..Coventry’s Guggenheim?
— visitcoventry.net visitors guide

proposing an iconic arts, culture & heritage centre - the elephant

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summary

AWD RESTORATIONS (CIC) are proposing to transform the Coventry Sports and Leisure Services 'Elephant' building into a  'free to use/free to visit' Community Arts & Heritage Centre - providing a vibrant new Cultural Hub for Coventry.

We're able to fund this ourselves - and uniquely have experience both in re-developing buildings sympathetically, and how to run a successful community artspace.

Phase 1: envisages a 'pop-up' style makeover, and take-over of spaces; incorporating hosting of art displays, heritage exhibits, workshops, events (dance/theatre/art shows/music/film) - all based on the successful 'CETPOPUP'  model; having attracted 18,000+ visitors to the Old Coventry Evening Telegraph building since its opening in May'17.

Phase 2: as phase 1, but (from April '19, for c. 12 months) to also include potential for shared use - primarily term-time dance/theatre rehearsals - by Coventry University Faculty of Arts and Humanities during refurbishment of Graham Sutherland Building.

Phase 3: envisages transfer into private ownership, with conversion of sports hall space (upper 3 floors) into  'New York style' loft apartments, with mix of owner-occupier/rental accommodation encouraging academics & creatives to take up residence within the City Centre.

(Phase 1 to be financed by AWD, with optional Arts Council impact funding. Phase 2 provides an additional short term funding income. Phase 3 provides the longer-term business model - via capital return and rental income sustaining upgrade and maintenance of the building, plus 100% support of the art centre element - facility, curation and events to be managed ongoing by AWD.

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'The Cov Elephant' Arts and Heritage Centre is a concept from Alan Denyer - owner of AWD Restorations - and creator of  CETPOPUP, a pop-up artspace /museum in the old Coventry Evening Telegraph offices on Corporation st, Coventry (branded as 'The CET Building'). The idea is backed by Coventry University Faculty of Arts & Humanties - plus the community of over 500 local artists, students, academics, arts & heritage organisations and community enthusiasts who have used the facility since its first opening in May'17.
 
Funding, know-how and development for the project (all phases, including phase 3 acquisition/works) plus ongoing support and management of the cultural hub to be provided by Alan Denyer/AWD RESTORATIONS.

 

introduction

Designed by Terence Gregory and Harry Noble of the City Architects department ('73- '75) - and opened to a fanfare in 1977 - the elephant sport centre building is now attracting a new audience of admiring fans, keen to keep it as part of Coventry's iconic skyline.

Dwindling usage, and increasing costs, have both taken their toll - and the building is no longer 'not fit for purpose'. A new Aqua Park Leisure facility is soon to be completed by the Coventry Council, and with the departure of the Coventry Indoor Bowls club now confirmed for early 2019, the opportunity exists for an ambitious new development incorporating two central themes; a permanent pop-up cultural artspace, - and loft-style residential accommodation.

scope

The basic concept is for a sustainable multi-purpose arts & mini-museum/heritage facility across the entire first floor space (approx 1600m2 - encompassing the present 30m x 40m indoor bowls auditorium, 35m x 10m ex-shooting range, and 15m x 2m bridge link) - together with elements of the upper second, third, and fourth floors (gym/changing/squash/committee room/upper bar & conferencing). The present bridge-link would become a cafe/gallery - with building access provided via the present disabled persons doorway at ground floor level on Cox Street. Until phase 3 works, it is envisaged that the sports hall area also be incorporated into the pop-up/arts centre space, providing possibilities for larger performance-based events, and/or the display of large format visual arts.

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restoring active frontages

..a bright, vibrant shopfront is key to transforming perceptions of  'place' quickly and enticising visitors. The mock-up shows the proposed main entrance, on Cox Street - with the extensive glass fascias of both the first floor bar + bridge link presenting similar place-making opportunities.

The vision for Phase 3 is the creation of 10 spacious new low carbon footprint loft apartment-style residential units within the sports hall, built around an 'indoor park' - facilitated by the removal (and replacement, with glass) of a large central square section of the flat roof. Existing third and fourth floor public galleries to be retained, allowing for views into the garden area.

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atrium garden

..bringing light into the centre of a large building to add amenity value + scope for residential fit out, avoiding addition of side elevation windows (image shows a similar approach by developer EDG c/o 1958 Co-Operative Store, Corporation Street).

