9th Dec, 2016

#SaveThePriory: Lady Godiva-founded venue to re-open next month after campaign

Les Reid 22nd Aug, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

THE ‘internationally important’ Lady Godiva-founded Priory Visitor Centre (PVC) will finally re-open its doors to the world next month following its closure from council cuts and the Observer’s #savethepriory campaign.

The organisation selected by the council as its preferred bidder to step in and run it as a social enterprise – called Inspiring Communities – has announced it will re-open the city centre venue, in Priory Place, on September 10 and 11 as part of the city’s Heritage weekend.

Inspiring Communities’ Carole Donnelly said it would be a taster of what is to come for the centre, home to the remains of the city’s 1,000-year-old first cathedral and priory, which closed in February. She added visitors during the annual Heritage weekend – when lots of the city’s historic sites open their doors – will also be able to have their say with a questionnaire on what activities they want at the venue in future.

There will be a tour of the undercrofts and people interested in volunteering to help run the centre are also encouraged to go along. A long overdue Priory Visitor Centre Facebook page has now been set up and other social media will follow.

The expected permanent re-opening is still some months away because of the legal process of establishing the new three-year lease, and the entire formal takeover is still technically subject to final agreements. The council is not expected to consider completing the process before a cabinet meeting in October.

The Observer’s #SaveThePriory campaign has since February has called on the council to ensure the ‘city’s birthplace’ tourism venue is re-opened urgently, with community group takeovers only being one potential solution. Ms Donnelly told us her winning bid proposed a model which would also involve other social enterprise businesses operating cultural and other activities from the multi-purpose venue.

She revealed her bid proposed five categories for the venue – history; tourism; education (promoting the city’s mediaeval story to future generations); a community space (including for a multi-faith group which currently uses the function room); and ‘health and wellbeing’ (including yoga and other classes, and a healthy eating cafe).

She said last month the bid had the backing of the Coventry University Social Enterprise Club, which was providing support over the business model; and preservation group the Coventry Society, which might also provide volunteers. Jobs and apprenticeships would be created and funding bids could be made to the Lottery and other organisations.

The centre was closed to save an alleged £100,000, less than half the council chief executive’s annual earnings. 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; Coventry South Labour MP Jim Cunningham and Tory councillor and tourism guide Roger Bailey.

The Bishop of Coventry described the centre’s remains and artefacts 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, part of the city’s 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.