Is it Time to Re-think City Centre South?

As House of Fraser announces it is pulling out of Birmingham and Solihull, Keith Draper argues that it’s time to re-think the City Centre South shopping development. Designed specifically to attract the multi-nationals. He asks the question: “Isn’t it time to think again? Isn’t it time to stop putting all our eggs in one basket, relying forever on the whims of profit-driven big boys?”

City Centre South

It’s understandable our City Fathers should want to see our retail offer move up the rankings, but half a minute, shouldn’t we really be taking a fresh look at this grandiose City Centre South scheme granted outline planning consent all those years ago in 2012. Six years ago! Hasn’t the retail trade moved on since those days?

From what I read it’s a challenging market for retailers. Spending is squeezed and costs are rising. We are already seeing an acceleration of store closures among the multi-nationals. Online continues to outperform the rest of the market. Clearly the multi-national store still has a part to play but it looks as though there will be fewer of them. No doubt you will recall that the whole purpose of City Centre South was to provide a considerable number of units with deeper trading floors for the big chains. Does this make sense in the prevailing climate?

The Society has always believed the small local retailer needs better support, especially in these challenging days. Often the owner has invested considerable time and sums of money to provide an individual service to shoppers. Think Agers; think Walter Smith; think Butterfly Bras. Take the City Centre South redevelopment area. There are still some highly successful businesses that have clung on here despite no security of tenure. No promise of alternative premises to trade from when the day of eviction arrives. Does this make sense?

Some of us will have lived through the years of comprehensive redevelopment that brought to fruition the precincts we enjoy today. Has the Council thought through the effect of massive demolition in Market Way, Shelton Square, the City Arcade, Bull Yard and Herford Street? How will it affect trading in the rest of the city centre as these challenging times continue. It’s hard to imagine the effect it will have on the reputation of Coventry as we head towards City of Culture 2021. So what is the alternative? Few would deny that much of the city centre needs to be updated. It’s scruffy and ill-kept. Frontages once the pride of the Gibson plan have been neglected. They appear to provide the ammunition that developers and the Council look for to demolish. What happened to pride in our central streetscapes and precincts?

Oddly enough the more intimate environments of Shelton Square and Bull Yard and the City Arcade have the sort of premises eminently suited to the small trader. So why not restore, modernise, re-face?

City Arcade

The shopping experience in City Arcade, neglected for years

Form a small retailers’ trust. A co-operative that might negotiate the sort of rents that are affordable. A sustainable city centre shining out with the sort of shop window displays we once enjoyed? Put together by enthusiastic shop staff.

Isn’t it time to give our young entrepreneurs a real opportunity to become part of a new small trader community. The seeds are there. You see them emerge in shop units that have lain waste for months.

This approach may well not appeal to developers like Shearer. Perhaps not entirely true if only our City Council gave a lead. Surely there has to be an alternative plan at this crucial time. I urge the Council to think again.

Keith Draper. Vice Chairman of the Coventry Society, July 2018

This article first appeared as the lead article in the July 2018 edition of the Coventry Society newsletter. It was subsequenly reprinted in the Coventry Telegraph. There was support for Keith’s position in an editorial in the Coventry ObserverWhat do you think? 

Reader Comments (3)

The article has expressed most of my opinions. Many of the independants stores have been there for years so can’t be too unsuccessful. The arcade is viewed by many as a relaxing area of the city centre that is both historically valuable and functional today. It was previously a very appropriate site for the Carers Centre too – far more accessible and approachable by those who most need their sevices than the tiny space they are squashed into at the rear of the library room. I was amazed to discover that plans to remove the arcade in favour of large businesses are not already being reconsidered

By Beverley Jameson on Monday, July 23, 2018

This article expresses so much of what I feel and what I have been saying about the city’s food offering on my website (https://foodcovolution.wordpress.com/) . I’d be surprised if the council can even find an ‘anchor’ department store group that is expanding at the moment. The changing retail economy means that most of them are closing stores, rather than opening new ones and because of that, the whole City Centre scheme needs re-thinking. What is expanding is the the so-called ‘experience economy’ – and that is all about uniqueness and offering what cannot be had elsewhere. This is where Coventry city centre should be heading – preserving and exploiting its heritage mid-century architecture and promoting independent businesses within it. With a revamp, City Arcade would be the perfect setting.