The residential property element is conceived primarily as a social enterprise, with a view to providing the City with an exciting, sustainable, large-scale arts & heritage facility, fit for use both prior to, during, and beyond, Coventry - City of Culture 2021.

engaging a new audience: the 'cetpopup' model

The central motivation of CET pop-up has been to get as wide a cross section of people as possible into the habit of visiting Coventry City Centre for culture. Yes some folks are attending for specific events, but primarily, our focus has been to motivate a wider audience who might not think culture is for them, to come along and explore the space. We've used a free admission 'walking tour' format  - it's an easier sell with bigger appeal than saying 'come and see our gallery/museum' with almost limitless opportunities to have folks stumble upon things they wouldn't normally choose to see -  with the ultimate goal of sparking  'hey this is cool' moments along the route. Our guiding principle has been to provide free space to anyone doing anything interesting (so that's basically artists, performers, workshop facilitators etc), so long as the public gets to see the output, for free. The 'CET self guided tour' has been phenomenally successful as an approach, encouraging visitors of all ages to try out our 'walking tour/museum/gallery' experience - a series of room by room 'reveals' that make for a great photograph, but also put architecture and culture together in a way that stays in the mind for a long time.

It's this experience that we want to recreate - in the equally inspiring architecture of 'The Elephant'.

We love what Hull has achieved as UK City of Culture, and - on a recent visit asked a 60-something blue-jacketed volunteer what being city of culture had meant for them..   'we'd never been to a gallery before - but now we go all the time'. why? 'because we know we'll meet interesting people there'.  We think there's a lot in this short conversation. 

Interestingly, the biggest user of the CET space thus far has been Coventry University - with over 200 Faculty of Arts & Humanities students hosting several major arts-photography-media shows, plus 4 weeks of rehearsals culminating in 4 'walking tour' theatre performances (part of shopfront theatre festival) - not to mention numerous smaller events and exhibitions. Bringing students out of the campus environment into a large, unusual, public facing space has seen engagement increase beyond all expectation - and a similar story emerges for other users.

A relatively short 8 month lifespan has seen the pop-up venue cram in over 70 events - organisations getting involved that you may have heard of, such as the 2017 inaugural Coventry biennial of contemporary art, birmingham city university, bluecoats school, c20 society, historic england, IDP Architects, coventry college, coventry society, cov pride, coventry chamber of commerce, cov hour live, digbeth dining club, touch fm, bbc radio 4, bbc online, bbc cwr, jeremy vine show, belgrade theatre, mercurial dance, the herbert, positive youth foundation, hereward college - plus others you probably won't.. like local bands/film-makers, street artists, dj's, fine art practitioners, photography groups, sketch groups, choir groups, an orchestra, and a kids cartoon workshop.

And we think we're only scratching the surface of what's possible. OK, we've been helped of course by a swathe of ex-CET employees keen to spend time in the building one last time, but what we're offering is also something new in Coventry - a very visable, eclectic and inclusive (we try hard not to be 'arty') cultural scene that's got something for everyone and is generating a real buzz in the city. Audiences have been building incrementally, with weekly visitor numbers up to 400+, really high repeat visitor percentages (we estimate over 35%), a ever-widening range of ideas/contacts for future displays, and events increasingly well attended. 

 

Finally, it's worth noting that the it's both the location (central, good footfall) and sheer size of The CET Building that makes much of this possible (which is why the elephant is such an ideal venue, being similarly well sited/proportioned) however other key elements contributing to the success of CETPOPUP have been the 12 months of pro-bono time (restoration/marketing/curation/event management) contributed by Alan Denyer, together with help enlisted from the on-site cafe team ('Urban') Clare and Carlton Allington-Dixon who run the facility, and provide custodianship of the building in exchange for a free 'pitch' - keeping costs to a minimum and giving the building a vibrant, friendly face.

The CET popup closes at the end of July'18  for restoration/re-development as a 50's themed boutique hotel by the owners - however the opportunity exists to transfer the cafe element, know-how, and social media activity (3000+ followers/20k reach) into a new facility - the 'The Cov Elephant' as proposed.

So that's the vision - delivering Coventry an iconic, sustainable large-scale inner-city cultural venue in the lead up to both 2021 City of Culture, and, the 2019/2021 'Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Arts'  programmes - (the inaugural 2017 festival having been successfully hosted at the CET).   

 

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