Save ‘nationally important’ Priory Visitor Centre, says UK expert

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Save ‘nationally important’ Priory Visitor Centre, says UK expert

Postby dutchman » Thu Feb 25, 2016 2:13 pm

A leading Medieval expert is calling on Coventry Council to save The Priory Visitor Centre from closure.

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Historian Dr Jonathan Foyle said ‘irreplaceable heritage’ and artefacts of ‘national importance’ could be lost when the visitor centre, which houses of the ruins of St Mary’s Priory and Cathedral – the city’s oldest cathedral – closes its doors this Saturday.

The closure, which may or may not be permanent, follows Coventry councillors’ decision to cut £100,000 funding for the centre in February last year as part of cost-cutting measures.

But Dr Foyle, who has long advocated the importance of Coventry’s history, says Councillors have missed the point.

He argues serious money could be made from tourism if the Council invested in the rich history of the city.

He added: “A false argument is made that health and education always take priority over heritage – which is seen as a leisure activity

“But the fact is that tourism is the one of the biggest economic sectors in the UK and the tourist pound is what generates revenue for health and education – if people visit a city’s heritage sites, they’ll use its restaurants and facilities.

“So if Coventry was confident about its irreplaceable heritage and was to fully trade on its unique historical assets – it’s just one hour outside London and is easy to reach – I think people would appreciate it even more.

“But it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – when you shut down access to the things that make the city truly special, people then lose interest in the place.”

Dr Foyle, who famously abseiled down the walls of Coventry Cathedral as part of the BBC Two documentary Climbing Great Britain, said artefacts in the Priory Visitor Centre were integral to the city’s history.

Once the fourth greatest city in England, Coventry is the only city in the UK with three cathedrals – the St Mary’s Priory and Cathedral, the old St Michael’s Cathedral, and the new St Michael’s Cathedral.

And while Dr Foyle recognised decisions about the Priory Visitor’s Centre’s long-term future were still to be made, he urged Coventry Council to invest in reinventing the centre as a museum of Coventry’s history.

Blaming the Council’s withdrawal of funding for the Priory Visitor Centre on central Government cuts, Coun Faye Abbott, cabinet member for community development, co-operatives and social enterprises, is now calling on volunteers and groups to come forward to keep its doors open.

But in a full council meeting this week, Conservative Councillors accused their Labour colleagues of belatedly calling for community volunteers’ help – a year after they announced plans for the centre’s closure.

It is understood that staff at the centre will be redeployed within Culture Coventry.

Urging Coventry Council to find a solution to the closure, Dr Foyle said: “I think many people in Coventry do not realise how important their city is historically.

“The history of Coventry is built on immense self-reliance and industry, and to have that sensibility back in the city – that Coventry is a ‘can-do’ place – is a really strong message.

“The Council sometimes sees history as an irrelevance or a dispensable pleasure, when actually it is integral to people’s self image and the pride people take a place.

“The permanent closure of the Priory Visitor Centre would be incredibly sad.”

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Re: Save ‘nationally important’ Priory Visitor Centre, says UK expert

Postby dutchman » Fri Mar 04, 2016 3:55 pm

Coventry council slammed for closure of Priory Visitor Centre

As the Coventry Observer launches its Save The Priory campaign, Roger Bailey says the council’s decision to close the centre last Saturday (February 27) is ‘short-sighted’ and could have repercussions for its ongoing bid for City of Culture status. Take a look at our articles related to saving the Priory Centre.

Last week the Observer exclusively revealed the Priory Visitor Centre, which houses the remains of Coventry’s oldest cathedral and undercrofts – St Mary’s Prioy and Cathedral – is considered of ‘national importance’ by leading historian, Dr Jonathan Foyle.

Now Coun Bailey, a Tory councillor and a long-standing respected Coventry tourist guide, is calling for it to be immediately re-opened.

He said: “We need to bring the Priory Visitor Centre back into use as quickly as possible and find an organisation that understands, appreciates and respects what it represents.

“I am greatly concerned that we could not only lose the Priory Visitor Centre, but that the invaluable and irreplaceable artefacts inside are not being looked after properly and could land up in storage or be lost altogether.”

Coun Bailey also argues the council should have found the money to keep the Priory Visitor Centre open in the short-term, to put the city in a stronger position for the City of Culture 2021 bid.

He added: “When councils cut back, tourism is always the first thing to take a hit, but tourism and heritage are growth industries that encourage people to travel and spend money, and this is something we should be doing more to encourage rather than less.”

