Cathedral’s Unity Lawn Gets Makeover

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St. Michael’s Avenue, with Unity Lawn on the Right

Plans have been unveiled to spruce up Coventry Cathedral’s Unity Lawn, the fenced lawn next to the Chapel of Unity. The scheme covers the area bounded by Cuckoo Lane, Priory Row, Bayley Lane with St. Michael’s Avenue running up the middle. Historically the area was part of St. Michael’s Graveyard but there haven’t been any burials there since 1847.

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The new scheme removes the railings to open the space up and provides new benches, lighting, paving and planting to create a more inviting space to enjoy the views of the Cathedral and the surrounding historic architecture. In a nod to the Lennon / Ono artwork from the Sixties, a circular bench will also be added around the largest tree in the lawn, which offers the best view of the Cathedral and the ruins.

The project has been designed by Studio Morison, an artist lead creative practice.

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The Cathedral has confirmed that all graves and memorial plaques will be preserved and protected, with much of the new design focusing on the edges and central walkway. The plans also include the intention to uncover a hidden part of Coventry’s history; a former Coventry-born gladiator whose monument is currently hidden by shrubbery.

The monument states that John Parkes was a gladiator who was born in Coventry in 1681, fought over 350 battles across Europe “with honour and applause”, before accepting his defeat at the age of 52 in 1733. It is thought he was a professional sword fighter and fencing master, but was also known as a boxer.

The scheme is funding by the West Midlands Combined Authority and is set to begin in the autumn. It is due to be completed by spring 2021 in time for the new start date of City of Culture.

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The Very Reverend John Witcombe, Dean of Coventry, added: “We are very excited about the plans to improve the areas of St Michael’s Avenue and Unity Lawn.

“The first of the cathedral’s values is hospitality and we sincerely hope this will make our outdoor spaces more welcoming and encourage people to pause and reflect in this special part of our city centre.”

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Unity Lawn Lighting Scheme

Antiques Roadshow comes to town

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The BBC Antiques Roadshow was planning to come to Coventry Cathedral on 8th September, but with the Coronavirus still prevalent they have decided instead to record a socially distancing programme in the grounds of Kenilworth Castle. However they are still looking for Coventry people to come forward with their interesting items.

For the first time in more than four decades, the series will be filmed on a closed set with a small invited audience only, to ensure the safety of guests, the production team and the wider public.

Viewers are being asked to contact the Antiques Roadshow about their objects as soon as possible so the team can start planning the show. Anyone with anything interesting that they would like to check out and share should fill out a ‘Share Your Story’ form with the details of their objects. This year only people who have contacted them beforehand will be invited to attend the show.

The link is as follows:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/4M87TXlfyxdKf6x2fqhNCLz/kenilworth-castle

So get the ladders out and check what’s in your loft. You might even find an original Coventry Society Membership card dating back to 1970!

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“Coventry Moves” – Coventry City of Culture brand and website review

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We’re still some 10 months away from the start of Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture in May 2021. Last week saw a major step towards this date, with the launch of the Coventry City of Culture brand and website.

The brand is launched in a punchy one – minute video,  which touches on key themes from the city’s past, and looks ahead to the city’s future. The video is clearly targeted at a young audience, picking up on the fact that in terms of population, Coventry is one of the country’s youngest cities.

Visually the brand is strong and distinctive. A striking blue, “Moving Blue” is the feature colour – harking back to Coventry blue of medieval times , and the Sky Blue of more recent years. The blue is complemented by the black and White of Two Tone. The graphics are crisp, clear and modern and the total effect is very Coventry, very distinctive very effective.

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The branding strapline “Coventry Moves” is intended to reflect the fact that Coventry has always been a city of change, also picking up the linkages to Coventry’s central role in the motor industry over the last century. This has taken me longer to get my head around. It is so difficult to come up with a strapline that isn’t a cliché and hasn’t been used before. So “Coventry Moves” it is. My problem has been that every time I see “Coventry Moves”, I keep on asking myself, “where to ?” However, it is what it is and it’s growing on me.

