COVENTRY businesswoman Carole Donnelly is set to mount a bid to re-open the historic ‘internationally important’ Priory Visitor Centre as a multi-purpose attraction after it was closed by the council.
The Chapelfields ‘social entrepreneur’ is the first to publicly declare an interest in stepping in to run the venue in Priory Place, city centre – home to the remains and artefacts of the Lady Godiva-founded, 1,000-year-old first city cathedral and priory.
She told the Coventry Observer’s #SaveThePriory campaign she was “bitterly disappointed” the venue was closed to the world in February – to save just £100,000 in budget cuts, less than half the council chief executive Martin Reeves’ remuneration.
Our campaign is calling for the Priory Visitor Centre to be re-opened urgently – especially as the city is bidding to become UK Capital of Culture – as a multi-purpose tourism venue which, with better promotion, could help stimulate more tourism and investment.
Ms Donnelly, who says she recently left Coventry Labour party, said: “There wasn’t a consultation. They didn’t look at all the alternatives.
“I am bitterly disappointed this asset for the city is closed and not being made more use of.”
She said she already had provisional backing from heritage group the Coventry Society for her proposal to re-open the venue as a non-profit social enterprise, which might also be staffed by community volunteers.
She said there was potential to raise funds from Lottery, heritage and other grants, or from a ‘community share option’ where individuals could donate between £50 and £20,000, following an ‘asset transfer’.
Other community organisations – from a cafe company to local creative and artistic organistions and Coventry University’s social enterprise firm – could potentially get involved, she added.
“It’s about keeping alive the history of Coventry involving the community doing it for themselves… and looking to make it a sustainable business. It’s a vibrant area which is not as well used as it could be.”
She said it had potential as a venue for the night time city centre economy, as well as daytime tourist destination.
Ms Donnelly runs the Inspiration Club which meets at Fargo Village, and has long been an advocate of social enterprises in housing and community development.
It is two months since the council publicly said they would invite formal expressions of interest from potential takeover parties.
There remains no clarity on whether the centre will ever re-open, or when any formal bidding process would start.
A bidding process now appears to have been kicked into touch until at least after the council elections next month.
Weeks ago, the council responded to us by mooting the idea of re-opening the venue on some days in the meantime – but nothing has been announced since.
Last week, the Bishop of Coventry, the reverend Dr Christopher Cocksworth, became the latest to back our #SaveThePriory campaign.
He said The Priory Visitor Centre was “one of our city’s great treasures”.
He added it “played a very important role in the early life of our great city” and was part of the city’s heritage and story, which the world “urgently needs to hear”.
Our #SaveThePriory campaign has also backed by eminent medieval historian and TV presenter Dr Jonathan Foyle; and Channel 4 Time Team presenter and Blackadder actor, Sir Tony Robinson, who described the venue as internationally important after it was discovered as part of excavations for the city’s Millennium project.
Coventry South Labour MP Jim Cunningham and Tory councillors including tourism guide Roger Bailey have also added their voices to the campaign. Mr Cunningham has called on his Labour council colleagues to urgently ensure the venue is re-opened for current and future generations of Coventrians so they can experience the city’s rich history.
The Priory Visitor Centre only opened little more than a decade ago.- its magnificently preserved remains having been buried out of sight for hundreds of years.
Treasures include a glorious Chapter House wall painting, carved sandstone gargoyles, medieval glass and 14th century tile floors.
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