SOME of the city’s most historic buildings could be restored and put to new uses to boost the visitor economy after the launch of a unique charity dunned the ‘National Trust for Coventry’.
The trust – Historic Coventry – has been formed from the charity behind the restoration of The Charterhouse as the centrepiece of a new 70-acre Heritage Park which recently secured Heritage Lottery backing of £4.7 million.
Historic Coventry has an expanded goal to become the guardian of all of the city’s heritage that is under threat for generations to come.
The first projects for the trust may result from talks with Coventry City Council about taking over the management of several heritage buildings in the city, raising funds for much-needed restoration and improvement, and creating new uses to add to the city’s visitor appeal and image change.
Plans include using some of the ancient buildings as unique visitor accommodation – along the lines of the Landmark Trust which provides short stay breaks in heritage properties across the UK.
The charity believes that taking the stewardship of the buildings into the hands of a community trust will open up new avenues of funding not currently available to local authorities and provide the creative management and attention to detail that is currently not possible with budget cuts.
Ian Harrabin, who helped set-up the trust to save the Charterhouse, believes the plan will create a “National Trust for Coventry”, turning problem buildings into assets that will boost the local visitor economy.
He said: “This initiative is driven by a desire to ensure that our 1,000 years of heritage is protected, maintained and, where suitable, put to a sympathetic use for the next 1,000 years.
“By the very nature of heritage properties, the number of them increases with time.
“Several buildings created in the 20thcentury in Coventry are now listed and the trust is intended to act as a possible lifeline when any built heritage is under threat.”
The trust’s plans have been presented to the Labour and Conservative Groups on the council and business leaders over the past few months with a very positive response.
Harrabin added: “The aims of the trust are that it becomes self-sufficient and doesn’t rely on public revenue funding.
“Capital grants would be secured from bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, private donors and trusts and charities to restore buildings for reuse and as more funds are raised further buildings can be added.
“The plan is for the trust to start with smaller properties, that are unused, underused or in need of action.
“As time goes on it will take on more properties and may be able to take guardianship of structures such as the city wall and gates that are currently a burden to the council.”
The initial properties that are under consideration are:
•The remainder of the Charterhouse estate – coach house, gardens and parkland which will form part of the Heritage Park attraction
•Whitefriars Gate – to be used for Landmark Trust-style visitor accommodation with some new buildings adjoining to help cross subsidise the restoration – the stone Gate would make two cottages.
•Priory Row, Lychgate Cottages – overlooking Holy Trinity and the ruins of Godiva’s Cathedral would become a ‘chocolate box’ place to stay in historic timber framed cottages.
•Non-Conformist Chapel in London Road Cemetery – Classical temple designed by Paxton and his son-in law George Stokes but gutted by fire. The building has a fantastic interior of stone walls and massive timber trussed roof which could be turned into offices linked to the technology park.
•Another possible project is Whitefriars Monastery where the trust is looking at options with the University and Culture Coventry for restoration, opening up the massive hall at first floorlevel for possible public and University use.
Councillor Kevin Maton, Cabinet Member for Business, Enterprise and Employment said, “I’d like to congratulate the trust on securing this money to help protect the future of some our most special buildings. Our history and heritage has an important role to play in our aspiration to be a top ten city so we strongly support the ambition and work of the group.
“We are very lucky to have such a wide range of historically important buildings and I think this plan will help us to secure their future for generations to come.”