The website provides a wealth of information about what the team at City of Culture is trying to achieve and a wealth of information about the team itself – a markedly bigger team than I’d envisaged. The structure of the team helps one to get an idea of where the focus of their work is and of the way that the team is seeking to engage with the city’s diverse communities. As you would expect, at this stage the website is strong on ambition and limited in detail about how the ambition will be delivered. But that is a key part of the challenge for the next ten months or so.

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This is very much an early step in moving towards May 2021. One of the other challenges to be overcome is how the City of Culture concept, developed in the old world pre – Coronavirus will evolve into a concept which reflects the new reality. The fact that live events and activities will be heavily constrained and the project will be far more reliant on digital communication and the virtual world than could have originally been envisaged.

A further challenge is that of community engagement. The initial launch video is focussed on a youthful Coventry. There is an immense challenge in trying to make the initiative relevant to all age groups and to the vastly diverse ethnic and cultural mix of the city. Looking at some of the material produced by Hull, the UK’s previous City of Culture, one telling comment was that often, people who have recently moved to a city are more appreciative of what the city has to offer than those who have always lived there. In Coventry’s case, in-commers have decided to locate in Coventry for a specific reason. There will be an “attractor” that has brought them here. Whereas those of us who have lived in the city all of our lives tend to take things for granted and are blasé about what the city has to offer. This in itself is a problem for City of Culture to address. How do they engage with those who are not amongst the usual suspects in the city’s cultural life and are cynical and sceptical about what City of Culture means. These are the people who need to be convinced that there’s something in City of Culture for them and who need to be supported in becoming involved.

The City of Culture team are not going to have an easy ride in the coming months. Whatever plans they had in place will have to reflect the ever-changing Coronavirus situation, however this is a good start with a punchy video, a strong brand and a strong team structured to deliver.

Peter Hunter, CovSoc Committee Member

The Destruction of Coventry’s Post-war Heritage Continues!

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In the run up to City of Culture, Coventry once again turns its back on its amazing post-war heritage!

Coventry’s Planning Committee has given the go-ahead for Coventry University’s plans for a new university campus on the site of the former Civic Centre, with “substantial harm” to the Listed Civic Centre II. Although the listed building will remain in part, one quarter will be demolished and the rest will be disguised behind a façade that is intended to replicate medieval development. The former landscaped square, which was also listed, will also be lost, although the samples will be relocated elsewhere in the development.

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The University has submitted three applications; a detailed application for Phase one of the development, a listed building application for the work to the Listed Building and an outline application for the remainder of the site. All three applications have been approved, although it is recognised that the Secretary of State may call in the applications because of the objection by the Twentieth Century Society.

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Civic Centre II was only listed in 2017 following a request for “immunity” from listing by the University. In making the listing Historic England said of the building:

“The Studio block of the Civic Centre 2 building, Earl Street, Coventry, the courtyard surface to its south and the eastern retaining wall of the courtyard are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

  • Architectural quality: the deliberately spare, curtain-walled studio block with its concrete frame, supported on pilotis, is a good example of refined modern-movement design of the late-1950s which benefits from careful detailing;
  • Historic interest: the building was the centre of design activity for the vibrant team of architects who were responsible for Coventry’s redevelopment, several of whom subsequently had notable careers in other cities across Britain;
  • Expression of the building’s purpose: the studio floors with their glass walls and the panels showing different samples of tiles, brickwork and paving all showed the purpose of the building;
  • Popular inclusiveness: by providing a purpose-built exhibition space at ground floor level with glass walls the building was designed to share the plans and models for the continuing redevelopment of Coventry with its citizens; a rare example of such inclusiveness at that time.”

The listing details continue “The function of the blocks of Civic Centre 2 (CC2) was to house the Architecture and Town Planning Department and this was reflected in a number of ways. The upper two floors of the northern block contained the drawing offices for architects, with high ceilings and walls which were largely glazed. The ground floor of this block was open and supported on tiled pilotis, allowing public access to the central courtyard, with the exception of an exhibition room beneath the studio block, which had entirely glazed walls. This formed an exhibition space in which citizens of Coventry could inspect drawings and models of new, planned developments produced in the offices above.

