Coventry, Warwickshire

PUBLISHED: 23:59 07 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:46 20 February 2013

Wow! Look what's happened to Coventry

Wow! Look what's happened to Coventry

Cast any preconceptions aside and take a fresh look at the city we love to hate. Millions of pounds have been spent on sprucing up Coventry and it's been well worth it.

Millions of pound have been spent on doing up the centre of Coventry. There's a beautiful new art gallery and museum, the transport museum, great shops, a cinema, and ice rick. Has the money been worth it? Tell us what you think of Coventry by emailing jane.sullivan@warwickshirelife.co.uk

Like many thousands of people I live in this area because of Coventry - an economic migrant from the south brought here because my husband's job in the car industry meant that he had to work where the work was and the work was in Coventry. Like many people who can afford to we didn't choose to live in the city but in the leafy lanes of the countryside. I had rarely been up to Coventry in the 15 years since we moved here but fairly recently my children decided they'd like to try ice skating.

So one day a couple of years ago I braved the city traffic, took my life into my hands and ventured onto the perilous Coventry ring road. A few missed turnings later I pitched up at Ice Planet and spent a further perilous couple of hours teaching my children how to ice skate.

A few years back the area was, to put it politely, looking less than its best. Coventry Ikea was just a twinkle in Ingvar Kamprad's eye, the finishing touches were just being put to the cinema and bar complex next to the ice rink, just a few brave entrepreneurs had moved into the revamped Spon Street. It was a place that felt half-finished. But I liked it straight away, especially when I discovered a half decent shopping centre and a market that you can't help but like for its bustling mix of fruit & veg, secondhand washing machines and fabulous sari fabrics. There's something about a city that's had to re-invent itself time and time again that you've got to admire. And let's face it Coventry's had to do more than its fair share of re-invention.

Today I'm visiting for work purposes. My usual trip is ice-rink, shopping, bite to eat and home. Today I've come for a more leisurely look around. I've parked near the Cathedral and University. A lecture must just have finished as there are students buzzing around everywhere and it takes me back to my own student days - that lively excitement of being young and having the whole world at your feet.

Any City that has a university is blessed. For a start it means there will be a decent bookshop or two and there will usually be plenty of places where you can focus on higher things - like art and music and theatre. Coventry has been shouting about its Herbert Gallery lately so that's my first port of call. Around 20 million has been spent on the revamp of the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum and I'd say it was worth every penny. The whole area around the cathedral and university has been transformed. That and the magnificent tribute to Sir Frank Whittle and the Transport Museum make Coventry a really good day out - and a thought-provoking one at that.

Coventry is admired nationally for its response to the terrible night of 14th November 1940 when at least 554 people were killed and hundreds more seriously injured. But how many of us actually go and look at the city and see the cathedral. It was a remarkable decision to retain the shell of the old cathedral - how much easier it would have been to remove all traces of that terrible time. The new cathedral with its uncompromisingly modern architecture and decoration is the perfect way to have demonstrated Coventry's rebirth. The eerie figures etched into the wall of glass overlooking the remains of the old cathedral is a particularly beautiful part of the building for me.

The day I visit, the exhibition about Anne Frank has attracted a swarm of visitors. There is a constant hum of voices. Young people on the television screens set into the wall of the exhibit talk about their experiences of war. At the height of the recent bombardment of Gaza it becomes particularly poignant to see young Israelis and Palestinians telling, in unbearable simplicity, what war means to them.

The remembrance of war is everywhere here. On Christmas Day 1940 provost Dick Howard of Coventry Cathedral spoke on the radio and made a commitment not to take revenge on those who had destroyed the city but promised forgiveness and reconciliation declaring that he would work with those who had been enemies 'to build a kinder, more Christ-like world.'

In time Coventry has become a world Centre for Reconciliation, whose symbol is the cross of nails. In the aftermath of that terrible night two charred beams from the old cathedral were found sticking out of the rubble in the shape of the cross. It was a powerful symbol. Provost Howard fashioned a cross out of three medieval nails which became the symbol of reconciliation and peace. There are now 160 Cross of Nails Centres around the world - and the work goes on, inspired by what happened in Coventry.

Over at The Herbert Gallery the Peace and Reconciliation Gallery is a thoughtful reminder of the stark facts and, fittingly, is designed for young people to learn about those times. One of the most chilling exhibits is a German map marking British targets - the area over Coventry is almost completely covered with red crosses.

Elsewhere in The Herbert there is more conventional and unconventional art. I like the Discover Godiva gallery which tells the story of Coventry's most famous citizen through art and history. It's fascinating.

The History Gallery is done very well. Divided into three sections: City of Spires is about Medieval Coventry, there is also City of Industry which looks at the city's industrial past and City of Dreams (post-1939). There is a small reference to the city's huge contribution to the motor industry and to the 'father of the jet engine' Sir Frank Whittle but as these are well covered by the nearby Transport Museum there was no point duplicating the story.

Art and history are valuable in helping us confront the truths of our lives. But I didn't expect a gallery in Coventry to be the place to confront a central truth about my life...

Remember the late-70s? The Winter of Discontent. Strikes. Runaway Inflation. Unemployment in the millions and counting - at levels not seen since The Depression. There was a feeling of unrest in the country and it inspired a new generation of musicians in a way not seen since the 1960s and The Beatles. One of the bands that captured the imagination of the nation's youth was Coventry band The Specials. Too Much Too Young summed up the feelings of the nation and Coventry is very proud of its contribution to British music. There in The Herbert is a Harrington jacket with lapel badges (some of which I have in my drawer at home) and given pride of place is the record sleeve for Too Much Too Young The Special A.K.A. Live! I have that record (I still play it). And then I confront the inevitable truth. With artefacts from my youth now in a museum it is confirmation that I am now, officially, middle aged. Thank you Coventry!



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