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Local Residents Support Subway Murals

Local residents have reacted angrily to the negative coverage given by some local media to the new murals in Spon End subway.

In response to a less than favourable article in a local newspaper Colin Walker, chair of the Spon End Forum, has written an open letter which is reproduced below.

[PLEASE NOTE - this letter has been slightly edited for the sake of brevity - all the views expressed are the personal views of Colin Walker.]

Dear Sir,

I was quite disappointed to see the superb murals in the Spon Street Subway presented in such a negative way in the Coventry Evening Telegraph tonight. The Spon End Forum and its constituent residents and other member groups have been planning this, and many other things for a long time.

Firstly, there was nothing sudden about the appearance of the murals. This plan has been discussed between the Forum members and City Development for about three years and was the result of a series of meeting and consultations which took place over that time.

The claim that a worse place could not be found minimises the long and onerous behind-the-scenes efforts needed to complete this project. The whole purpose of the murals is to relieve the bleak concrete reality of this horrid hole in the ground and make it both more pleasant and safer for those of us who use it every day. We are delighted to learn that the quality of the artwork is considered to be superb.

Spon End subway, Coventry

Violence, mugging and alleged rape in the subway are issues that the Forum, the Area Co-ordination Safety Officer, City Development and the local police officers have been addressing for several years. Our negotiations resulted in the installation of three cameras, although at least one is of virtually no use. The lighting at the city end was dramatically improved recently and we have been lobbying continuously for improvement to the lights through the tunnel.

Despite our fears and protestations the actual number of violent attacks in that subway is quite small.

The main problem in Spon Street and the subway undoubtedly surrounds leaving-time at the Sky Dome. There is some violence but the main problem is the vast amount of filthy take-away food, urine, vomit and litter that the visitors to that complex and other venues in the city centre leave in Spon Street and the subway and beyond.

As a result of intense lobbying by the Spon Street Traders Association and Spon End Forum, the cleaning routines have been dramatically improved. If you walk through the subway early on Friday, Saturday and Sunday you will be ankle deep in the previous night's filth. But by 10am the street and subway will be pristine. This is the result of the efforts of the City Centre Company and their cleaning contractors and our thanks are duly given.

There is, however, one problem - they stop their cleaning half way up the slope on the Upper Spon Street side of the subway. The demarcation line is quite clear and often obnoxious. The litter bin at the side of Compass Court is overflowing six days of the week. As chair of the Environmental Committee for Area Co-ordination North West, I have tried to get this problem resolved, but there are simply no funds to pay for cleaning more than one day a week. Our street must remain filthy six days a week because of the litter dropped by visitors to our area.

I do not blame the Council but the ordinary people of Coventry who throw their litter in the street without regard for their neighbours or themselves. Take-away food should have a tax of 100% imposed to pay for cleaning. Litter laws should be enforced and litter louts should face very stiff penalties in jail. We have come to regard litter as trivial when, in fact, it is a very serious menace. Graffiti is, perhaps surprisingly, not a serious problem is this subway.

The purpose of the murals is to improve visually the subway to reduce the perception of danger and is part of a series of measures including the installation of cameras and lighting improvements in the subway as well as in Spon Street.

We have completed a small planting scheme in Upper Spon Street which was only partially successful. We are currently working on a plan to improve the lighting scheme in Upper Spon Street and intend that to be implemented quite quickly and intend to follow through right up to Spon End.

We are working on plans for a History Trail in the area and are setting out, together with several other bodies, plans for an environmentally friendly reclamation of the River Sherbourne from the Ring Road through the Spon End Estate, the Sherbourne Valley Allotments and Lakeview Park to the Coundon Wedge and beyond. A footpath and cycle path along the river are longer term objectives.

The Spon End Building Preservation Trust is in the middle of restoring one of Coventry's oldest original buildings at Black Swan Terrace in Upper Spon Street with a view to providing business development facilities in the severely deprived, often overlooked, and totally underfunded area.

We are working on returning the Victorian Moat Building, Coventry's first board school, to use in the community as a combined commercial and community centre. We have already achieved the implementation of commercial use in the old school Doe Bank Building by attracting the Coventry and Warwickshire Co-operative Development Agency to use the building.

The Forum has successfully re-instituted the Spon End Wakes festival which has been instrumental in bringing a large number of people in the various communities together in a common aim. A lot of good work has been done, many bridges built and the Spon End Estate Residents Association has formed the basis for future care of the Estate.

