With our Annual General Meeting being held last week we thought that it would be a good time to set out what we have been doing over the past year.
Public Meetings and Visits
We organised a wide range of public meetings and visits during the year. As always we held indoor meetings from September until April and visits over the summer months. During the year:
- W learned about the artist Herbert Edward Cox who painted fascinating views of old Coventry, courtesy of Les Neil.
- We visited the Waste Reduction Unit to see how our city reclaims energy from people’s rubbish and saves it all going to landfill.
- We met the staff and students of the Warwick Manufacturing Group at Warwick University and learned about ideas for the future.
- We visited the Watch Museum in Spon Street and learned about this historic industry that the city was famous for.
- One of our members, Angus Kaye, gave us a tour of Victorian Birmingham.
- We met the sculptor George Wagstaffe and heard about how art and sculpture suffused the redevelopment of our city.
- We visited the revived St. Mark’s Church and learned about the painting of the Feibusch mural and met the son of the Priest who commissioned the mural.
- We learned about the role of women in our city in the century between 1850 and 1950 from Dr Cathy Hunt.
- We learned about Christmas traditions from our member Brian Stote.
- We learned from David Walker that they built 3,307,996 tractors at the factory in Banner Lane.
- We were stimulated by John Prevc to think about how density of development can be used to make cities more vital!
- We learned about Earlsdon’s lost industrial heritage from John Purcell
- We supported heritage partners by helping to staff the Old Grammar school for Heritage Open Days in September. We took the opportunity to promote schemes relating to the Sherbourne.
- We held an event to celebrate Civic Day in June at the Priory Visitors Centre.
- At our September meeting we honoured Ralph Butcher with life membership of the Society and acknowledged the huge contribution that he has made to the city.
But the society is not just about these public events and a lot goes on behind the scenes with the committee pursuing campaigns and actions to try to improve and conserve our city. In some cases we campaign alone, but in other matters we support the campaigns of others. This is a flavour of some of the things that happened during the year.
- Copsewood Grange – this year saw the culmination of a long campaign to save this building. We were thrilled to be invited to attend the official opening of the converted building and assist in the erection of a Blue Plaque.
- We put forward the Paris Cinema in Far Gosford Street for local listing. This was the first cinema manged by Oscar Deutsch before he established the Odeon chain.
- Unfortunately our campaign to save the Coventry Cross was not successful. Despite a petition with 900 signatures and support from Historic England the Council went ahead and demolished the cross paying scant regard to its own conditions. We await with some doubt the reconstruction of the Cross for City of Culture year.
- We supported in principle the plans to improve the Upper Precinct, but together with Historic England we campaigned against some of the details of the scheme which spoil Gibson’s original vision of the Precinct. As this is Coventry the developer’s view prevailed.
- We sat on the Board of the Heritage Action Zones to support the HAZ programme. We raised our concerns about the Council’s lack of commitment to the programme.
We continue to support the Historic Coventry Trust promoting their events and activities, especially the work at Charterhouse Priory.
- We met the team regenerating Draper’s Hall and offered our support for this hugely important project.
- Throughout the year we took every opportunity that we could to encourage the Council to employ a Conservation and Archaeology Officer (and more recently the Heritage Asset Officer). In a Council so biased towards development the absence of a Conservation Officer is a key weakness.
- We erected a blue plaque on the birthplace of Delia Derbyshire.
- We have started discussion with the Canal and Rivers Trust to generate some activity in the Canal Basin.
- We visited the regeneration scheme at the former Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital Nurses Home and gave support and advice to the developer.
- We supported the major bid led by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust for funding for a programme of activity and works on the River Sherbourne. We are also active participants in the planning group.
- We gave assistance to the owner of the Forum Cinema Organ who is seeking a location in Coventry for this historic instrument. Unfortunately no suitable location has yet been found.
- We have published our views about the need for a change in thinking on the City Centre South scheme. With national changes in retailing there is no hope of this scheme being implemented and we are calling for a new vision for the city centre.
- We joined with many others in commemorating the end of the first World War. Our Vice Chairman, Vince Hammersley created a new website called ‘Hero in my Street’ where you can find out details of servicemen from your street who died during the First World War. We also supported the restoration of the Triumph and Gloria War Memorial led by the Friends of London Road Cemetery and took part in a number of national and local commemorative events.
- We joined with other partners to campaign for the restoration and re-use of Park Cottage in Stoke Park.
- We supported one of our members, Alan Griffiths, who is leading on the project to rebuilt Broad Street Meeting Hall. The project started on site at the end of our year. We have also offered support to Foleshill residents to develop a project called Foleshill Golden Mile which we hope to see develop as part of the City of Culture.
We assisted and promoted Coventry Action for Neighbourhoods in their campaigns, including better control of Houses in Multiple Occupation.
- We continue to research and promote the City’s Public Art through our website. We would like to see the Naiad statue reinstated in its original setting on the site of Palace Yard.
- We also support and promote the Medieval Coventry group and their work to research and publicise Coventry’s medieval history. In this regard we follow closely all planning in relation to St. Mary’s Hall.
- Every week we go through the list of planning applications in the city. We summarise the significant ones and publish them on our website, so that Coventry citizens don’t have to wade through the masses of information to find out what is going on. Where we feel that an application should be looked at, our Planning Sub Group looks at the details online and we comment where appropriate.
During the year we completed the restructuring of the society that we started the previous year. We have established three sub groups (Planning, Heritage and Communications) and we have restructured the Chairman’s post to ensure both continuity and succession. The Charity Commission have approved our changes and re-confirmed the objectives of the society.
We have modernised our communications during the year. After 173 editions we have stopped publishing our popular monthly newsletter and instead created a News website with frequent stories published and the links sent weekly to members. We have published over sixty stories since our news site went live in August. We have also adopted e-mailing software to make it easier to mail out to our members and contacts and see who is reading our messages. Whilst many members will regret the loss of the newsletter, the new approach is more flexible and easier to manage and we can monitor who is reading our news stories.
However we have not forgotten our members who do not have Email and internet. We continue to post out monthly a short one-page notification of meetings together with short reports on key changes or happenings in the society for those we can’t contact by email.
We have started to use Eventbrite to market our public meetings and this has proved very successful. We have also created the opportunity for members to pay their subscriptions through Direct Debit.
During the year we have been given considerable support by our Umbrella body, Civic Voice. We have also supported Civic Voice campaigns, including a contribution towards the campaign to improve housing design.
We attended the Civic Voice Annual Convention in Birmingham in October and we have offered Coventry as a venue during the City of Culture year.
Overall it has been a very busy year and a year of change. We look forward to 2019/20 with new strength and enthusiasm. The committee would like to thank all members and supporters for their contribution during the year.
2020 is the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Coventry Society and we will be developing plans during the year to celebrate that anniversary.
You can read our Chairman’s Report to members at the AGM in full here.