Coventry – A Great Place!

Niall McDiarmid. Far Gosford Street

For our February meeting we were pleased to have Jacqui Ibbotson, the Programme Manager of the Great Place scheme, report back on the success of the programme.

She told us that the programme had been put together before City of Culture as a fallback in case the city did not achieve that designation. However, its existence helped to create the capacity to run a fuller City of Culture programme than would otherwise have been possible.

Jacqui said that the programme was jointly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts Council England. It was unique in bringing together heritage and the arts at a strategic level, developing the concept of ‘place making’ and exploring the themes of diversity, architecture, identity and belonging.

The aims of the programme were:

  • For the Arts and Heritage sectors to build sustainable partnerships with other sectors to see culture reflected in local plans and strategies.
  • To make the area a better place to live, work and visit with greater pride, social impact and educational outcomes.
  • For more diverse audiences to be inspired by arts and culture.
  • To boost the local economy with tourism, creative industries and local business benefits.
  • To have more resilient organisations with greater capacity.

It was a three-year programme, starting in 2017, but was extended to a fourth year because of Covid. The total budget was £1.8 million, most of which was provided by the Arts Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Jacqui told us about some of the projects which had been promoted through the four main theme of the programme.

Embed Culture in Place – local and regional policy – tourism, LEP and research

In addition to a number of research projects, this theme included the training of volunteer City Hosts. A partnership approach has been put together to develop a Destination Management Plan for the city. A range of “try-it” workshops were arranged including Art and Stitch and a Wellness Choir and an Arts and Wellness symposium held in 2019.

Heritage of Diversity – diversity of place

Photo from the Masterji exhibition

Under this theme a number of exhibitions and activities were organized including the Masterji exhibition and the Tale of Two Streets photographic project. Creative writing was developed under Coventry Welcomes.

Culture on the Move, led by Imagineer Productions, explored the cultural influences of migration on the city and celebrated the diversity and creativity that resulted. Events included the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. This theme included the Foleshill Mile project which led to the creation of a trail map and the opening up of a number of temples and mosques for Heritage Open Days. Humans at work was a project to bring light onto Coventry’s industrial past.

Art, Architecture and place – heritage awareness

Under this theme was the Coventry Evening Telegraph Hotel project, the exhibition of majestic medieval women of Coventry and three Horrible Histories films (covering St Mary’s Guildhall, Drapers Hall and the Charterhouse).

Horrible Histories at the Charterhouse

Another production was “Home” – an aerial performance for Heritage Open Days. Under “Walk with Me” Talking Birds provided four neighbourhood walking trails – Spon End, Stoke and Willenhall and the canal.

Coventry Modern was a series of events appreciating Coventry’s post-war modern architecture and urban design taking inspiration from other cities and looking forwards to new developments. This theme has included workshops with schools on Bauhaus architecture, the Urban Room initiative and Culminating with the Metropolis exhibition at Draper’s Bar from September 2019 – December 2021.

One of the lasting benefits of this theme has been the creation of the Coventry Digital Archive and the Coventry Atlas.

City Animations – the city is the festival

Under this theme the Shop front festival and shop window projects were initiated. There was also a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Two-Tone music revolution and the creation and performance of the Allesley Silas, based on the George Eliot book. Sunrise, “Meet me in the Ruins” and projections at the Cathedral also took place.

The Great Place programme included a grant scheme which funded a series of small projects, including:

  • ‘This is Then’ Digital Art & Music event
  • Art in the Orchard
  • Canley Arts Heritage Trail
  • Coundon’s Hot Talent
  • West Indian Club lockdown project
  • Hear My Voice
  • Pilot Craft Shop
  • Tile Hill People & Places
  • Digital Coventry History Game
  • 2 Tone Magazine
  • The Italian Job plaque ceremony
  • Coventry Swimming Baths Oral Histories
  • 2 Tone Taxi
  • The Wizard of Cov

Overall, the Great Place Scheme facilitated 227 face-to-face events and 29 digital events. There were over 500 activities with over 2000 participants with a total audience in excess of 80,000.                                                       

The programme was successful in engaging diverse communities, developing the audience for heritage and the arts and building the city’s capacity,  leaving a legacy for the city.

The best way of finding out what happened as part of the Great Place programme is to visit the Coventry Atlas – do a search on Great Place scheme and you will find all the projects supported by the initiative.

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