We are pleased to see the commercial redevelopment of the YWCA by Benfield Construction as student accommodation which will be complete soon.

We are helping the residents of the Spon End Estate to bring pressure to bear upon their social landlord, Whitefriars, to make dramatic improvements in the management of that estate. Our close contacts at all levels of the West Midlands Police are slowly bearing fruit in reducing some of the worst problems of the area. West Midlands Police have opened a local office in George Poole House on the estate which is ably managed by Sgt Hannan and PC Hanlon and they have already made their presence felt.

The Playcentre on the estate is being thoroughly refurbished and will be open soon and managed by Community Education to provide various badly needed facilities on the estate. The Elim Pentecostal Church in the Butts has opened the superb Oasis coffee shop in Upper Spon Street aimed at providing much needed social facilities for the large number of older people in the area. A new Doctors surgery has opened in Spon End and we hope that will help us provide some of the essential local health services which are otherwise totally absent from the area.

The Forum, in conjunction with City Development Directorate, has designated much of the area as an Area of Local Distinctive Character and are working towards having the area designated as a Conservation Area to stop some of the worst excesses of damage caused to the venerable housing stock by unsympathetic and reckless housing alterations. The restoration of Nauls Mill Park to its original standard is just one more project which we are actively pursuing.

For most of the 20th century, as for the previous 600 years, Spon Street was a thriving community which spun off satellite communities such as Chapelfields and Earlsdon. The area was built upon dyeing and, later, watchmaking.

The early bicycle and car industries grew in the area and Spon End was for 80 years a focus for one of the most powerful industrial areas in the country. Coventry, and much of Spon End, was a very rich city as, indeed, it had been in mediaeval times.

Since 1980 all the industry has disappeared, the factories have closed and the workers have retired or left the area. At least 20,000 highly paid jobs within ten minutes walk have gone. Mostly those without jobs now remain.

The outskirts of Coventry have seen a new and reasonably successful industrial development of a completely different type but it has not touched Spon End. Where once we had an estate full of well paid factory workers, we now have a 80% unemployment rate with its attendant problems of dereliction, litter, decay, apathy, fear, crime, alcohol abuse, bad behaviour, intimidation, drugs and violence.

The Ring Road which serves Coventry motorists so well is, to those of us who cross it on foot, a City Wall which cut off Spon End in 1967 from its natural place as part of the city centre. The area has been dying ever since.

The Spon End Forum and its numerous constituent bodies form what is now probably the most powerful unified non-aligned political body in Coventry. We have negotiated many matters with the council and other authorities, formed clubs, associations and companies to help achieve our aims and we are only just getting into our stride.

There are many more good things still to happen in Spon End, Lower Coundon, Albany Area and Chapelfields. We have negotiated many things with the Council and fought them tooth-and-nail on issues like the proposed traffic increases through Spon End, but we remain committed to improving the quality of life in the Spon End area and preventing the decay of an inner city suburb into squalor and degradation.

We have made a superb start and already have many achievements but we will need the full commitment of the Council and its officers, Area Co-ordination, the Government of the West Midlands, central government, funding agencies and the people of Coventry and the local media to help us solve the acute problems facing us.

The area has a history, and remaining historical sites, almost without equal in this country and is well worth fighting for.

We have had much support over the last few years for our concerns and projects but on-the-ground results are few. The murals are one of the better ones and it is nice to see they are described as superb.

Finally, the gentleman who featured in the original negative article, with whom I have spoken at length, has assured me that at least one amateur video of the murals has already reached New York.

How long before we achieve our aim of attracting visitors to the subway and Spon End and relieving the awful bleakness of that concrete hole in the ground which is our main access to the city centre?

Yours sincerely

Colin Walker.
C Eng M I Mech E
Chair, Spon End Forum

Spon End Forum members include Spon End Redbrick, Spon End Estate Residents Association, Rivermead Residents Association, Old Spon Community Association, Chapelfields Area Residents and Traders Association, Spon End Building Preservation Trust, Friends of the Moat Building, Sherbourne Valley Allotments Association, Grapevine, Spon Gate School, St.Johns Church and other schools, churches and businesses in the Spon End area.

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CWN / Community / Organisations / Spon End Forum / 5 Aug 01
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