The former car park to the north-east of CC1, which now formed the courtyard enclosed by CC1 and CC2, was redesigned, with a rectangular reflecting pool and a circular fountain. A variety of paving materials were used in the courtyard, intended to be viewed as samples from the architects’ studio block, and panels of different bricks were also arranged as samples along the retaining wall on the eastern side of the courtyard. This feature of specimen examples extended to a stairwell within the building which was lined with a variety of plain and decorative tiles as well as to staircase balustrades and lighting.”

On being consulted on the Listed Building application Historic England indicated that the proposals will result in substantial harm to Civic Centre 2, but they did not object or recommend refusal. Officers reported that HE recognised that there are significant public benefits from the proposed scheme, including bringing the Grade II* former Old Star Inn under-croft back into a sustainable use and taking it off the Heritage at Risk register.

The Twentieth Century made a strongly worded objection to the scheme:

“We have been appalled by the irreverence these proposals display towards this listed building that contributes to the story of Coventry’s rebirth in the post-war period. The application documentation reveals that the conservation of Civic Centre 2 has not been seriously considered during the development of these proposals. The listing grade of the Studio Block and courtyard are incorrectly stated at some points in the application and the heritage assessment claims that Civic Centre 2 is not of national importance, which constitutes a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of listing. In line with paragraphs 194 and 195 of the National Planning Policy Framework (February 2019) we recommend that you refuse consent for this application as the substantial harm to the significance of Civic Centre 2, a Grade II listed building, that would result from the proposals has not been shown to be either exceptional or necessary to achieve substantial public benefits. The Twentieth Century Society therefore objects to this application in the strongest terms and wishes to see these proposals be comprehensively revised to sustain the significance of these designated heritage assets”.

The Coventry Society also objected to the damage to the Listed Building.

If Coventry had not squandered its post-war heritage it could by now be a UNESCO World Heritage site, like Le Havre in France, which was also destroyed by bombing. Imagine what such a designation would have done for Coventry’s prospects! The Heritage Action Zone was supposed to stop this blatant disregard of Coventry’s post-war heritage, but it has singularly failed to do so.

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It’s Time to Choose Our Future!

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The Coventry Society is campaigning for a different vision for Coventry as we come out of the Covid epidemic. Part of the necessary change is the way that we move about our city. We asked Coventry’s Bicyle Mayor, Adam Tranter, to give us his thoughts on this important issue. 

Just 6% of people want to go back to the way things were, cites a recent YouGov poll. It’s an incredible but believable stat given what we’ve all learned about ourselves and our communities during lock down.

During months of incredible adversity, we caught a glimpse of what a greener, friendlier and more equitable future could look like. We rediscovered our local communities, reevaluated the importance of neighbourhood and reconnected with the outdoors. While other transport modes plummeted, according to government figures, cycling saw a huge increase – as much as 200% in places. In May, according to Strava Metro data, cycling trips in Coventry had doubled versus the same time in the previous year.

Almost everybody had noticed the change. Families took their bikes out of the sheds and experienced the physical and mental benefits of riding a bike. Rather than putting bikes in the back of a car to drive to a park, people found their local communities to be pleasant, safe and welcoming enough on two wheels to make new journeys and replace previous ones, usually taken by car.

Modal share for cycling has remained at 2% for decades. Every piece of research tells the same story; more people won’t cycle unless they feel safe. While cycling is statistically safe (it’s safer than walking, per mile travelled, in the UK), in normal times, it doesn’t feel safe. Roller coasters are statistically safe too, but you wouldn’t want to go to work everyday in one.

Despite only a minority of people wanting to return to normal, that’s exactly where we’re heading. As we’re told to return to work and restart the economy, old habits are back. Car usage is nearly at pre-lockdown levels and, as a consequence, cycle trips are falling.

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It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s time to choose our future and the time for change is now.

I believe that many in Coventry want a change in direction that makes the city a welcoming place for people, not just machines. Our famed ring road, the 20th century version of a city wall, acts as a huge barrier to people looking to travel to the city centre by foot or by bike.

