for our City heritage, such as the Telegraph building and the old Co-op, many other developments have given little recognition to Coventry as an important medieval City. The importance of the unique and internationally acclaimed post war architectural heritage of Coventry cannot be understated, and it is a serious concern which is occupying a great deal of time and effort by the Coventry Society today.
As we move towards our fifty first year we are keeping a watching eye on the current threats to our heritage: Civic Centre 2, the Swimming Baths, the Sport Centre and the villas on Warwick Road are just some of the buildings we perceive as being under threat. We look forward to next year’s City of Culture and hope that people will focus on the city’s amazing history and heritage, as well as its youth and diversity.
If you support the above agenda, why not join the Society.