CITY of Culture 2021 bosses have told the Coventry Observer’s ‘Bring George Eliot Home’ campaign the great writer is “certainly in our thinking” for future recognition and celebrations.
Council leader George Duggins also confirmed he has now raised the future of George Eliot’s grade 11* listed Bird Grove former home for discussion at a boarding meeting next month of the independent Coventry City of Culture Trust.
And Coventry City Council has provided an update after we reported there are potentially eight breaches of the Foleshill Victorian mansion’s listing status.
It states: “We are still in discussion with the owners about work that has been done to the property.
“There is a statutory time period of 28 days for them to respond and once they have been back to us we will be able to decide the next steps.”
Laura McMillan, director of operations and legacy at Coventry City of Culture Trust, told us: “Commemorating and celebrating George Eliot as part of the build-up to 2021, the year itself and beyond is certainly in our thinking.
“In terms of programme and other activities, we are currently appointing two senior figures and, therefore, we can’t commit to too many specific details at this stage because that will be part of their role.
“George Eliot is, however, a key cultural figure for this area and the link to Coventry should be recognised and celebrated in a bigger way.”
Our Bring George Eliot Home campaign, launched in October in partnership with the George Eliot Fellowship, has already attracted supported from the city’s cultural trusts, Coventry Historic Trust, Coventry University, opposition city councillors and heavyweight international figures connected with the writer. They include BAFTA-award winning TV screenwriters Andrew Davies and Giles Foster, professor Rosemary Ashton and many more.
We have been calling for:
* A blue plaque at Bird Grove. An unofficial plaque has been removed from outside the building.
* Access at Bird Grove for visitors and international tourists, at least at designated times, for George Eliot-related activities.
* Preservation of the building listed since 1974 for its ‘national importance’. It has been closed and looks shabby.
* The city’s authorities to explore funding for its restoration, potentially for a visitors’ and cultural centre, or multi-use which might also work for the building’s private owners.
* The city to do more to mark its George Eliot connections generally, including in the city centre, with the approaching bicentenary next year and City of Culture 2021.
One council source claimed last month the breaches at Bird Grove already identified by conservationists include its UPVC windows, a porch and the unsightly steel fence surrounding it.
The building’s four registered owners – including Motasem Ali and Labour councillor Rois Ali – have for decades used it for a Bangladeshi community centre. It has fallen on hard times, and it is now open on Saturday mornings for Arabic lessons to schoolchildren in what the school told us was a “temporary” location for it.
Coventry council leaders say they cannot force the owners into action, adding the council has not owned the building since 1958.
But Labour councillor and cabinet member Linda Bigham, who has the responsibility for examining the issues, pledged publicly to us four months ago to meet the owners and George Eliot Fellowship. Unfortunately, she has been absent for some of the intervening time, for personal reasons.
A council spokesperson told us this week those meetings would still take place upon her return.
We have already reported there appears to be goodwill between the owners and the Fellowship to enable access for George Eliot-related activities, which used to happen before the building’s closure. Discussions are yet to take place.