GEORGE Eliot’s house in Coventry – listed for its national importance – could still be used for international visitors and other purposes even if it becomes an Arabic school, campaigners suggest.
George Eliot Fellowship chairman John Burton was quick to respond to a suggestion in the national media – amid this newspaper’s Bring George Eliot Home campaign – that its members were ‘outraged’ that the building might become an Arabic school.
Earlier this month, we exclusively revealed builders were quietly preparing for the change of use at the empty and forlorn Grade II* listed detached Bird Grove house in Foleshill, supposedly protected for its national importance as the great novelist lived there in the 1840s.
Mr Burton said: “Nothing could be further from the truth.
“The Fellowship worked well with the Bangladeshi community when they ran the building, and also with the Pentecostal church when they ran it.
“We would always welcome a chance to work closely with whoever was using the building.
“George Eliot’s themes were universal and she became one of the great European writers of her time.
“It would be nonsense to suggest that the George Eliot Fellowship would be so insular when the woman they admire is so international in her appeal.
“The purpose of the open letter from the Fellowship in September was to raise the possibility of finding a more wide-reaching and inclusive use for such an important building which was then empty and To Let.
“That remains our position but we will work with any users of the building to enable Coventry people to learn more about the great writer who went to school in the city and then lived there for eight years before moving to London where she eventually found fame and fortune.”
As we revealed, the building in George Eliot Road has four registered owners including Labour Coventry city councillor Rois Ali, who told us the Arabic school had been offered a shorthold tenancy, and said planners and conservation officers had not been contacted about the change of use.
He also pledged to discuss the campaign’s ideas next month with fellow Bangladesh Centre directors who own the building, with the novelist’s bicentennial in 2019 to be followed by the UK City of Culture events in 2021.
Leading Labour councillor Linda Bigham, cabinet member for community development, had also responded to us to say she was seeking a meeting with the owners and conservation officers.
Following our questions, it has now been confirmed that the council’s conservation officers are on the case. They now want to monitor changes to the building since its national listing in 1974.
National watchdog Historic England is also now monitoring events.
Our Bring George Eliot Home campaign is calling on Coventry to make more of its pivotal connections with the Nuneaton-born woman who was schooled and lived here, and remains one of the most celebrated novelists worldwide.
We say more should be done in the city centre and at Bird Grove house, which does not even hang a plaque to mark its famous former inhabitant.
Our campaign’s growing list of supporters now includes BAFTA-award winning screenwriters Andrew Davies and Giles Foster, Eliot biographer Professor Rosemary Ashton, Culture Coventry, Coventry City of Culture Trust, Historic Coventry Trust, Coventry University and opposition councillors at Coventry City Council, who have pledged to raise questions at full council next month.