CONSERVATION group the Coventry Society has backed our #SaveThePriory campaign to urgently re-open the city’s 1,000-year-old original cathedral founded by Lady Godiva.
It follows Coventry South Labour MP Jim Cunningham last week calling on his party colleagues at Coventry City Council to re-open the Priory Visitor Centre in Priory Place, city centre, so current and future generations can share in Coventry’s unique history.
What has been described as ‘the city’s birthplace’ – and the medieval treasures contained in it – were closed to the world last month in council cuts to save just £100,000 annually – less than half council chief executive Martin Reeves’ remuneration.
Blackadder actor and former Channel 4 ‘Time Team’ presenter, Sir Tony Robinson, has also backed our campaign, saying the remains and artifacts from St Mary’s Priory and Cathedral were an ‘irreplaceable part’ of global heritage.
Eminent medieval historian and TV presenter Dr Jonathan Foyle also told us the Priory Visitor Centre was of national importance and not enough had been done by the city to promote it before its depressing closure last month, a view shared by others including city tour guide Roger Bailey.
Keith Draper, chairman of the Coventry Society, in a letter to the Coventry Observer this week, said: “Coventry’s civic amenity society, The Coventry Society, wholeheartedly sup- ports the campaign to have the Priory Visitor Centre re-opened.
“Clearly the Priory and other historic sites like St Mary’s Guildhall should have been visitor destinations long ago, helping to generate interest in the city.
“Yet footfall in these areas has been poor for years. As Dr Jonathan Foyle recently claimed, serious money could be made from tourism if the council invested in the rich history of the city. The Coventry Society would agree.”
The remains of the first cathedral and priory, said to be founded by Lady Godiva and the Earl Leofric, were buried underground for hundreds of years before they were excitedly discovered as part of ‘Phoenix Initiative’ Millennium excavations little more than a decade ago.
Mr Draper continued: “In the 1990s when the council was applying for funds through the Millennium Commission to construct the Phoenix Initiative it said, ‘It will also be the venue for an extensive programme of festivals, pageants, events and activities. What happened?’
“Once completed the Priory area appears to have been brushed aside as other development came along. This fascinating corner a stone’s throw from the Transport Museum and Cathedral was soon forgotten about.
“Now, with all the current publicity we are pleased to hear that the council is hoping for ‘expressions of interest’ to run the Priory Visitor Centre. Whatever happens though, our historic Cathedral Quarter needs proper support and marketing.
“Not just the Priory but St Mary’s, the Parish Church of Holy Trinity, the work of the Cathedral itself and one of the best medieval streets in the realm.
“Without visionary activity these world class centres of history will strug- gle to reach anything like their true potential.
“Whether the staff are paid or working in a voluntary capacity they will need recognition and support as they go about promoting our city’s unique heritage.”
In response to our questions, the council has mooted the possibility of open days in the interim while formal expressions of interest from potential takeover parties are sought.
But there is no certainty that it will ever re-open. Our campaign is calling for the Priory Visitor Centre to be re- opened as soon as possible, especially at a time when the city’s is bidding to become European Capital of Culture.
Support the campaign on our letters page, using the hashtag #savethepriory on Twitter, and via our Facebook page.
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