The Sherbourne Valley – Being Restored to Life

The Coventry Society are partners in the Sherbourne Valley Project – bringing back the source of our city – for people, for wildlife, for the future.

Led by the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, the project is working with partner organisations and local communities to re-write the future of Coventry’s River Sherbourne by establishing an urban living landscape in which people, nature and culture can thrive.

Flowing downstream from Corley Moor, right under and through the heart of Coventry city centre and out to its confluence with the River Sowe in Baginton, this 10-mile waterway is rich in built, natural and cultural heritage; from scheduled monuments to precious natural habitats and unique histories. It is a river with many a story to tell across the centuries.

Having been long-overlooked and partly hidden for decades, together we are working to reconnect people to this special river and the surrounding valley, by making it more accessible along its length and offering immersive interpretation experiences to ignite imaginations. We will lovingly restore the architectural gems and fascinating feats of engineering that sit along its banks, take action to improve the river for wildlife – ensuring a greater biodiversity, and educate local people and schools, empowering them to protect this heritage for all to enjoy.

There are three main strands to the Project:

1) To reverse the decline of natural heritage so that the river can support wildlife to thrive in the city, providing additional benefits to people’s health.

2) To protect the built heritage along the river so that in 100 years’ time these assets still have a value to people and their story is not lost.

Historic Flood Gates on the Sherbourne

3) To bring the river back to life for people through innovative engagement, helping them get a sense of the past, appreciate the value of the natural heritage they have today, and feel empowered to pass that heritage on to the next generation in a better condition.

Other partners in this ambitious scheme work include Coventry City Council, Historic Coventry Trust, Coventry City of Culture, Severn Trent, Environment Agency, Citizen Housing, Diocese of Coventry and Coventry University. We also need the support of other organisations, individuals and local communities.

CovSoc member, Les Fawcett, after helping clean up the River Sherbourne for Civic Day 2014.

There are plenty of opportunities for the public to get involved, including:

Completing an online consultation survey:

Attending upcoming events:

• 4th July, 10am – 12noon and 1.30pm – 3.30pm, Lakeview Park. River Rangers! Ever wondered what’s in the river? Sharks, tadpoles, nuclear waste, toilet paper…? Find out for yourself in this icky, muddy, wet, fun session! Activities include Sewage Soup and river mini beasts, plus a bit about water mill power! Great for children aged 7 -11. Parents to stick around, too please – getting involved is optional. Places limited, so booking is a must. Thanks to our funders, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, this activity is free! It would normally cost £3.50 per child. Visit the Sherbourne Valley Project  Facebook page to book.

• June –Sun 27th, July – Sun 11th & Mon 19th, Aug – Mon 9th and Sat 28th, Practical Volunteering: Initially based around Lakeview Park. Contact Alex.Jones@wkwt.org.uk for details.

For more information, including the latest events and surveys, visit: http://www.warwickshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/RiverSherbourneValley

You can also follow the project on Facebook: @RiverSherbourneValleyLL

Photos courtesy of Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and CovSoc

Ralph Butcher RIP

Paul Maddocks, presents Lifetime Membership certificate to Ralph Butcher

It is with great sadness that we report the death of Ralph Butcher, one of the founding members of the Coventry Society.

Ralph moved to Coventry in 1960 after a spell in the RAF, an Architecture course in Hull and a couple of years at Hull City Council Housing Department. He worked in several sections of the Council’s Departure of Architecture and Planning.  Ralph’s initial work in Coventry was advising the planning officers on the design aspects of planning applications. He also worked in the Policy and Landscape sections before taking over the role that he became famous for, leading the Council’s General Improvement Area Team.

In 1968 there had been a national survey of housing conditions, which reported on the very poor state of the country’s older housing. The grants for housing improvement at that time were spread very thinly and were not having any collective impact. The answer was to create the concept of the General Improvement Area where money and action would be concentrated in improving whole neighbourhoods and the improvement would not only be to the houses but also to the environment in which they stood.

Ralph was given the opportunity of taking this work on in Coventry. He offered to do the job for a year but ended up doing it for 20 years which he enjoyed immensely.

Ralph initially worked on his own, liaising with people in other departments to get the grants and land sorted out, but these officers were later brought together under Ralph in the Council’s first inter-departmental  team, the GIA Team. The team saw the establishment and completion of the country’s first General Improvement Area at Colchester Street / Winchester Street and many more followed. The achievements of this team were very important for Coventry with 14,000 houses improved and 14,000 families given better lives in their own homes and communities instead of being re-housed in modern concrete blocks.

Ralph retired from the Council in 1992.

Ralph joined the Coventry Civic Amenity Society, as it was called in those days, in 1970. He took on many roles in the Society, including being a member of the Executive Committee, Treasurer and Membership Secretary. He stayed a member right up to the present.

Issues faced by the Society in those years included the threatened demolition of Wheatley Street School for a bus depot; demolition of the Drill Hall for road widening, Barr’s Hill House earmarked for demolition and the implementation of the Spon Street Townscape Scheme.

As well as the Coventry Society, Ralph was a leading member of a number of city organisations, including the Whitley History Group and the Coventry Building Preservation Trust. Ralph was awarded the Coventry City Council Good Citizen Award in July 2012.

At its meeting in September 2018 the Coventry Society acknowledged the contribution to the city and the Society made by Ralph and presented him with Life Membership of the Society.

Ralph passed away on 20th June 2021 aged 89. We will miss him.

Factory Opens at Fargo Village

‘Factory’ is described as “The latest addition to Coventry’s food scene, bringing together some of the most exciting independent kitchens and traders from the local area.”

