September 26th, 2016

Bidder chosen to re-open ‘city’s birthplace’ venue after our #SaveThePriory campaign

Updated: 11:35 pm, Jul 20, 2016

THE re-opening of the ‘internationally important’ Lady Godiva-founded Priory Visitor Centre (PVC) has moved a step closer following the Observer’s campaign – with the selection of an organisation to step in and run it.

We have learned ‘Inspiring Communities’ led by local businesswoman Carole Donnelly has won the council’s bidding process to take over the home to the remains of the city’s 1,000-year-old first cathedral and priory, closed to the world in February in Coventry City Council cuts.

The Observer’s #SaveThePriory campaign has since February called on the council to ensure the ‘city’s birthplace’ tourism venue is re-opened urgently, with community group takeovers only being one potential solution.

It is understood Ms Donnelly and Inspiring Communities beat one other bid to become the ‘preferred bidder’.

The historic tourist venue’s re-opening in expected this autumn once further legal work is completed and a formal decision is taken by the cabinet member for community development, councillor Linda Bigham.

Ms Donnelly told us her winning bid proposed a model which would see the venue run as a social enterprise, with other social enterprise businesses operating cultural and other activities from the multi-purpose venue.

She revealed her bid proposed five categories for what the re-opened venue in its prime city centre Priory Place location will offer – history; tourism; education (promoting the city’s mediaeval story to future generations); a community space (including for a multi-faith group which currently uses the function room); and ‘health and wellbeing’ (including yoga and other classes, and a healthy eating cafe).

Ms Donnelly said it will initially run on the three-year lease on which bidders were invited to bid, which had raised concerns about the venue’s long-term sustainability.

She added: “We will look to negotiate a sustainable long-term solution with the cathedral as freeholder and the council (the lessee) to make sure it’s a strong sustainable business going forward.”

She added the bid had the backing of the Coventry University Social Enterprise Club, which is providing support over the business model; and preservation group the Coventry Society which might also provide volunteers.

Jobs and apprenticeships would be created by the various social enterprises, she added. Bids for funding could be made to the Lottery and other organisations.

The centre was closed to save an alleged £100,000, less than half the council chief executive’s annual earnings.

Our campaign call has been supported by prominent figures including the Bishop of Coventry, the reverend Dr Christopher Cocksworth; TV Time Team presenter and Blackadder actor Sir Tony Robinson; eminent medieval historian Dr Jonathan Foyle; Coventry South Labour MP Jim Cunningham and Tory councillor and tourism guide Roger Bailey.

The Bishop of Coventry described the centre’s remains and artefacts as “one of our city’s great treasures”. He added the original St Mary’s cathedral and priory ‘played a very important role in the early life of our great city’ and was part of the city’s story which the world ‘urgently needs to hear’.

Sir Tony Robinson, whose Time Team twice visited the site uncovered during Millennium excavations, described the treasures as being of international significance, while Dr Foyle said Coventry should be doing more to show off its unique medieval treasures to the world.

Treasures include a glorious Chapter House wall painting, carved sandstone gargoyles, and 14th century tile floors.

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