Alan’s Latest Creation

Local community entrepreneur Alan Denyer has expanded his restoration company, AWD Restorations, by setting up a community support operation to help local grassroots cultural projects in the city.

Named AWD-CP (CP is short for ‘creative projects’), the company will be giving spare time and expertise (restoration, makeover/set-dressing, branding, venue management, curation, promotions & marketing) to help local community groups transform buildings and spaces into places where the public can enjoy culture.

Alan is well known in the city for his support for local cultural projects. He was the driving force behind the CET Popup back in 2017, co-ordinating a 12 month ‘culture takeover’ of the disused Coventry Telegraph office that attracted 25,000 people and provided opportunity for over 500 local arts and heritage practitioners – young and old.

More recently he has helped Holyhead Studios in Lower Holyhead Road to transform large derelict basements into a venue space. He has also provided support for the West Indian Community Centre in Spon Street and assisted with the re-launch of the Priory Visitor Centre.

Alan’s 2020 project has been the restoration and re-imagination of Earlsdon Carnegie Community Library. AWD donated 8 weeks labour and materials to the library, which has been taken over by community volunteers. The outcome has included an extensive makeover with new Internet café style workstations, ICT equipment, a new reception area and the creation of an Edwardian styled ‘reading room’ and events space including a William Morris wallpaper frieze, chesterfield sofas, dado detailing and several signature period antiques.

Alan Denyer is a force for good in our city and the Coventry Society wishes him well with this latest enterprise.

Geoffrey Clarke – A Far From Pointless Artist

Coventry Cathedral Windows and Altar

It would make a good question for Pointless! Name the famous artists associated with Coventry Cathedral. Sutherland and Epstein would probably score 80 closely followed by Piper and perhaps a bit lower for Hutton. But how many would Geoffrey Clarke score? Would it be a pointless answer? How many Coventry people have even heard of Geoffrey Clarke?

But Geoffrey Clarke is far from pointless! Arguably he is the most prolific artist associated with the Cathedral. He was one of the most powerful and innovative British artists of the last century. He is mostly known as a sculptor, ever open to the challenges of new materials. But study of his huge output reveals wonderful and imaginative works in stained glass, enamel, mosaic, as a medal-maker and on paper: watercolours, drawings and many prints, mono-types being a favourite medium.

Work on the new cathedral began in 1956. The architect, Basil Spence, had given the commission for making 10 stained glass windows for the nave to the Royal College of Art (RCA) in 1952. The Head of Stained Glass at the RCA, Lawrence Lee, had overseen a new progressive phase in the department and encouraged students to experiment with contemporary materials and concepts. He divided the commission between three artists, himself, and two of his recent students, Geoffrey Clarke and Keith New. Each would do three windows and the tenth was to be a collaborative efforts. Other students at the college would help and support the initiative.

The Coventry commission lasted five years from design to completion; revealing, on installation, a coloured progression from childhood to the wisdom of maturity, with one side assigned to God and the other to Man. The stained glass windows are 25m-high and rise from floor-to-ceiling. The windows which Clarke made are – Wisdom of Man, Wisdom of God and Man in Maturity. Two of the windows were purple and the other was multi-coloured.

For Clarke this led to other stained glass commissions, such as the west window at All Saints Church, Stretford, and other churches in the Manchester area, and four Treasury Windows for Lincoln Cathedral.

But it wasn’t just these three windows that Clarke was responsible for. He also designed the 26m high flèche, or hollow spire, on top of the Cathedral roof. This was known as the flying cross, and had to be lowered onto the Cathedral roof by a RAF helicopter.

Two other pieces by were the High Altar Cross and the suspended crown of thorns and he also designed candlesticks for the Altar.

