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MY COVENTRY – a then and now perspective

28 March 2017

As a young child and teenager, I lived in Rugby.

My first memory of Coventry was birthday treats to which I could invite a friend to at Owen and Owen’s restaurant for tea. We would time our visit so that we could watch Lady Godiva appear on the stroke of the hour overlooking Broadgate. Once seated by the window my friend would have a Knickerbocker Glory and I a Banana Split. The sheer indulgence of this in the early 70’s was thrilling! In later years, the purchase of a top from C&A downstairs in the store sealed the annual visit in its place in my birthday memories.

Aged 12, my intrepid friend and I started regular adventures on the train to Coventry. We felt so grown up. Images from that time of the blackened, bombed cathedral, concrete Belgrade Theatre  and enormous train station come to mind. A 20 minute train trip away ….visits to the cinema and proper shops, how exciting!

Fast forward a few decades and I visit Coventry  from my home in Somerset as a sister and as aunt. Proud to stand on the boundary of cricket pitches and sidelines of football fields, visiting parts of the Memorial Park and being excited to support the Sky Blues at the Ricoh.

Last week, I spent a day visiting my sister. We went into the city centre as I wanted to revisit the Cathedral after reading ‘The Tidal Zone’ by Sarah Moss. The day was cold but gloriously sunny. We went to the Cathedral and I felt immediately humbled by its simplicity, its legacy and the messages of hope and reconciliation. Looking down the steps to the current Cathedral as the light shone through John Hutton’s Great West Window with its engraved Angels and Saints was breath taking. Inside, the shafts of light through the Baptistry Window cast rainbow pools on the brickwork like beacons of hope. We were transfixed by the peace and serenity we found there.

We then spent time in The Herbert- another wonderful public space.

The next day I spent two hours alone (something I rarely do) and I chose to spend it in War Memorial Park. As an aunt of small children, I had wandered round parts of it but never the whole. I explored it now, walking all the pathways as each revealed its own gem to me – the Rose and German gardens, the leaf sculptures , war memorial, trim trail and a wealth of magnificent trees. I walked past citizens of Coventry, walking dogs, chatting, jogging and working, all enjoying this wonderful space. I marveled at how much this public space offers – bringing people together, giving them time and space to think, to reflect and to enjoy their own company and others.

Coventry seems to me to be overlooked by so many. It’s status appears less than its more pushy neighbours Birmingham and Stratford, both of which don’t get me wrong I love to visit, but Coventry feels like ‘ home’, even though I now live hundreds of miles away. It is vibrant, busy and above all current.

In these uncertain times of global unease and distrust, we need the legacy and history that Coventry bears so well to remind us and the rest of the world of the importance of peace, reconciliation, regeneration, humanity, but above all hope.

I can think of no better place to become UK City of Culture.

by Alison Oakley

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