Radford Brook Linear Park

During April a Coventry Society group were lucky enough to be given a tour of the new linear park from Naul’s Mill Park to Abbotts Lane and onto Belgrade Plaza. The scheme is to re-wild the existing boating pond at Naul’s Mill and open up the Radford Brook culvert in Abbott’s Lane as well as creating a new park with thousands of trees and plants.

The project has been developed by Complex Development Projects (CDP) and the landscaping work is being completed by idverde UK who are based in Coventry.

We began at Naul’s Mill hearing about the repair work needed and the deepening of the pond to stop pond weed from accumulating. The pond will have a lot of planting to encourage wildlife and will certainly change the current harsh edges to be softer with reeds and aquatic plants.

Naul’s Mill Park

From there we walked down through a new section of pathway alongside the current Britannia Tyres workshop. This will give a direct route from the park to Abbotts Lane and ultimately Belgrade Plaza. Trees are being planted along with lights on this section before reaching the new park at the former National Grid site. We were staggered to see the amount of tree planting, some of great age, as we wandered through the site. Some could have been 30 years old or more and each tree or shrub had a specific place to be. The planting was well underway during our visit with the shrubs due to arrive shortly. We could see the outline of where the culvert would be unveiled, and a couple of new bridges are also part of the plan to make the area a pleasing place to be. One such bridge will be more of a design feature known as the Zen Arch as pictured here.

The Zen Bridge

Once we made it under the ring road further artistic endeavours were due to be completed including a climbing wall, new lighting and performance space. There is a lot coming to the area and we cannot wait to see it unfold. It is the first “break through” of the ring since it was created and should open up the safe passage for pedestrians through a currently dark underpass. The space under the ring road was recently vacated by Coventry Council City Services for the creation of the park under the ring road which will ultimately lead through to Belgrade Square. This route will be well lit and hopefully maintained for years to come with various security enhancements which will be a big upgrade on the current setting.

The site is next to a proposed development – also by CDP – for housing, but the work for the park has been unaffected by this and should be ready towards the end of the year (October) for the public to enjoy.

More info is available on the Complex Developments Project website and the Iverde website.

Thousands of trees are being planted

Aaron Law, CovSoc Committee Member

Starley Gardens unveiled in city centre

Photo – John Marshall

CovSoc member John Marshall reports

Coventry’s history continues to evolve and today’s city centre is changing rapidly, with one of the most eye-popping changes being the construction of Starley Gardens in Cox Street – unveiled this month by Lord Mayor Ann Lucas.

This stunning open space replaces the former James Starley Building which once occupied almost the entire length of Cox Street.

Starley Gardens – named, like its predecessor, after famous bicycle pioneer James Starley – is part of a wider project by Coventry University to open up the entire area with green spaces and walkways, ultimately linking new university buildings to vistas of the Cathedral.

The university describes Starley Gardens as “a striking open-air urban space” that will help the city to look its best ahead of its “well-deserved time in the national limelight as the UK’s City of Culture 2021.”

Starley Gardens, says the university, will have the capacity to host a variety of cultural events all year round, bringing activity and excitement to the campus, while helping to improve the social wellbeing and health of staff, students and the local community.

Future plans will see the university demolish the Alan Berry Building, opposite the Cathedral, enabling new landscaping and an uninterrupted view of Coventry Cathedral from the university’s Arts and Humanities facilities on the other side of Cox Street, which are currently being redeveloped.

James Starley – bicycle pioneer

James Starley is often described as the ‘father of the bicycle’ and his influence in Coventry was significant and far-reaching, creating the foundations for a major bicycle industry. The inventive Starley came to Coventry with his business partner Josiah Turner in 1861 to produce sewing machines. But the business changed dramatically when Turner’s nephew turned up in Coventry with a French-made velocipede. Starley made significant improvements to the machine and in 1871 he designed the Ariel, said to be the first true bicycle. Two of his inventions revolutionised this form of transport – the tangential spoke for bicycle wheels and the differential gear. Starley died in 1881 and is buried in London Road Cemetery. In 1885 his nephew John Kemp Starley designed the Rover Safety Cycle, a chain-driven machine with two wheels of the same size which is still the basis of bicycle design today.

This report first appeared in the May 2021 edition of the Stoke Local History Group newsletter

New Venue for City of Culture Year

Plans have been announced for a new temporary “hub” venue for City of Culture events. Assembly Festival Garden will be open from July-October 2021 on the site of the former Civic Centre buildings in the city centre.

The venue will be run by event group Festival Assembly which has been involved with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for 40 years.