Factory is a social all-day dining experience with street food, music, craft beer & cocktails – Coventry’s first permanent indoor street food venue. It is situated in multiple repurposed units at FarGo Village.

Factory at FarGo Village in the city’s Creative Quarter will be home to five permanent street food specialists, providing high-quality food and drink from brunch until dinner.

Stripclub Streetfood will be tempting customers with their tasty burgers; The Paneer Wrap Street Food Company will be tantalising vegetarians and vegans with their traditional Indian spices; The Grub Shed is renowned for its dirty loaded fries; Dough and Flow will be creating fresh Neapolitan pizzas and Get Us Baked, run by The Brownie Box by Emily which is already based at FarGo Village, will be serving brunch, coffees and cakes from the bar.

The £360,000 renovation work has in part been funded by the Cultural Capital Investment Fund, which includes an allocation from the Getting Building Fund from the Government via the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) and Arts Council England funding.

Three units have been refurbished into an open-plan dining area with an industrial ambiance to reflect its history as a car radiator factory for Coventry Motor Fittings for 60 years.

The new roof terrace will seat 70 diners, the mezzanine a further 70 and an inside dining area will also have seating for 70 when it initially opens due to Covid-19 restrictions and social distancing. This will rise to a total of 300 when the Government Covid regulations are relaxed.

Graeme Ellis, who previously worked for Amadeus Food at the NEC in Birmingham, will be overseeing operations as Food and Beverages Manager. Between 15 and 20 new staff will be employed to work across Factory and The Box, FarGo Village’s on-site creative arts venue, also due to reopen with a programme of live music, theatre and family friendly entertainment when restrictions ease.

All this alongside FarGo’s existing food and drink businesses which include BIB Noodle specialising in hand-pulled noodles, Leave It To Esmie’s vibrant Caribbean cuisine, Dirty Kitch, one of Coventry’s best exclusively vegan eateries, and Choc ‘n’ Roll/Gourmet Food Kitchen, the #1 Bakery/Restaurant in Coventry.

Factory was officially opened on 4th June. At present the building is open from Thursdays to Sundays from 10 a.m. – 9.30 p.m. (Thursdays), 10.30 p.m. (Fridays and Saturdays) and 8.30 p.m. Sundays.

New Use for BHS Building

It has been announced that Frasers Group plc are confirmed to take over the former BHS building in Coventry City Centre.

Plans for the space include a new elevated Sports Direct store, which will also house clothing retailer USC, Evans Cycles and GAME as well as a Belong gaming arena, and is set to open later this year. The large British Home Stores building has been empty since it closed in 2016.

Councillor Jim O’Boyle, cabinet member for jobs, regeneration and climate change said: “This is absolutely great news. The former BHS store is a big shop in a prime location, right in the heart of the city centre. It’s a real boost that it will be filled by this leading retailer, bringing new retail destinations to our city centre. It shows the confidence that the company has in the city and at a time that has never been more challenging for retail and for high streets, generally.

“I’ve seen the plans and this is real, no scrimping investment. The building will be brought back to life and will be fit for the way new generations like to shop. It will look great against the investment we have made in Upper Precinct and Market Way and just like our work there this is the best of the old and the best of the new.”

The Coventry Society is pleased to see the building being reused but is disappointed that the original canopies, which were a key feature of Gibson’s plan for the city centre, were removed and are not being re-created. With global warming now an established fact, we need to provide as much shade and shelter in the city centre as possible.  

Our Future Moves

Our Future Moves is a year-long celebration of Coventry and Warwickshire’s transport innovation. It starts with a major exhibition at Coventry Transport Museum which will be launched on 21st July to coincide with the welcome return of Coventry MotoFest.

A range of partners from across the region have come together to create Our Future Moves which will run from July 2021 through to the summer of 2022 with a series of events taking place over the 12-month period – including demonstrations of the latest technology.

The year-long showcase – which takes place alongside Coventry being UK City of Culture – will launch with the major exhibition Our Future Moves at Coventry Transport Museum, which opens on 17 July and runs until 31 October. It will feature a diverse range of exhibits that highlight the region’s pioneering work in transport innovation – from autonomous vehicles to one person submarines.

The interactive exhibition will tell the stories of the objects on display by envisioning how future cities may look and exploring how pioneering developments in transport and technology could affect the environment and the way we live.

Objects on display will include a Skyfarer delivery drone, Aurrigo autonomous shuttle, Coventry Very Light Rail (VLR) model, Vital Auto interactive car grill that mimics how you are feeling by reading your facial expression, a Coventry University autonomous racing vehicle and display of unmanned aerial vehicle projects, Jaguar I-PACE, Microcabs hydrogen car, GE electric propulsion unit, KIVNON Mobile Robotics, Triggo electric vehicle (EV) and a University of Warwick nano satellite which monitors wildlife populations.

It will open on the same day as the popular MotoFest event that usually attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to Coventry city centre each year. This year MotoFest is being run for a whole month, with four themed weekends.

Paul Breed, CEO of CV Life and Culture Coventry, said: “This is an incredibly exciting opportunity to celebrate Coventry and Warwickshire’s past, present and future as a pioneer and innovator in transport – at a time when the eyes of the world will be on the city as UK City of Culture, and when the Commonwealth Games comes to the region very soon after.

“Our Future Moves will see a year of activities, beginning with a must-see exhibition at the Coventry Transport Museum.

“And, over the course of the year of events, it will look at how Coventry and the wider region has become the centre of innovation for future transport, from very light rail through to electric vehicles, battery technology and the world’s first Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) Urban Air Port®.”