By Food Covolution on Monday, July 23, 2018

The arcade is a dump, and the “independent” shops you talk of are places like Chinese herbs and pet stores. Not things I would consider exciting, or necessary for a City CEntre. The prevailing retail climate is a concern, which is why as a young person my idea of success would be to provide decent nightlife, creativity and education. Retail and such has been driven out by rising costs, not only of goods and services, but cost to rent the floor space. Ultimately I would love to see the Arcade, Shelton square and Bull Yard gone. Even the market – I can’t see why people think it’s of any architectural merit what-so-ever. It’s tatty, dated and no amount of polishing can bring it to life IMO. A decent sized music venue could replace the market, and a fairly big plaza could replace bull yard and shelton square – surround said square with some high class cafes, bars and restaurants… get rid of the poundshops and betting shops and liven the place up. I honestly think if people want to come and leisure in the City, the retail may actually being to pick up. At the moment, there are few who really need or want to come into the City for much other than a browse round cheap shops…. give people a reason to be in the City!

By Matthew Richardson on Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Mysterious Disappearance of the Coventry Mystery Plays

Our Chairman, Paul Maddocks, calls for the return of the Coventry Mystery Plays.

Coventry Mystery Plays

I see in the press that Chester Cathedral has recently completed a programme of the Chester Mystery Plays. These plays are only performed every five years and they are always well received.

Coventry Cathedral used to have its own series of Mystery Plays, that were performed every three years up until 2006. I was fortunate to be able to perform in the last two productions in 2003 and 2006.

The Coventry Mystery Plays date back to the early Medieval Mystery Plays which were perhaps best known as the source of the Coventry Carol. Performances of the Coventry plays are first recorded in a document of 1392–3. It is very likely that the young Will Shakespeare saw them as he quotes from the Mystery Plays in some of his own plays with scenes and events from them. Various Coventry Trade Guilds would put on small plays on mobile stages around the city. The plays were mostly taken from scenes from the Bible. Each Guild would perform a scene while the other guilds were changing in preparation for the scene that they would perform. Unfortunately few records of the plays now exist but the Shearmen Guild and Tailors’ Guild plays were transcribed and published by Thomas Sharp and most recent performances are loosely based on these plays, from Adam and Eve to Noah’s Ark then Annunciation, Nativity, Massacre of the Innocents to Christ’s Crucifixion.

They were very popular with the citizens of Coventry and Warwickshire, although they often got to be a bit political and they would parody local dignitaries and like pantomime they would add local issues and gossip.

After the Second World War the Cathedral started to perform the Mysteries on a small budget.

Coventry Mystery Plays

Coventry Mystery Plays

I had seen the Coventry Mysteries a few times over the years. I went with my wife to see the 2000 Millennium production which was performed by the Teatr Biuro Podróży (Travel Agency Theatre), an award-winning theatre company based in Poland. I was amazed that they created and performed a large-scale, outdoor theatre show, in the ruins of the old Cathedral with stilt walkers as the Three Wise Men riding a Ostrich, a turtle and other strange animals plus many other special effects including ‘death’ who was very scary.

Coventry Mystery Plays

In 2003 I volunteered to be in the new production that was planned. I had got hooked by the last one. So along with many other local community people we had great fun. You got to see the production grow from the first rehearsals in Drapers Hall to the full performance in the ruins. There were a lot of amazing props including two of each animal on long poles, who would do a dance routine before going into the Noah’s Ark. I was one of the carriers of the giant wooden ribs for the Ark; it took two men to carry each rib,with about sixteen of us all together. We would move them around creating boats shapes and cathedral shapes; we were all dressed like peasants from a Hieronymus Bosch painting.

Coventry Mystery Plays

So in 2006 I was very pleased to be involved in another performance. This one was bigger and more extravagant. There was a large water feature down the middle of the Cathedral ruins. A waterfall and stage at one end and a large stairway to Heaven at the other. This time I got to say a few words and was one of the Disciples. I sat at the Last Supper and at the end had to stand in the water, getting my trousers and pumps wet. The water feature was made by a Coventry based Aerospace company for free. It had a rail system down the middle to take the launch of the large Noah’s Ark with animals on it that came out from under the stairway stage end. Each production had professional actors who said most of the lines and took the lead parts. But because it was a mixture of both professionals and amateurs, we could not get copies of any photos or filming of the productions as the Actor’s Union was very strict about copyright and performance payments. So not many photos or videos exist of the production, only these below, unless anyone knows more?

Coventry Mystery Plays

Coventry Mystery Plays

Coventry Mystery Plays  Coventry Mystery Plays

Coventry Mystery Plays

The name Mysteries has been a bit hijacked over the years, with Coventry University setting up a festival based event which had various students and voluntary groups putting on performances and plays but had nothing to do with the Bible stories.

Coventry Mystery Plays

Coventry Mystery Plays

It would be nice to have the Coventry Mystery Plays back! Maybe a bit like the Chester Cathedral performances, not too expensive. How about putting on a special for Coventry City of Culture 2021?

Scenes from Chester Cathedral- Noah’s arch and Christ’s Crucifixion

Chester Mystery Plays

Paul Maddocks, Chairman of the Coventry Society