New research released in July 2020 shows that 6.5 people are in favour of local measures to support cycling and walking for every 1 person against. Measures to enable cycling aren’t controversial like some would think; there is a clear mandate from the public to reallocate space and change the ways our towns and cities work for people.

Change is happening and that should be applauded. There’s a new high quality segregated cycle route in Coundon and another high quality cycleway connecting the city centre with Binley Business Park and University Hospital. These measures represent a step change from the norm for cycling in Coventry, but if we’re to reach the potential for cycling in the city, we need more. And fast.

The Local Air Quality Action Plan tackles the instruction from central government to clean up Coventry’s toxic air, in the form of NO2; one of the key contributing factors to air quality is diesel vehicles, especially private vehicles which carry the fewest number of passengers. Buses, while contributing to poor air quality, do not make a dent on the impact made in Coventry by the use of private vehicles, many for short trips. In the West Midlands, 41% of car journeys are under 2 miles; a distance easily cycled or walked for many.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that governments were encouraging us to buy diesel vehicles; the same vehicles that now need to go in the name of public health.

For a city steeped in manufacturing and motor history, we need to be careful that we don’t sleepwalk into an electrified version of the status quo. Now, the government is rushing towards adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), despite them not solving many of the issues that combustion engined vehicles bring.

Electric vehicles still cause congestion and share many of the same negative impacts on wider society as their combustion engined cousins. What’s more, they still produce pollution through tiny particular particulate matter air pollution. While the impact is not yet fully understood, early indications suggest PM2.5 can have an impact on a child’s brain development. That’s before we even talk about the fact that the entry level price of £20,000 is way out of reach of all but the most wealthy of citizens.

There is a much simpler solution frequently ignored in favour of high-tech solutions. Instead of driverless cars, we need more car-less drivers.

We need to use the right tool for the job and, for many urban trips, cycling or walking are great options for many people. Across the country, 68% of all journeys are under 5 miles. Nearby in Birmingham, they have around 300,000 daily journeys by car under one mile. These journeys are having a considerable impact on our communities and the health of our neighbours.

Before the car in Coventry, the city was the world’s heart of bicycle manufacturing with the city’s pioneers producing some of the designs still in use today. John Kemp Starley’s modern safety bicycle design is the most prevalent type of bicycle in use in the Netherlands (adopted as the “omafiets”), where in some cities, over 50% of trips are taken by bikes. Over 140 years later, a human traveling on a bicycle at 10–15 mph, using only the power required to walk, is still the most energy-efficient means of human transport available.

I don’t have a crystal ball but I do believe there’s a strong chance that it won’t be long before we’re told to ditch electric vehicles, just as we have been with diesel. Other cities around the world are discovering that cities have to be for people and – in times of retail uncertainty – city centres need to be destinations and experiences. A city dominated by motor vehicles and the associated infrastructure required for them, namely car parks, rarely provides this.

There are lots of exciting developments in the city but, as The Coventry Society is already doing, we need to have a close eye on whether these opportunities are fit to take us into the future. I read with interest the society’s alternative plans for City Centre South; through speaking with the developers, it looks unlikely that any of the areas within the complex will be permitted for cycling.

This, along with other residential developments in the city, is locking in car dependency. Coventry City Centre is, in places, great for pedestrians; we’re rumoured to have Europe’s first pedestrianised shopping centre (Upper Precinct). But currently we’re heavily reliant on motor vehicle trips to get into the city centre, especially at a time where public transport is at just 30% of capacity. We should remember that 33% of people don’t have access to a car in Coventry.

We need to be bold. Doing so will not only help clean up our toxic air but bring together a more equitable city, helping narrow some of the health and social inequalities that we face. I and many others believe that bicycles will have a significant positive impact for its residents and the city’s development.

The time for change is now!

Adam Tranter is the Bicycle Mayor for Coventry, co-host of Streets Ahead podcast and CEO of communications agency, Fusion Media.

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Photo – Coventry Telegraph