Assembly Festival Garden will be an entertainment, food, drink and events space. Performances will take place in the Queen of Flanders, a 1,000 seater double-decker Spiegeltent. [A spiegeltent is Dutch word for “mirror tent”].

There will also be the Piccolo, a smaller 180 seat Spiegeltent, a treehouse that will look out over the site and an outdoor venue in front of the Piccolo which can play to the entire audience in the Garden. The site will serve as a bustling hangout hub, and will play host to a wide selection of local food makers. The Garden will also host a box office that will serve both the Garden as well as all City of Culture events in other locations.

The Garden has been designed to include covid-specific adaptations to ensure events run as smoothly and safely as possible.

Assembly Festival Garden will be located at the site of the demolished former Civic Centre buildings, now owned by Coventry University, opposite the Council House in the city centre. The university has cleared the area for development but is handing it over for free during the city’s year in the national spotlight. The empty lot will be transformed into a temporary city centre oasis with 150 trees and festoon lighting creating a welcoming space with a family-friendly festival vibe.

Assembly will oversee all programming and be responsible for running the site. There will be a series of spectacular productions spanning cabaret, circus, comedy and children’s shows that will call the Gardens home for the summer, as well as a selection of high-profile comedy and music gigs from well-known faces alongside rising stars. Assembly Festival Gardens will also provide a new platform for local artists and entertainers.

Tickets are set to go on sale for the first major events at the end of May, with further line-up announcements to follow. Assembly Festival Garden is expected to welcome visitors from across the region and nationally, and will provide audiences with a much-needed dose of fun and a chance to come back together in a new safe go-to social spot for Coventry.

The site will eventually be home to Coventry University’s new hub for academic and research facilities as well as public spaces for the wider community.

Exhibitions at the Cathedral

If you haven’t visited Coventry Cathedral during the Coronavirus epidemic, then there are some interesting exhibitions coming up that may encourage you to make a visit. Unfortunately the exhibition of the Lampedusa Cross was only here for the weekend of 22nd and 23rd of May, but there is much more to look forward to.

The Self-Portrait Prize Exhibition. Now – 28 June. 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Free.

“The selfie has given self-portraiture a bad name; this important prize aims to reclaim its status as a mainstay of art practice exemplified by Rembrandt’s powerful late self-portraits, to Frida Kahlo’s unforgettable images of herself lying prone and pain-ridden in bed.” (Will Gompertz, 2021 Prize Judge)

Visit Coventry Cathedral to see the Ruth Borchard Collection’s Self-Portrait Prize 2021. The Prize is the only art competition of its kinds to focus exclusively on self-portraiture. Previous winners have included Celia Paul (2011), Benjamin Ogbebor (2017) and David Dawson (2019).

The 2021 winner will receive the £10,000 Ruth Borchard Prize. Along with other distinguished entries, the winning work will be acquired for the Ruth Borchard Collection’s Next Generation Collection.

Concrete Collar by Tom Illsley. Now – Thursday 30th June 2021. Chapel of Industry.

Concrete Collar is an exhibition by Tom Illsley featuring photographs of the Coventry ring road. Made over a period of three years, the photographs exhibit a historically and culturally important part of Coventry’s urban landscape, as it exists within a rapidly changing environment. The images reflect how the city is regenerating and growing within the constraints of its post-war footprint.

Built for the growing demand of the motor vehicle following the Second World War, on the blank canvas of a flattened city centre, the primary aim of Coventry’s inner ring road was to relieve the centre of congestion and connect the city. The Coventry ring road is a 2.25 mile dual carriageway encircling Coventry City Centre. It was designed by Coventry City Council’s in-house City Engineers Department, under Donald Gibson, Coventry’s first appointed City Architect and Planning Officer. Officially the A4053, it took 14 years of construction and more than 25 years of planning before the road was completed in 1974.

There will be a photobook published with support from Secret Knock to accompany the exhibition.

Tom Illsley is a photographer from Coventry. His practice involves explorations of landscape rooted in historical and geographical themes. Illsley graduated from the Photography BA degree course at Nottingham Trent University in 2015. He was the winner of the Genesis Imaging Bursary Award which supported the production of his inaugural solo exhibition ‘Meridian’ one year after graduation. He is now engaged in professional development and personal projects.

‘Do the Little Things’ by Jake Lever: – Now – 28th June 2021

‘Do the Little Things’ is an installation made by artist Jake Lever for the Chapel of Gethsemane. It comprises of a multitude of tiny boats made of wire, tissue paper and gold leaf.

