“COVENTRY City Council has lost sight of what brings people to a city.”
Those are the damning words of a tourism expert calling for the immediate re-opening of the Priory Visitor Centre.
As the Coventry Observer launches its Save The Priory campaign, Roger Bailey says the council’s decision to close the centre last Saturday (February 27) is ‘short-sighted’ and could have repercussions for its ongoing bid for City of Culture status. Take a look at our articles related to saving the Priory Centre.
Last week the Observer exclusively revealed the Priory Visitor Centre, which houses the remains of Coventry’s oldest cathedral and undercrofts – St Mary’s Prioy and Cathedral – is considered of ‘national importance’ by leading historian, Dr Jonathan Foyle.
Now Coun Bailey, a Tory councillor and a long-standing respected Coventry tourist guide, is calling for it to be immediately re-opened.
He said: “We need to bring the Priory Visitor Centre back into use as quickly as possible and find an organisation that understands, appreciates and respects what it represents.
“I am greatly concerned that we could not only lose the Priory Visitor Centre, but that the invaluable and irreplaceable artefacts inside are not being looked after properly and could land up in storage or be lost altogether.”
Coun Bailey also argues the council should have found the money to keep the Priory Visitor Centre open in the short-term, to put the city in a stronger position for the City of Culture 2021 bid.
He added: “When councils cut back, tourism is always the first thing to take a hit, but tourism and heritage are growth industries that encourage people to travel and spend money, and this is something we should be doing more to encourage rather than less.”
Coun Bailey also pointed to an alleged ‘missing’ £500,000-a-year fund earmarked for the maintenance of the Priory Visitor Centre that could have been used to keep its doors open.
“As part of the Millennium Fund, money was put aside for the Priory Visitor Centre, but we don’t know what happened to it,” he explained.
“One of the problems in building something is then maintaining it, but that was understood at the time and money was put aside.
“We do not know where that money is now – whether it is still there for the centre, or whether the council has split it up and spent it in other departments.”
Recognising the merits of Coventry Transport Museum, Lunt Fort, and The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coun Bailey described the Priory Visitor Centre as ‘the most important place of historical interpretation’ in the city.
He added: “We need to preserve our past if we’re going to move forward into the future, as to forget your past means you’ll make the same mistakes in the future.
“If we’re going to tell Coventry’s rich story of more than 1,000 years, then we need the Priory Visitor Centre to help us tell that story.
“Because without it, we wouldn’t have modern Coventry today.”
Coventry City Council did not respond to our questions, including about the ‘missing’ funding, before the Observer went to press.
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.