The CET Building is a pop-up artspace and heritage centre, leased by the Historic Coventry Trust from the owners CDP. It's a venue for interesting Cov cultural/arts/community stuff until CDP start work later in 2018 to turn it into a 100 bed 50s themed hotel (called 'the telegraph') - and arthouse cinema, to be located within the old press hall.
Opened in 1959, this was (until 2012) the home of the 'Coventry Evening Telegraph' - which at its peak in the 1970s had a print run of almost 130,000 daily newspapers and employed over 600 staff. Newspaper production ended here in 2004, with printing transferring to the Birmingham Post and Mail facility at Fort Dunlop.
For most visitors - the lobby was the public face of the newspaper. This is where folks came in to place adverts (classifieds, personals, car sales..), register spot the ball entries.. , buy photographs.. , book holidays.., respond to po box requests.., read the latest editions - or leaf through back copies. This photo dates from 1961 - prior to the introduction of the left hand counter space and distinctive 'w-shaped' suspended ceiling, which must have been all the rage following the construction of Coventry's Municipal Swimming Baths in 1966 - the same design is everywhere!
THE OLD NEWSROOM
Up until the early 80s, this was the editorial hub of the newspaper -
THE 'NEW' NEWSROOM
Well, what I thought, was that it was a bit of a crap building – very tired, and full of horrible added on officey bits; like exposed cabling, naff lights, ugly carpet tiles and un-flattering décor. Even the good bits looked rubbish - but makeovers on a tight budget are my thing – so I thought i'd strip the worst bits out of the front lobby, and see where we got.
That couple of days turned into the best part of five months – Ian had managed to get two grand out of historic england for materials, and a bit of printing, so I bought a posh coffee machine that was going cheap on ebay, and got started.
Hunting round the (huge!) site (its massive) became my daily obsession – looking for anything interesting we could re-use. Old chairs, tables, a pair of red leatherette sofas from the transport garage over the road, shelves – opening every cupboard, every door, exploring dark holes and, climbing up onto roofs. All great fun!
Working on building sites you really have to bank a mental map of where everything is that might come in handy. Its quite a skill – and definitely comes in handy at the cet. Need anything - i know where it is.
And buying things that don't cost much money - but do a great job, or look cool..? Thats my thing too. toolstation. ebay. ikea – ikea. some stuff is rubbish - but it really is absolutely brilliant for loads of things like lighting, curtains, blinds, chairs, picture frames. veggie hot dogs.
The building dates from 1957 - this is kind of a time when newspapers made big money for owners, so there's some super nice design touches. Post war cov architecture just doesnt handle change well tho' - and soon looks rubbish when bits are added on willy nilly. With restoration tho' - you do quickly get to a visual tipping point, and i was turning around thinking 'ugh? bloody hell - fuck this is brilliant'.
All the time tho, as i'm walking around, i'm getting to know the building - and thinking about how the hell to create ians tour. Sounds easy, but is it heck. You gotta keep it simple, but keep it interesting without folks getting lost or falling down big holes.
Its a bonkers building really – there's loads of fairly regular offices as you'd expect but then there's the super trendy top floor boardroom area that looks like something out of a vogue fashion magazine. What tops it for me tho are the monumentally massive industrial spaces you just wouldn't imagine, where all the newspaper production took place. Its Cov's own version of the hacienda - but five times as big.
Storage basements, rooms within rooms, huge electrical switchgear, plate production, and the massive GOSS VISA print machine all sit pretty much as they were when the last paper rolled off the presses in 2004. It really is a tardis - and a bit eerie, as there are loads of reminders everywhere of the 600 or more people who were needed to produce what was almost 130,000 newspapers on a daily basis at its peak.
We opened up on the 25th may - with a few displays telling something of the story of the building, plus lots of artwork i put together to get a positive vibe going for coventry's post war design. The star of the show tho is the self-guided tour - where we let folks wander round at their own pace looking at the best bits of the building.
The tour's been a huge success, with over 700 people through the doors in the six saturdays since we opened. We've the cov telegraphs 'nostalgia archive' of old pics of the building which are really fab - and we've also loads of old memorabilia that ive found walking around, or we've had donated.
It's taken a huge chunk of time to get to this point - but i just keep a really vivid picture in my mind of what success looks like, and then make it up as I go along really – getting a few friends in (like my mate craig – cheers craig) when it gets boring or feels too much like hard work.
The hotel is great news for the city - 100 bedrooms, with a 5 screen arthouse cinema, big restaurant, streetside bar, and lounge - and theyll be keeping as much of the 50s detail as possible. But in the meantime - we've an exciting opportunity starting right now with this as a free-use artspace, right in the middle of everything.
We've already had a local choir leader approach us looking for big reverb for his choir - we put them in huge big industrial space a few slides back which they loved. - , plus we're hosting a two week creative workshop run by local digital artists 'ludic rooms' – but then theres also two massive other events coming up later this year.
The first is the coventry bienniel of contempory art, which is running for 2 weeks in october, primarily at the cet building where theyll be spending 7 thousand pounds building freestanding gallery walls in loads of our rooms. There'll be 80 artists coming in to display work - and its all styled on the hugely succesful liverpool version that came out of them being the european city of culture – all very exciting for coventry.
The second is coming out of the million pound 'great places' funding award the city won a few months ago. A local group are putting together a programme of creative events here, working closely with the belgrade theatre - and we're hoping to be announcing details soon to tie in with what everyone hopes will be coventry name appearing on the 2021 city of culture shortlist in a few weeks time.
Anyhow, that's pretty much it from me except to say I like to think back to me and a mate watching a band in a groovy artspace in leicester back in november last year. I was really sick that coventry didnt have anything like this, and remember saying out loud 'Fuck, I really wish I could do something'.
Well, the next week, fargo box opened. Which is great, but maybe just a little too far out from town.
Then I had that email from ian harrabin. spooky huh?
So, anyway, taking a chance is always the easy bit – I just have to be really careful what I wish for next eh?
Thanks a lot. And have a good evening!
[Hey, and by the way, i've closed the cet building so i can go beer drinking in spain for 3 weeks - but we're open again on the 5th of august for a party organised by ex employees. Be great to see you all down there - maybe we can have a special pecha kulcha vip green room]