 

Geoffrey Clarke was also responsible for the cross and candlesticks for the Undercroft Chapel of the Cross. After the Second World War, the congregation had been worshiping in a small crypt chapel under the Ruins. From January 1959 until the completion of the new Cathedral in 1962, services were transferred to the Chapel of the Cross, a larger temporary chapel in the recently-completed Undercroft. The architect, Sir Basil Spence, invited Geoffrey Clarke to create a cross and candlesticks for the altar. The result was spectacular. The giant cross, over 2.3 metres tall and suspended on wires in front of a gold curtain, was fabricated from narrow strips of nickel-bronze, radiating out from the form of a Latin cross and inset with pieces of crystal, lit-up from within by their own integral lighting system. This cross now hangs on the basement wall of the Cathedral by the Chapter house.

lightgallery1

Clarke pioneered a modern variation of the ‘lost wax’ method using shaped polystyrene moulds set in sand, which vaporised upon the casting of molten aluminium, a metal increasingly favoured by a number of post-war sculptors.

geoffrey_clarke

Clarke continued over several decades to employ aluminium for some of his finest reliefs and free-standing pieces. The first of the latter was in 1961 for Sir Basil Spence’s house at Beaulieu in Hampshire.

In 1962, the year that the Cathedral opened, Clarke was working on a 10 metre tall sculpture called ‘Spiral Nebula’ for Spence which is located outside the Herschel Building, Department of Physics, at Newcastle University. The sculpture’s title particularly brings to mind the growing interest in space amongst physicists; Britain’s first satellite, Ariel 1, was launched in 1962. This large, bold sculpture, whose modern appearance, like an abstract receiving dish, electrical coil, and antenna, the use of textured and pegged aluminium panels, a handcrafted quality and a humanity to this man-made structure apparently communing with outer space. ‘Spiral Nebula’ was created in polished steel to adorn the exterior of the building but Basil Spence felt it would detract from his architecture so asked for the piece to be painted a dull grey and sited at ground level in front.

After Coventry Clarke won many major commissions including Candles and altars for Chichester Cathedral; 30 relief panels for the Canberra liner; doors for two London banks; a light fitting for a bank in Liverpool; a mosaic for Liverpool University; a tapestry design for a sheikh’s palace in Kuwait; aluminium reliefs for two Cambridge colleges; screens for the Royal Military Chapel, Birdcage Walk; and a relief sculpture for the new Nottingham theatre.

Geoffrey Clarke died aged 89 in 2014. Perhaps he should be better known in Coventry?

Two Friargate Gets the Go Ahead

The City Council has given the go ahead to the construction of Two Friargate, the second building in the Council’s ambitious business quarter development, adjoining the railway station.

Two Friargate will deliver 134,000 sq .ft. of lettable Grade A office space on 12 floors as well as a high quality café or restaurant offer on the ground floor. Two Friargate is due to start on site during Autumn 2020 and be completed by Summer 2022. The Council makes no claim about the number of new jobs to be created, but the development will create 700 new jobs during the construction phase. If fully occupied, the building will generate £1.4 million per year in rate income to the Council.

In what must be regarded as a high risk development, the council is investing £68 million of public funding for the development – £51.2m of grant funding from the West Midlands Combined Authority and £17 million of Council funding raised through borrowing. The Council is also contributing an undisclosed amount into the Joint Venture Company that is carrying out the development. The delivery of the Friargate business district is regarded as a key corporate priority for the Council.

Other current elements of the Friargate masterplan include Council HQ “One Friargate”, the expansion of the railway station, a bus station, car parking, a boutique hotel and the completed pedestrian link to the City Centre.

The Friargate business quarter development, adjacent to the railway station, was foreseen as the creation of a major city-centre employment site with superb local and national access. Developers foresaw the building of 14 Grade A office blocks, 2 hotels, 2 car parks and at least 10 residential blocks. However, the global economic crisis of 2008 and economic conditions for the last dozen years have conspired against a rapid build-out and the developments to date (now including Friargate 2) have all required public subsidy. Indeed, One Friargate was originally intended for private occupation, but when tenants could not be found it was part-occupied by the Council allowing the release of the civic centre sites to Coventry University.

The Council is making the assumption that things will return to normal after the Coronavirus epidemic. The Council report states “As the city moves to post-COVID economic recovery, investment in the Two Friargate scheme provides a fantastic opportunity to secure significant jobs growth and be a visible symbol of confidence in Friargate and the city.”

