A LEADING Medieval expert is calling on Coventry Council to save The Priory Visitor Centre from closure.
Historian Dr Jonathan Foyle said ‘irreplaceable heritage’ and artefacts of ‘national importance’ could be lost when the visitor centre, which houses of the ruins of St Mary’s Priory and Cathedral – the city’s oldest cathedral – closes its doors this Saturday.
The closure, which may or may not be permanent, follows Coventry councillors’ decision to cut £100,000 funding for the centre in February last year as part of cost-cutting measures.
But Dr Foyle, who has long advocated the importance of Coventry’s history, says Councillors have missed the point.
He argues serious money could be made from tourism if the Council invested in the rich history of the city.
He added: “A false argument is made that health and education always take priority over heritage – which is seen as a leisure activity
“But the fact is that tourism is the one of the biggest economic sectors in the UK and the tourist pound is what generates revenue for health and education – if people visit a city’s heritage sites, they’ll use its restaurants and facilities.
“So if Coventry was confident about its irreplaceable heritage and was to fully trade on its unique historical assets – it’s just one hour outside London and is easy to reach – I think people would appreciate it even more.
“But it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – when you shut down access to the things that make the city truly special, people then lose interest in the place.”
Dr Foyle, who famously abseiled down the walls of Coventry Cathedral as part of the BBC Two documentary Climbing Great Britain, said artefacts in the Priory Visitor Centre were integral to the city’s history.
Once the fourth greatest city in England, Coventry is the only city in the UK with three cathedrals – the St Mary’s Priory and Cathedral, the old St Michael’s Cathedral, and the new St Michael’s Cathedral.
And while Dr Foyle recognised decisions about the Priory Visitor’s Centre’s long-term future were still to be made, he urged Coventry Council to invest in reinventing the centre as a museum of Coventry’s history.
Blaming the Council’s withdrawal of funding for the Priory Visitor Centre on central Government cuts, Coun Faye Abbott, cabinet member for community development, co-operatives and social enterprises, is now calling on volunteers and groups to come forward to keep its doors open.
But in a full council meeting this week, Conservative Councillors accused their Labour colleagues of belatedly calling for community volunteers’ help – a year after they announced plans for the centre’s closure.
It is understood that staff at the centre will be redeployed within Culture Coventry.
Urging Coventry Council to find a solution to the closure, Dr Foyle said: “I think many people in Coventry do not realise how important their city is historically.
“The history of Coventry is built on immense self-reliance and industry, and to have that sensibility back in the city – that Coventry is a ‘can-do’ place – is a really strong message.
“The Council sometimes sees history as an irrelevance or a dispensable pleasure, when actually it is integral to people’s self image and the pride people take a place.
“The permanent closure of the Priory Visitor Centre would be incredibly sad.”
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.
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- Head to our dedicated #savethepriory web page, and get the latest on the battle to Save the Priory Visitor Centre.