‘MINDLESS VANDALISM’ at the now closed historic Priory Visitor Centre has been condemned by a council chief – who insists a rescue plan is still being examined for the City of Culture.
Coventry City Council’s cabinet member for housing, Tariq Khan, has responded to accusations that the council stood by while the internationally important heritage site was forced to shut.
The centre, in Priory Place, near Coventry Cathedral, city centre, is home to the 1000-year-old remains of the city’s first St Mary’s cathedral and Lady Godiva-founded priory – considered the city’s birthplace.
It closed on May 31 due to ongoing financial difficulties in a major blow in the run-up to Coventry hosting UK City of Culture in 2021.
And just over a week ago, the centre’s former director Carole Donnelly posted heartbreaking images of the outside area daubed with blue graffiti and obscene language – days after its closure.
Her social enterprise had stepped in in 2017 to re-open the venue, after a Coventry Observer #SaveOurPriory campaign during a year of closure under council cuts.
We reported last month the council said it would have discussions with the cathedral about how to re-open the venue to ensure only a ‘short-term’ closure.
Coun Khan has now told the Coventry Observer: “I wanted to respond to a comment reported in a story from the Midlands School for Social Entrepreneurs that implied the council had allowed the graffiti on this site to happen or, worse still, it had allowed the Priory Visitor Centre to close.
“We deplore the mindless vandalism at this site – and at any site in the city.
“It is a pointless criminal act that damages the building, the reputation of the city, and is an insult to all those who have worked so hard to bring the centre back into public use and preserve it for the people of Coventry.
“Sadly security lighting failed in this instance, but as a council we certainly do not ‘let’ crimes happen.
“The council values all the cultural and heritage sites in the city.
“Unfortunately, we have seen our funding cut by central government by more than £100million since 2010 meaning we can no longer do what we used to do and we are having to find new ways of working with partners in areas such as this.
“There is no longer a pot of money we can simply use to provide a magical cure to organisations that are unsustainable but we can try and support them in other ways.
“Unfortunately in this case, Coventry Priory CIC has not been able to secure enough income and decided to close the centre at the end of May.
“We are now in talks with the cathedral to see how the sites can be used in future to ensure they are not just enjoyed by residents and visitors in 2021, but be protected for future generations.
“We have a beautiful, historic city and we must cherish it, but we need the help of others to ensure vandalism is not allowed to go unpunished.
“I would urge anyone with information to contact police.”
As we reported, Ms Donnelly responding to the graffiti last week by saying: “Didn’t take long for the vandals to take over Priory Visitor Centre. Such a shame all of our hard work went unnoticed and under-valued.”
Coun Khan was responding to a tweet to Ms Donnelly by the Midlands School for Social Entrepreneurs – which supports such community organisations. It said: “This is so sad.
“Especially after all the blood, sweat and tears you have invested in it. Hard to believe the council let it happen with Coventry City of Culture 2021 on the horizon. Gutted for you.”