by Les Reid and Lauren Clarke
THE Observer this week launches our campaign to save the Priory Visitor Centre – home to nationally important treasures telling the tale of Coventry’s rich history.
The centre in Priory Row houses the remains of the city’s first cathedral – St Mary’s Priory and Cathedral – originally founded by Lady Godiva and Earl Leofric almost 1,000 years ago.
Astonishingly, it closed its doors last weekend due to council budget cuts.
It only opened little more than a decade ago. The Priory’s magnificently preserved remains had been buried out of sight for hundreds of years.
Its discovery during excavations for the city’s Millennium project, the Phoenix Initiative, created wonderment and excitement.
But Coventry City Council decided last year to cut the centre’s £100,000 funding. Last week, it re-affirmed that decision for this year’s £230million Revenue Budget, proposed by finance cabinet member Damian Gannon and leader Ann Lucas.
We last week exclusively reported the concerns of one of the UK’s most eminent medieval historians, Dr Jonathan Foyle.
He told us the Priory’s artefacts and remains were of ‘national importance’ and amounted to ‘irreplaceable heritage’.
Treasures include a glorious Chapter House wall painting, carved sandstone gargoyles, medieval glass and 14th century tile floors.
He has long advocated the importance of Coventry’s history internationally, with the finest medieval Guildhall located in the finest medieval street.
We understand the financial difficulties for all local councils amid government funding cuts. But, make no mistake, this is a council decision.
We echo Dr Foyle’s view that shutting the Priory Visitor Centre is short-sighted and a false economy.
Leading Labour councillors told us last year the Priory Visitor Centre was underused and would have to be subsidised.
But not enough has been done to market and attract people to our medieval gems – a view until recently supported by some Labour councillors themselves.
Dr Foyle is right to say promoting more tourism generates more income to support council services to the vulnerable, including health and education.
Leading councillors insist Priory Visitor Centre cannot be afforded.
Yet some of the city’s cultural experts want to know what happened to £500,000 maintenance funding they claim was once set aside for the centre.
After a year of having no proposals to keep the Priory Visitor Centre, the council now says community volunteers are being sought to run the service.
This may be one option, but the council must, whatever happens, find the funding and creative solutions to ensure the Priory Visitor Centre is re-opened as soon as possible.
Shutting it is cultural vandalism, advanced by those who only see the bottom line, and understand the price of everything and the value of nothing.
The move is even more offensive at a time when Coventry is bidding to be UK City of Culture in 2021.
The Priory Visitor Centre should be a thriving, multi-purpose international tourist destination for young and old.
It’s what current and future generations of our proud historic city deserve.
How YOU can support our 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.