March 26, 2021 Bradford Civic Society

How Coventry uses old buildings as a catalyst for regeneration

Bradford Civic Society’s Paul Waley reports on a recent meeting between Bradford representatives and a special Trust undertaking heritage-led regeneration work in Coventry…

Bradford is bidding to be UK City of Culture in 2025, but do you know who occupies the position this year? The answer is Coventry, whose year officially begins in May this year.

A leading role in what sets Coventry out from other cities is played by Historic Coventry Trust. The Trust’s executive director, Carol Pyrah, recently introduced the work of the Trust to a collective of Bradford stakeholders – including the Council, Bradford 2025, Bradford Civic Society, Power to Change and other organisations. The meeting was convened by Yvonne Carmichael, from Thornton’s South Square Centre [currently undergoing a Heritage Fund-led refurbishment], with a view to providing inspiring lessons for Bradford, especially given the timing of the City of Culture bid.

Historic Coventry Trust was founded in 2011 with the specific aim of restoring Charterhouse, a 14th century Grade I listed former Carthusian monastery, located just outside the city centre. This ambitious plan, for which funding was obtained from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and other sources, is about to come to fruition. As well as the main building itself, its walled garden and adjacent 70-acre Heritage Park will be opened to the public once Covid restrictions allow.

From its inception with the work on the Charterhouse, the Trust is taking under its wing a number of other buildings of historical importance in Coventry’s city centre. These include the two surviving medieval city gates, the Grade II* listed Draper’s Hall, a row of early 15th century timber-framed cottages and two streets of city-centre shops and offices that had been in deteriorating condition. All of this is done with the vision of restoring the reusing Coventry’s heritage in a sustainable way for the benefit of all citizens of Coventry. Carol Pyrah in her presentation suggested that Coventry’s is one of a new breed of entrepreneurial ‘heritage development trusts’ working at scale, a model for others to follow.

The question for Bradford, then, is how Historic Coventry Trust manages to do all of this?

It is both a charity and a social enterprise, and as a non-profit-making organisation, any excess revenue from money-making projects is ploughed back to support other projects. It has a board of trustees with experience, among other things, in property development and currently a staff of seven as well of course as volunteers. A key plank in its success so far has been the framework agreement it has reached with Coventry City Council according to which the Council retains freehold and the Trust is taking a 250-year lease on the estate of 22 historic buildings covered by the framework. The Trust can apply for funding from sources such as the Architectural Heritage Fund to which the Council does not have access and is responsible for restoration, finding new uses and then managing the estate in the long term.

Historic Coventry Trust hopes to play a major role in the legacy of Coventry’s City of Culture programme, but there remains a challenge to build place and heritage (alongside arts) deep into the thinking of a City of Culture bid. And that is a lesson that Bradford will surely learn as the city puts together its own bid.

Look here for more on Historic Coventry Trust.

PW