We would wish the Council’s optimism to be correct. Yet the current Coronavirus crisis – and its implications for office-based employment – poses many risks for 2 Friargate and the whole future development of the other Friargate office sites. Working from home is now a cheaper option for firms rather than leasing offices, while Zoom conferencing undermines the benefits of being located near a transport hub. And the hopes for Civil service decentralisation from London to Coventry look as far away as ever. The office elements of the original Friargate development now look unachievable.

The Coventry Society earlier this year in a paper ‘Creating a different vision for Coventry’ raised the need for a debate about what Coventry should become, post-lockdown, and how we might build back better.

The problems besetting the City Centre led the Coventry Society to take the view that we need a city centre of greater diversity, meeting the needs of residents through shops of modest rental suitable for smaller, diverse independent retailers, with a food and drink offer to appeal to residents and visitors, and with significant new social housing. The Council’s latest Strategic Housing Market Assessment shows the need for an additional 12,000 affordable houses by 2031. New health and leisure facilities could be located near the city centre, in a reversal of recent trends. In such a vision modest further office employment would still have a place as part of a wider mixed-use development of the Friargate sites. The opportunity to ‘build back better’ would provide not only for private housing for sale and rent but also for Coventry’s identified housing needs – for social housing and retirement living.

As we struggle to emerge from the Coronavirus epidemic and try to assess its implications, surely it is time for this city to reflect on what it is to become, and reshape its vision and reality with the economic and social changes now upon us?

Link to Council Report

Bike Plans Take Shape

Since the Coronavirus hit Coventry, there has been a massive uptake in the use of bicycles in the city and the Council and its partners have responded with a wide range of plans to expand the cycle network. We have trawled through all the relevant papers and reports and put together what we hope will be a comprehensive list of projects.

The picture is as follows:

Coundon Cycleway
The most advanced of the proposed Coventry schemes is the Coundon Cycleway. This is a 2.75km two-way, fully segregated cycleway along the Coundon Road/Barker’s Butts Lane corridor linking the city centre with Coundon Green. This is being delivered as part of a package of measures to improve the air quality in Coventry. This will help to remove traffic from the section of Holyhead Road where Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels are at their greatest. This is being funded from a government grant specifically to deal with NO2.

The aim is to provide an easy and comfortable cycling experience that new and existing cyclists feel confident using. The route is direct and gives cyclists protection from traffic and prioritised travel through junctions. This route has been the subject of public consultation and the go ahead was given by the Cabinet Member for City Services on 7th September. It is anticipated that work will start on site in the autumn.

Naul’s Mill Park
As part of the development of Abbots Lane Gasworks site, a new linier park is planned to run from Belgrade Plaza, under the Ring Road to Naul’s Mill Park and then on to Bridgeman Road. Although not a segregated cycle route, this will provide a shared leisure route from the city centre to Coundon.

Charterhouse Community Corridor
The West Midlands Combined Authority’s Better Streets Community Fund is funding the first stage of the Charterhouse Community Corridor. Working with Historic Coventry Trust the funding will be used to create a safe, accessible, off-road cycle link between the local residential areas and the historic Charterhouse building in Coventry, including a section along the former Coventry Loop Railway line. The end result will be a completely traffic free walking and cycling route which can be used by everyone in the local community. A planning application for part of the route is currently being considered.

Coventry Canal Towpath
Work has started on a project to improve the towpath of the Coventry Canal from Leicester Causeway to Hawkesbury Junction. The work will enable walkers and cyclists to use the towpath throughout the year as an alternative route avoiding traffic. Although this is not a segregated cycleway, it is a very attractive alternative to using busy neighbouring roads. The work is being undertaken by a partnership between the City Council and the Canal and River Trust.

Binley Cycleway
£5m funding has been secured by the City Council to help deliver a new cycle route connecting the city centre with a busy business park in Coventry. The high quality route will include segregation from traffic and will enable sustainable access from Coventry University through to Binley Business Park.

The Binley Road scheme has been allocated £5M by West Midlands Combined Authority towards implementation. This is the first phase of a longer route from Coventry city centre to University Hospital.

