What Next for Whitefriars?

What next for Whitefriars? That was the question posed by Carol Pyrah, Executive Director of the Historic Coventry Trust, at a meeting of the Coventry Society held at the newly re-opened Drapers Hall on Monday 8th November.

Carol and her team of Site Managers gave the society an update on the work that the Trust is undertaking in the city. She described the Trust as an “entrepreneurial heritage trust” which relies on the income generated from regenerated buildings to conserve them for the future. She reminded members that the Trust came out of the work undertaken by the Coventry Society and in particular the symposium organised by the Society in 2010 to identify the priorities for restoring the city’s buildings at risk.

The meeting took place in the Regency splendour of the restored Draper’s Hall. Hannah Pierce the Draper’s Hall General Manager told us about the music programme she has put together for the Hall which commences this month.  She has created a programme to give something for everyone in the city and fill some of the gaps that are missing in Coventry’s music scene. Coventry Music Service has already moved into the building and young people will soon have the opportunity to practice their music in classical surroundings.

If you are thinking of a staycation with a difference you can now book accommodation at some of the city’s most iconic buildings – Cook Street Gate, Swanswell Gate, and 3 – 6 Priory Row will all shortly be available to hire and in the future Whitefriars Gatehouse will become available after its restoration. These buildings will also be open to the general public for Heritage Open Days and on other occasions.

3 – 6 Priory Row

Following the completion of the Burges Heritage Action Zone project, earlier this year, planning permission has now been granted and tenders are being prepared for the opening up of a length of the River Sherbourne near Palmer Lane.

Hannah Jones, the Charterhouse General Manager, lamented the fact that Charterhouse is not yet ready to open to the public, but it is now due to open in June 2022. Most of the internal work is now complete and work is progressing on the external environment. This is often delayed by archaeological findings that arise every time a spade is put in the ground.

Roofing work at the Charterhouse last June

The Charterhouse, the Charterhouse Fields and London Road Cemetery are now being seen together as a Heritage Park. A great deal of work has been done by volunteers to bring the vegetation under control and the Heritage Trust is working with Warwickshire Wildlife Trust to create a wetland habitat and to investigate the best way of revealing a view of the famous Stephenson viaduct.

Plans are moving forward to create a new footpath / cycle route along the Coventry Avoiding Loop railway line and a new pedestrian route has already been created from the Charterhouse car park via a pedestrian crossing and a re-opened access to London Road Cemetery. Eventually you will be able to walk from the cemetery via the Charterhouse Fields and the Loop Railway line returning via Far Gosford Street for a walk through some of Coventry’s most fascinating heritage.

The Anglican Chapel at London Road Cemetery is now nearing completion, just awaiting the completion of a re-instated tile floor. The Society is in discussion with the Trust to have a future meeting there. Plans for the Non-Conformist Chapel are in place but not yet completed.

One of the Heritage Trust projects that is a bit different to the others is Draper’s Bar / Metropolis Restaurant. The building was gifted to the Trust by the Alan Higgs Trust and is a modernistic building created on the foundations of the original Herbert Gallery.  The restaurant is being run as a training centre for the hospitality industry and Coventry’s young people have a life changing opportunity for education and training. As well as a bar and restaurant the building hosts an exhibition about our changing city.

One of the learning points about the Trust’s programme is that modernising buildings is not sufficient in itself and needs to be accompanied by an activity programme. The Trust has put together a programme of engagement and volunteering to support all elements of the programme, including events in Lady Herbert’s Garden, the London Road Cemetery, the Charterhouse Fields and an extensive arts and performance programme for the Burges.  

With great progress being made with all of these projects the question arises about what comes next and in particular what is to happen with Whitefriars Monastery. The building is currently in use as a store for the Herbert Gallery. With the plan for this store to be moved to the Ikea building, there is the prospect of this building becoming available in the medium term.

The building has been used in the past as a museum, exhibition space and performance area. One of the limiting constraints is the proximity to the ring road and the noise that generates.

Carol asked us what we thought should become of the building in the future. Obviously it has to be a use that generates enough income to support its future maintenance.

So what do you think should happen? What would you like to see the building used for? Please let us know and we will pass all your ideas to the Heritage Trust.

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