6th Dec, 2016

#SaveThePriory: Council hopes for 'swift' re-opening of Priory Visitor Centre

Les Reid 21st Jun, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

COVENTRY City Council says it is hopeful of a ‘swift’ conclusion to negotiating a re-opening of the ‘internationally important’ Lady Godiva-founded Priory Visitor Centre (PVC) it axed in February.

As the Coventry Observer’s #SaveThePriory campaign revealed, two organisations bid last month to take over the home to the remains of the city’s 1,000-year-old first cathedral and priory.

The two separate bids – submitted in a formal ‘expressions of interest’ bidding process – were evaluated confidentially on schedule by council officers this month, and discussions with the bidders took place last week.

The Observer’s #SaveThePriory campaign has since February called on the council to ensure the ‘city’s birthplace’ venue is re-opened urgently, with community group takeovers only being one potential solution.

It was closed to save an alleged £100,000, less than half the council chief executive’s annual earnings.

A council spokesman said: “If the council recommend a preferred organisation through the Expression of Interest process for the operational management of the PVC, further legal negotiations will be required to agree the lease arrangements.

“We would hope the negotiations could be concluded swiftly but it is difficult to put a defined timescale on the legal process at this point.”

Any recommendation from council officers on who should be the ‘preferred partner’ to run the venue will have to be approved in a public meeting of the cabinet member for community development, who is councillor Linda Bigham following last month’s cabinet re-shuffle.

We have reported Coventry businesswoman Carole Donnelly was seeking to acquire a ‘community asset transfer’ before potentially bidding for Lottery or heritage funding to create a non-profit multi-purpose social enterprise, staffed by community volunteers. She is one of the two bidders.

Concerns were expressed the offer in the bidding process was limited to a short three-year lease term, potentially making business plans and grant applications more difficult.

The council responded by saying it would be prepared to discuss any longer term plans proposed by bidders. while the initial three-year lease term would remain.

Our campaign call has been supported by prominent figures including the Bishop of Coventry, the reverend Dr Christopher Cocksworth; TV Time Team presenter and Blackadder actor Sir Tony Robinson; eminent medieval historian Dr Jonathan Foyle; and Coventry South Labour MP Jim Cunningham.

The Bishop of Coventry described the remains and artefacts housed at the centre in Priory Place as “one of our city’s great treasures”. He added the original St Mary’s cathedral and priory ‘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’.

Sir Tony Robinson, whose Time Team twice visited the site uncovered during Millennium excavations, described the treasures as being of international significance, while Dr Foyle said Coventry should be doing more to show off its unique medieval treasures to the world.

Treasures include a glorious Chapter House wall painting, carved sandstone gargoyles, 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