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Phoenix Initiative Open For Business

Priory Garden, one of the key features of Coventry's Phoenix Initiative, is opened to the public for the first time today.

The sunken garden off Priory Row is the site of the former 11th century Benedictine Priory where it is believed the Earl of Leofric and Lady Godiva were buried.

The church was substantially rebuilt in the 13th century as the Priory Cathedral before being demolished in the 16th century. Since then it has been buried and has only recently been unearthed after months of painstaking work.

The result is an oasis in the centre of city which has already been attracting around 1,000 eager onlookers a week following the progress of the builders, landscapers and artists who have created the gardens.

They are not finished - there are still interpretation boards and displays to be added while a visitor centre will open later in the year - but the essential fabric of the scheme, including a footbridge, paths and a grassed area, are all in place.

Chris Beck, Phoenix InitiativeChris Beck, Director of the Phoenix Initiative, has overseen the work and now knows there is only one major missing ingredient - people.

"Considering the gardens are not yet finished and not signposted in the city, we have had a fantastic response. Local people and visitors to the city have been straining for a look over the last few months.

"There is one couple I have chatted to several times who come over on the bus from Walsall every week or so, just to follow the development of the gardens.

"We have already had the service to mark the blessing of the Our Lady of Coventry statue which attracted around 2,500 people, but it will be great to see the garden being used by the general population.

"Many people haven't been able to really grasp what the Phoenix Initiative means to the city, but once they see the gardens and look north they will see just what an impact it will make."

The 40m regeneration project is changing the face of a forgotten part of Coventry city centre, unearthing some of the city's 1,000-year history.

As well as exposing and restoring much of the city's heritage, it will also see the creation of new state-of-the-art apartments, bars, restaurants and cafes in the Priory Place development, leading into the new Millennium Place complete with a time zone clock of the world, glass footbridge, Millennium Arch and a striking new frontage for the Museum of British Road Transport.

Phoenix Initiative, Coventry - Priory Place

The former Blue Coat School has been renovated and will become the new church centre for Holy Trinity, while the former Ribbon Factory will be transformed into loft apartments and a bar-restaurant.

The majority of that work is underway and destined to be completed over the next two or three years. The Priory Garden is the first major manifestation of the project.

The celebrations today will start with a service at Holy Trinity to mark the completion of the 1.2 million refurbishment of the spire.

The service will be conducted by the Bishop of Coventry, the Right Reverend Colin Bennetts, and the Bishop of Birkenhead, the Right Reverend David Urquhart, who helped mastermind the appeal for funds when he was vicar of Holy Trinity.

Guests at the service will include members of the Holy Trinity congregation, people who have donated to the appeal and some of the key workers on the scheme.

The service will last for around an hour and the guests will walk to the Priory Garden, which will be opened by the Lord Mayor of Coventry, Councillor Mrs Sheila Collins.

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CWN / Phoenix Initiative / 14 Apr 01
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