Coun Bailey also pointed to an alleged ‘missing’ £500,000-a-year fund earmarked for the maintenance of the Priory Visitor Centre that could have been used to keep its doors open.

“As part of the Millennium Fund, money was put aside for the Priory Visitor Centre, but we don’t know what happened to it,” he explained.

“One of the problems in building something is then maintaining it, but that was understood at the time and money was put aside.

“We do not know where that money is now – whether it is still there for the centre, or whether the council has split it up and spent it in other departments.”

Recognising the merits of Coventry Transport Museum, Lunt Fort, and The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coun Bailey described the Priory Visitor Centre as ‘the most important place of historical interpretation’ in the city.

He added: “We need to preserve our past if we’re going to move forward into the future, as to forget your past means you’ll make the same mistakes in the future.

“If we’re going to tell Coventry’s rich story of more than 1,000 years, then we need the Priory Visitor Centre to help us tell that story.

“Because without it, we wouldn’t have modern Coventry today.”

Coventry City Council did not respond to our questions, including about the ‘missing’ funding, before the Observer went to press.

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Re: Save ‘nationally important’ Priory Visitor Centre, says UK expert

Postby rebbonk » Fri Mar 04, 2016 5:49 pm

This council seems to lack 'joined up' thinking. They wants to be city of culture, but close (or reduce funding for) some of the very attractions that might just help us win it. :?
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Re: Save ‘nationally important’ Priory Visitor Centre, says UK expert

Postby dutchman » Fri Mar 18, 2016 4:56 pm

Time Team’s Sir Tony Robinson backs our SavethePriory campaign

BLACKADDER actor and former Time Team presenter, Sir Tony Robinson, has said the Priory Visitor Centre is an ‘irreplaceable part’ of global heritage that needs to be saved from closure.

Speaking exclusively to the Observer, the actor and archaeology aficionado said the centre – closed as part of widespread Coventry City Council cuts – houses “the most important monastic pieces of archaeology found since World War II.”

Sir Tony said: “It is an irreplaceable part not just of Coventry’s heritage, but of the country’s heritage.

“Something is being cut here that is irreplaceable and that should only ever be done as an absolutely final recourse.

“You can count the number of sites Time Team returned to twice on the fingers of one hand, so it was enormously special to go back.

“I said at the time that it was one of my top three digs, and although we did an awful number of digs over the years, I would still say it is one of my top three favourites. The undercrofts are particularly spectacular.”

He added: “What puzzles me about the closure of the Priory Visitor Centre is that the Tudors are still part of every school curriculum.

“If any kids – or adults for that matter – wanted to learn about the Tudors in general and the dissolution of the monasteries in particular, the centre is a fantastic place to visit.

“Coventry is the only place in the country you can see a cathedral that was pulled down by the Tudors, but has enough remaining to still capture our imaginations hundreds of years on.

“The Priory Visitor Centre really is unique in that respect.”

Sir Tony said closure of the Priory Visitor Centre should have been a last option, after all other alternatives – including council proposals to find volunteer groups to step in to run the centre – had been exhausted.

“Times are hard and every council is on its uppers,” he said.

“But is appears to have been closed without the local people being aware of what the real savings were, whether local authority resources could have been used to raise the centre’s profile, and whether other alternatives that had been truly pursued before its closure was decided.

“The big question is whether your average Coventry resident understands its significance – and if they don’t, why don’t they.”

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Re: Save ‘nationally important’ Priory Visitor Centre, says UK expert

Postby dutchman » Fri Mar 18, 2016 5:00 pm

“If any kids – or adults for that matter – wanted to learn about the Tudors in general and the dissolution of the monasteries in particular, the centre is a fantastic place to visit.


They could have visited entire Tudor streets if the council hadn't pulled them all down! :clown:
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Re: Save ‘nationally important’ Priory Visitor Centre, says UK expert

Postby dutchman » Thu Mar 24, 2016 1:53 pm

Coventry Labour MP backs our SaveThePriory campaign

A COVENTRY Labour MP has backed our SaveThePriory campaign to keep the city’s 1000-year-old original cathedral founded by Lady Godiva.

He is calling on party colleagues at the council to re-open it urgently.

Coventry South MP Jim Cunningham says the Priory Visitor Centre and its nationally important treasures are a crucial part of the city’s rich history which must be shared with city schoolchildren, future generations and the world.

