October 1st, 2016

#SaveThePriory: Two parties bid to take over historic Priory Visitor Centre

TWO organisations have bid to take over the ‘internationally important’ Lady Godiva-founded Priory Visitor Centre axed by the council, we can reveal.

The three-week bidding process closed on Tuesday (May 31). The two submitted separate bids are now expected to be evaluated confidentially on schedule by Coventry City Council next Tuesday (June 7).

It has lead to hopes the city centre tourist and cultural venue – home to the remains of the city’s 1000-year-old first cathedral and priory – might re-open in months, if not weeks.

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

The council confirmed the two bids, adding: “No further detail can be provided at this point in the evaluation process.”

We have learned that one of the bidders is Coventry businesswoman Carole Donnelly.

The Chapelfields ‘social entrepreneur’ had told us she would seek to acquire a ‘community asset transfer’ before potentially bidding for Lottery or heritage funding to help re-open the venue as a non-profit multi-purpose social enterprise, staffed by community volunteers.

Other community organisations – from a cafe company to local creative and artistic organisations – could potentially get involved, she had told us.

As we have revealed, concerns were expressed that the offer in the ‘expressions of interest’ bidding process was limited to a short three-year lease term, potentially making business plans and grant applications more difficult.

The council responded by saying it would be prepared to discuss any longer term plans proposed by bidders. while the initial three-year lease term would remain.

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; and Coventry South Labour MP Jim Cunningham.

The council’s budget last year enforced the centre’s closure – implemented in February this year – to save the council £100,000 annually – less than half the remuneration of the council’s chief executive.

The Bishop of Coventry described the remains and artefacts housed at the centre in Priory Place 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 heritage and 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, medieval glass and 14th century tile floors.

How YOU can support our #SaveThePriory campaign:

Our letters page.. Share your thoughts and experiences, in words or pictures, and say what Coventry’s proud medieval history means to you.

On Twitter @covobserver. Using the hashtag #savethepriory to pledge your support.

On Facebook.co.uk/covobserver. Keep up to date, and share your thoughts.

Head to our dedicated #savethepriory web page, and get the latest on the battle to Save the Priory Visitor Centre

The Priory Visitor Centre expressions of interest application process was scheduled to close at the end of May.

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