The title refers to the words of the Saint David who, in 589 AD, encouraged his followers to “be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things”.  Throughout the pandemic Jake has been making these fragile boats, sending them by post to those he cares about. Others have joined in and similar vessels are being sent across the globe as tokens of love, solidarity and connection.

Click here to participate in this project.

Life on the Breadline: 3rd July 2021 – 28th July 2021 Chapel of Unity

Life on the Breadline is a challenging new exhibition being premiered in Coventry Cathedral this summer.

The exhibition arises from the Life on the Breadline project, which began in 2018, led by researchers from Coventry University, the University of Manchester, and the Queen’s Foundation. The exhibition features photographs from Life on the Breadline’s grassroots case studies in Birmingham, London, and Manchester which challenge the way we think about people’s experience of poverty in the UK and how Christians have responded to poverty during the ‘age of austerity’.  The photographs have been taken by the research team and by local residents, volunteers, and staff at the six case study projects.

Click here for more information about the Life on the Breadline research.

All of these exhibitions are free, but you are required to book an ‘Entry and Exhibition’ ticket for your visit. The Cathedral is open from 10am to 4pm Monday to Saturday and from 12noon to 3pm on Sundays.  Please only visit with people from your household or support bubble (maximum group size six). All Visitors are required to wear face coverings apart from those who are exempt.

Coventry River Cultural Programme

A consortium of Coventry organisations, including the Coventry Society, has been successful in securing a grant of nearly £100,000 to bring the River Sherbourne to life and revitalise the area through artistic activities to support the legacy of UK City of Culture.

The programme builds on the successful regeneration of The Burges and Hales Street by Historic Coventry Trust, which was recently visited by society members. Coventry University is leading the new Coventry River Cultural Consortium to create a three-year cultural programme.

Funding from Historic England was announced this week and sees Coventry as one of over 60 High Street Heritage Action Zones (HSHAZ) which will receive substantial grants to create and deliver community-led cultural activities to support regeneration of their high streets over the next three years.  

This is part of a four-year-long High Streets Heritage Action Zones’ Cultural Programme, led by Historic England, in partnership with Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The Cultural Programme aims to make high streets more attractive, engaging and vibrant places for people to live, work and spend time.

This project, which has received funding of up to £97,500, will be an opportunity to inspire and reconnect Coventrians with the hidden River Sherbourne. Activities will include The Show Windows, an annual festival, ‘First Friday’ monthly gatherings and immersive experiences utilising Coventry University’s standalone 5G network – the first of its kind in the UK.

The Coventry River Cultural Consortium, spearheaded by the University’s School of Art and Design, is a collaboration between Historic Coventry Trust, Coventry City Council, Coventry BID, Coventry City of Culture Trust, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, Open Theatre, the Coventry Society and Coventry University. Together the Consortium will co-create the programme, activating their extensive networks to build a new community around the river and support the legacy of UK City of Culture.

Building on Coventry’s tenure as UK City of Culture, the consortium will collaborate to embed activity and learning from 2021, retaining knowledge and expertise to encourage and sustain highly engaging and enterprising activity in future years while supporting Coventry’s Cultural Strategy.

Together, the Consortium has set out a series of key long-term objectives they hope to achieve through the programme, helping to establish Palmer Lane as a ‘Green Futures’ hub with a focus on climate education, the environment and revitalising the river.

The project will also set out to increase foot traffic and prosperity for businesses on Hales Street, Palmer Lane and The Burges as well as preparing the area for a period of sustained growth, development and improvement, with the ambition of securing further investment in the area moving forward.

Carol Pyrah, Executive Director of Historic Coventry Trust, said: “We are delighted to be collaborating with Coventry University and the Coventry River Cultural Consortium partners to bring a three-year programme of cultural activities to Palmer Lane, Hales Street and the Burges. This funding from Historic England builds on their previous support for the restoration. We really want this area to be thriving, exciting and a great place to be.”

Coventry University Vice-Chancellor Professor John Latham CBE said: “This is a really exciting project, not only for our university but for the city as a whole. We take our role in helping Coventry and its surrounding communities to improve and thrive very seriously, and we hope this will be another great example of the amazing things we can achieve when we collaborate with our friends across the city.”

Craig Ashley, Associate Head of School for Enterprise and Innovation at Coventry University, said: “We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with a number of influential local organisations to bring the River Sherbourne back to life as a gift to Coventry. The project’s potential is staggering and we can’t wait to see the city’s local communities enjoying this new and exciting space, while also helping to provide what could be a huge boost to the city’s economy.”