Last week, Blackadder actor and former Channel 4 ‘Time Team’ presenter, Sir Tony Robinson, also backed our campaign, saying the remains and artifacts from St Mary’s Priory and Cathedral were an ‘irreplaceable part’ of global heritage.

Eminent medieval historian and TV presenter Dr Jonathan Foyle also told us the Priory Visitor Centre was of national importance and not enough had been done by the city to promote it before its depressing closure last month.

It is now four weeks since the doors to the internationally important site, founded by Lady Godiva and Earl Leofric, were astonishingly closed to the world to save just £100,000 in council cuts – half the remuneration of the council’s chief executive Martin Reeves alone.

It means treasures – which were buried under ground for hundreds of years before they were excitedly discovered as part of Millennium excavations little more than a decade ago – are now hidden once more.

Mr Cunningham, whose constituency includes the city centre where the Priory Row centre stands, said: “It’s so important for schoolchildren to see it to realise it represents a 1000 years of Coventry’s history.

“It’s also very important for tourism. It needs to be re-opened as part of our history at a time when we’ve been trying to develop other medieval sites such as the Charterhouse.

“Even if the Priory Visitor Centre was re-opened for a minimal period to start with – even initially for one day a week – that would mean an historic site would be retained which would link to the Charterhouse, which Ian Harrabin is doing such a good job in developing and establishing those links.”

In response to our questions, Coventry City Council leaders told the Observer last week it had invited expressions of interest for other organisations to re-open the centre at some point in the future, potentially opening up a bidding process.

But there is no certainty that it will ever re-open. Our campaign is calling for the Priory Visitor Centre to be re-opened as a matter of urgency, especially at a time when the city’s is bidding to become European Capital of Culture.

In response to our questions last week, Labour councillor Faye Abbott also said: “The centre and Undercroft could still be opened for special occasions, such as Heritage open days” – ahead of any “Expression of Interest process”.

This week, we have called on the council to identify such days – and as many events as possible – so the centre can be re-opened as a multi-purpose venue.

Mr Cunningham also urged the council to urgently work up details for such a re-opening, including Heritage days.

The council also told us last week “a number of parties have come forward” who MIGHT be interested in re-opening and running the venue.

The council would not state who they are, or what type of organisations they are.

There remains no clarity on potential opening hours sought, or on what basis the centre could be run, or when it might be re-opened.

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Re: Save ‘nationally important’ Priory Visitor Centre, says UK expert

Postby dutchman » Fri May 13, 2016 10:55 pm

Three-year takeover bid terms raise alarm over centre’s future

ORGANISATIONS seeking to take over the ‘internationally important’ Priory Visitor Centre axed by the council are being invited to bid to run it for THREE YEARS only, raising further alarm that it may never re-open.

Coventry City Council on Monday opened a formal Expressions of Interest process for potential takeover parties to apply to manage the city centre tourist and culture venue – home to the remains of the city’s 1000-year-old, Lady Godiva-founded, first cathedral and priory.

But sources have expressed surprise and disappointment that bids are only being sought to operate the centre on a three year lease, rather than a ‘standard’ 50 or 99-year lease on a peppercorn rent.

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

The council’s budget last year enforced the centre’s closure – implemented in February this year – to save the council £100,000 annually – less than half the remuneration of the council’s chief executive.

Yet the Expression of Interest documents – now available on the council’s website – appear to cast doubt on whether even £100,000 was being spent on the Priory Visitor Centre.

Figures show £16,200 was the total bill for maintenance and utilities, while other sources claim staffing costs were negligible.

The documents also state: “The Council is inviting community groups and organisations to take on the operational management of the Priory Visitor Centre and Undercroft, including maintaining a level of public access.

“The successful group/organisation will be awarded a three year lease for the management of the Centre and Undercroft.”

In response to our enquiries, a council spokesperson said although expressions of interest were invited for ‘a proposed three-year lease term’, the council would be ‘open to considering a proposition for a longer term.’

They added: “The panel will consider a request to negotiate a longer lease term where a supporting, sustainable business case shows the need for this.”

Yet nowhere in the bidding documents are bidders informed of this.

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Re: Save ‘nationally important’ Priory Visitor Centre, says UK expert

Postby dutchman » Fri May 27, 2016 8:29 pm

Questions raised over true cost of running centre

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FURTHER QUESTIONS have been raised about the real costs of running the Priory Visitor Centre.

