The city of Coventry is rich in history, museums and legends. It is surrounded by the countryside, towns and tourist attractions of the West Midlands. And now it is the UK City of Culture for 2021. I spoke to Laura McMillan of the Coventry City of Culture Trust about what the city is planning and what visitors can expect from the year.
Why Was Coventry Chosen As UK Capital Of Culture 2021?
Laura is Director of Audience Strategy, and she co-ordinated Coventry’s winning bid to be UK City of Culture 2021. She explains that the initiative “shines a spotlight on the culture, people and stories of a UK city”. Previous Cities of Culture have been Londonderry (2013) and Hull (2017).
But what is unique about Coventry, and why it was chosen as UK City of Culture 2021? According to Laura, “Coventry has always been a symbol of rebirth. Of movement. Of hope. It is the city that rose from the ashes of the Second World War, a city that rallied through music when others were divided. This year, of all years, it will summon that same spirit and encourage audiences to celebrate the city, its residents and its place on the global stage.
“Coventry UK City of Culture will commence on 15 May 2021, running for 12 months, and we will be ready to welcome visitors as soon as travel restrictions ease.”
A Year Long Programme
There will be a year-long programme of events including music, theatre, visual art, poetry and much more. Visitors will also be able to enjoy the wide range of experiences that the city and its surroundings have to offer.
These include the internationally significant Coventry Cathedral, the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, and the Coventry Transport Museum. Visitors looking for something a bit different should pay a visit to FarGo Village – one of Laura’s favourite spots in the city and home to many independent local businesses.
Planning A Visit To Coventry In 2021
In the current climate visitor safety is uppermost in everyone’s minds. “As one of the first major cultural programmes of its scale, breadth and length to commence since the arrival of the pandemic in March 2020, UK City of Culture 2021 will start under restricted conditions and we will phase events as the loosening of restrictions in the UK takes place,” Laura says. “All events are being planned in a flexible and responsive way, to allow them to be presented throughout 2021-22 in line with the guidelines at the time they take place.”
Highlights Of The 2021 Programme
There is a packed programme of events for the UK City of Culture 2021. However Laura has picked out her top five:
- Terry Hall presents Home Sessions (July). A three-day musical programme that will blend international legends with contemporary pioneers.
- Turner Prize 2021 (September – January). Coventry’s Herbert Art Gallery and Museum will host the exhibition of the Turner Prize’s shortlisted artists, with the winner being announced on 1 December.
- Coventry Biennial (October – January). A four-month programme dedicated to visual art and culture will explore the legacies of artist-led networks, activism and ways of teaching that have emerged from and through the local area since the 1960s.
- Faith (September). Commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, this theatrical production is a 24-hour invitation to find out what keeps each of us going in tough times, and how people of faith and of no faith understand and celebrate the chapters of their lives.
- CVX Festival (August). A pioneering three-day arts activism event curated by young people in the city around the themes of community, unity and social change.
Unique Accommodation Options
Of course, Coventry has a wide range of accommodation options for visitors. And there are some exciting new openings, including the Telegraph Hotel (home to the city’s newspaper for more than 50 years) and the brand new Hotel Indigo. However, my attention was caught by the statement that the Coventry Heritage Trust will be opening some of its properties as visitor accommodation.
“A programme being led by Coventry Historic Trust will offer the chance for visitors to stay at stunning heritage sites,” Laura tells me. “The chocolate box, timber framed, Lychgate Cottages are situated right in the heart of the city, overlooking the medieval Holy Trinity church, and adjacent to Coventry’s first cathedral are the remains of Lady Godiva’s St Mary’s Priory. The buildings will provide four separate holiday cottages of varying size, fitted-out to a high quality, luxury style, with modern furniture and furnishings in a beautiful medieval building.”
Other unique options include two gatehouses within the medieval city wall – there is more information about these and other properties on the Heritage Trust website. This accommodation will be available from Summer 2021 – contact the Trust directly for bookings and enquiries.
What Else Can You See And Do When Visiting Coventry?
For those who visit from elsewhere in the UK, or from further afield, what else is there to see and do in the area? Laura says that there are several upcoming projects in the city itself, including the development of the Guildhall into a major visitor attraction, and the creation of a brand new National Collections Centre.
Coventry is also very close to some of the UK’s top tourist attractions. These include Shakespeare’s home town of Stratford-upon-Avon and two of Britain’s finest medieval castles, Warwick and Kenilworth. For those who enjoy shopping, there are plenty of opportunities in Coventry itself, and other popular destinations such as Leamington and Solihull are within easy reach.
Travelling To Coventry
Coventry is just one hour from London by train and it has great transport links to surrounding areas, such as the metropolis of Birmingham. Coventry is also within two hours’ drive for 40 million people in the UK.
Enjoying The Events Remotely
Of course, even with all the safety features in place, there will still be some people who are unable to visit Coventry in person during 2021. However, the BBC is planning to screen many events for people to enjoy at home. “BBC programming began in March with the hugely popular The Antiques Roadshow at Kenilworth Castle; followed by a range of new BBC Arts programmes,” Laura says.
“In September, the BBC Arts annual poetry and spoken word festival Contains Strong Language heads to the city for the biggest celebration of poetry ever seen in the region. BBC CWR and Midlands Today will be at the centre of the celebrations, bringing special programmes and events straight into people’s homes throughout the year – telling the story of the people of Coventry and uncovering what makes and shapes the city.”
Looking To The Future
But what will be the long term impact of the City of Culture – for the city, for its people, and for its tourist offering? Laura points out that both Londonderry and Hull experienced a major boost in tourism from being UK City of Culture, as people travelled to visit the events that had been organised. Those cities also benefited from an increase in new businesses and more opportunities to support the local community.
She is hopeful for the future. “We expect similar benefits to Coventry. All of the work that we have done for Coventry UK City of Culture 2021 is to make change for the city, with its long term future in mind, creating a city that is future-facing, connected, open, dynamic, curious and playful.”
As a final thought, she adds, “We are planning all events and programme in partnership with our city partners, and at all stages safety and health is paramount. So, if you’re thinking of visiting Coventry this year, I can promise you’ll have a safe and great experience in the city. Our city hosts will provide a friendly welcome and support you in anything you need. Hope to see you very soon!”