4th Dec, 2016

Coventry Labour MP backs our #SaveThePriory campaign

Les Reid 24th Mar, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

A COVENTRY Labour MP has backed our #SaveThePriory campaign to keep the city’s 1000-year-old original cathedral founded by Lady Godiva.

He is calling on party colleagues at the council to re-open it urgently.

Coventry South MP Jim Cunningham says the Priory Visitor Centre and its nationally important treasures are a crucial part of the city’s rich history which must be shared with city schoolchildren, future generations and the world.

Last week, Blackadder actor and former Channel 4 ‘Time Team’ presenter, Sir Tony Robinson, 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.

It is now four weeks since the doors to the internationally important site, founded by Lady Godiva and Earl Leofric, were astonishingly closed to the world to save just £100,000 in council cuts – half the remuneration of the council’s chief executive Martin Reeves alone.

It means treasures – which were buried under ground for hundreds of years before they were excitedly discovered as part of Millennium excavations little more than a decade ago – are now hidden once more.

Mr Cunningham, whose constituency includes the city centre where the Priory Row centre stands, said: “It’s so important for schoolchildren to see it to realise it represents a 1000 years of Coventry’s history.

“It’s also very important for tourism. It needs to be re-opened as part of our history at a time when we’ve been trying to develop other medieval sites such as the Charterhouse.

“Even if the Priory Visitor Centre was re-opened for a minimal period to start with – even initially for one day a week – that would mean an historic site would be retained which would link to the Charterhouse, which Ian Harrabin is doing such a good job in developing and establishing those links.”

In response to our questions, Coventry City Council leaders told the Observer last week it had invited expressions of interest for other organisations to re-open the centre at some point in the future, potentially opening up a bidding process.

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 a matter of urgency, especially at a time when the city’s is bidding to become European Capital of Culture.

In response to our questions last week, Labour councillor Faye Abbott also said: “The centre and Undercroft could still be opened for special occasions, such as Heritage open days” – ahead of any “Expression of Interest process”.

This week, we have called on the council to identify such days – and as many events as possible – so the centre can be re-opened as a multi-purpose venue.

Mr Cunningham also urged the council to urgently work up details for such a re-opening, including Heritage days.

The council also told us last week “a number of parties have come forward” who MIGHT be interested in re-opening and running the venue.

The council would not state who they are, or what type of organisations they are.

There remains no clarity on potential opening hours sought, or on what basis the centre could be run, or when it might be re-opened.

Support the campaign on our letters page, using the hashtag #savethepriory on Twitter, and via our Facebook page.