In an appendix document released as part of Coventry City Council’s formal Expression of Interest process to find a new body to manage the ‘internationally important’ tourist site, figures cite £16,271.19 as the total bill for maintenance and utilites – a far cry from the £100,000 the council claimed it cost to keep the centre running each year.

The Priory Visitor Centre closed its doors earlier this year after councillors voted to cut funding to the home of the city’s 1,000-year-old first cathedral and priory as part of cost-cutting measures to save £100,000 a year.

In response to questions asked as part of our Save the Priory campaign last week, a council spokesperson argued the council had “previously allocated and provided a grant of £85,702 for the staffing and operational management of the centre” – thus totalling the £100,000 figure when added to the £16,000 maintenance and utility costs.

However, the specifics of this grant have been called into question.

When pressed for further details about staffing, a council spokesperson said the Priory Visitor Centre had two full time employees and three part-time employees – equating to 3.2 full-time members of staff.

But sources tell the Observer staffing costs were negligible, with only one member of staff actually being a paid employee of the Priory Visitor Centre.

They claim the other staff were employees of Culture Coventry, splitting their hours between the Priory Visitor Centre and trust’s other attractions – Coventry Transport Museum, Lunt Fort, and The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum.

And when the centre shut its doors, the source told the Observer all but one member of staff simply transferred to one of the another venues.

Clarifying what ‘operational management’ costs meant, the council spokesperson claimed these were budgets used to ‘safely open, manage and promote the Priory Visitor Centre and Undercrofts.’

But, as we revealed earlier this year, the site dubbed the ‘birthplace of modern Coventry’ did not feature on street signposts in the heart of the city or have any presence of social media – casting doubt on the council’s assertion some of the £85,000 grant was being spent on promoting the site.

The council went on to argue part of the grant was allocated for repair and maintenance of the site.

However, £500,000-a-year from the Millenium Fund had already been earmarked for the maintenance of the Priory Visitor Centre – as Coventry city councillor and long-standing Blue Badge tourist guide, Coun Roger Bailey pointed out early on in our SaveThePriory campaign.

Furthermore, when the Observer asked Coventry City Council for evidence of this grant, the council spokesperson said it had ‘formed part of the overall annual grant payments’ made to Culture Coventry, and would therefore not appear as a separate budget line in council documents.

Commenting on the revelations, Coun Roger Bailey said the latest revelations prompted ‘yet further questions’ over the closure of what he called ‘the birthplace of our city.’

He added: “There are still questions to be answers and it is clear that we do not fully understand how the figures add up.

“People involved need to sit down and have a frank, honest conversation about the closure of the centre and how it can be re-opened as a matter of urgency – for the sake of the priceless artefacts housed inside.

“The uncertainty and questions surrounding the Priory Visitor Centre has no doubt made potential takeover groups wary.”

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Re: Save ‘nationally important’ Priory Visitor Centre, says UK expert

Postby dutchman » Sat Jun 04, 2016 11:08 pm

Two parties bid to take over historic Priory Visitor Centre

TWO organisations have bid to take over the ‘internationally important’ Lady Godiva-founded Priory Visitor Centre axed by the council, we can reveal.

The three-week bidding process closed on Tuesday (May 31). The two submitted separate bids are now expected to be evaluated confidentially on schedule by Coventry City Council next Tuesday (June 7).

It has lead to hopes the city centre tourist and cultural venue – home to the remains of the city’s 1000-year-old first cathedral and priory – might re-open in months, if not weeks.

The council confirmed the two bids, adding: “No further detail can be provided at this point in the evaluation process.”

We have learned that one of the bidders is Coventry businesswoman Carole Donnelly.

The Chapelfields ‘social entrepreneur’ had told us she would seek to acquire a ‘community asset transfer’ before potentially bidding for Lottery or heritage funding to help re-open the venue as a non-profit multi-purpose social enterprise, staffed by community volunteers.

Other community organisations – from a cafe company to local creative and artistic organisations – could potentially get involved, she had told us.

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Here's hoping Carole Donnelly has more luck saving the priory than she did with the Chapelfields bakery. See: viewtopic.php?p=50672#p50672
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Re: Save ‘nationally important’ Priory Visitor Centre, says UK expert

Postby dutchman » Tue Jun 07, 2016 11:13 pm

I agree. That stone house was abandoned by the council for decades after it was uncovered by the bombing, I'm surprised any of it has survived at all. Both it and the gatehouse were at one time connected to well-used buildings on either side whereas now they just stick out like a sore thumb. LIkewise almost every other stone building in Coventry.
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