The plans for the route will be developed during 2020, including a public consultation to help with the design process. The consultation on the main Binley Road section is due to commence this month (September).

Warwick University route
Work has recently been completed to improve the cycle route from the University to the city centre via the Canley Ford bridleway. A route along Charter Avenue is to follow (see below).

Enhanced” cycle route through Canley Ford

Gateway South Community Park Route
This route will create an off road footway, cycleway and bridleway link between Bubbenhall Road in the west and the A45 (London Road) in the east. This will then link through onto Rowley Road, allowing people to travel around the Coventry Airport site in a circular route. This is a leisure route of about 6 km – a combined cycling and walking route around the new community park proposed as part of the huge Gateway South development.

Whitley South Scheme
The new bridge across the A45 will provide a cycle connection back towards the city centre via Scimitar Way and Whitley Common. Further routes are to be developed in the vicinity.

Foleshill Road and Charter Avenue Routes
A decision is anticipated shortly on Tranche 2 EATF (Emergency Active Travel Fund) regional bid, which includes segregated cycle routes along Foleshill Road, Charter Avenue and the first part of the regional LCWIP route from the hospital to the city centre.

Pop-Up Schemes
Link to the Canal Basin
A pop-up cycle route linking the city centre with the Canal Basin across the ring road via Upper Well Street is due to start on site shortly.

Link to Coventry College
A further pop-up route from Coventry College to the city centre is to follow.

Starley Network

Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) has unveiled the Starley Network, a new 500-mile cycling vision for the West Midlands.

The region’s cycling network has been reimagined and re-branded to reflect the West Midlands’ ambitions following a surge in people taking to their bikes since the coronavirus pandemic. All 493 miles of the routes on the new network will be dedicated for active travel, with the ambition that the routes will either be traffic free away from the highway, or within roads but physically separated from traffic.

The network has been named in honour of the Starley family of Coventry, industrialists who pioneered bicycle manufacturing. The Starley Network pulls together existing routes and towpaths, proposed new cycling infrastructure, and new pop-up lanes funded through the Emergency Active Travel Fund.

TfWM will invest more than £260m in the Starley Network over the coming years, with local authorities adding to that figure as they invest in their local network. The majority of schemes will primarily be delivered by local authorities.

 

Work Starts on Daimler Powerhouse

Daimler Power House

A major transformation has started to convert the historic Daimler Powerhouse into a new £2.4 million creative hub for artists in time for UK City of Culture 2021.

Scaffolding has now gone up and construction work has begun on the Daimler Powerhouse, once home to the world-famous car factory on the edge of the city centre in Radford, which is being transformed into the first purpose-built and collaborative art production facility in the city.

Wigley Building and Development, which owns Sandy Lane Business Park where the site is based and is a significant funder of the scheme, is undertaking the works for planned completion in March 2021.

The former centre of engineering excellence will become a centre of creative excellence, providing dedicated spaces for artists and resident creative companies led by Imagineer Productions which has been based on site for over a decade.

It will be focused on outdoor arts, theatre and working with young and emerging artists, and will play an integral part in supporting UK City of Culture 2021 as a production centre for major performance works.

The scheme will retain the character and features of the building including the brickwork arches and gantry cranes. The restored building will become dedicated working space for many artists and companies in the city, and an important legacy to City of Culture 2021.

The redevelopment is being funded with £1.9 million from the Cultural Capital Investment Fund which is resourced from Coventry City Council and the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership’s Growth Deal. The Wigley Group is contributing a further £350,000 as well as a highly-discounted 20-year lease on Daimler Powerhouse, along with a neighbouring building.

Daimler Powerhouse is seen as the first stage in a planned regeneration of the wider site which encompasses Sandy Lane Industrial Estate, also owned by The Wigley Group.

The Wigley Group is developing a masterplan to transform Sandy Lane Industrial Estate into Daimler Wharf, a new neighbourhood for living and work, culture and leisure, designed to complement Daimler Powerhouse and benefit the wider community. Consultation on these wider plans is anticipated later this autumn.

Information for this news story was taken from a Coventry City Council press release.