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Construction, investment and art in Coventry with Chenine Bhathena, Coventry 2021’s Creative Director

Coventry 2021 2
Written by Henry McDonald

In an interview for the Constructive Voices Podcast, I asked Chenine Bhathena, the Creative Director of Coventry 2021 about the big building projects that are an integral part of Coventry City of Culture 2021.

According to Chenine Bhathena, “There are a number of aspects in terms of the kind of, I suppose, the capital buildings and the big kind of projects in the city. There are a number of elements really. So I suppose- first of all, when you win the title of the City of Culture, it’s a chance for massive regeneration and redevelopment of the city. And so it’s meant that the city has been prioritised for investment, obviously, we’ve had to bid and pitch for that investment. So we got something like 42 million pounds, towards transforming the public realm across the city.

So over the last three to four years, a huge amount of investment has gone into the infrastructure of the city centre, the pavements, the roads, the street furniture, lighting schemes. And the most exciting thing I suppose for me is that we have had a team of curators who have been sitting inside the regeneration team at the City Council, working with architects, with designers, with construction teams, to really make sure that art is at the heart of that programme right from the beginning.

So thinking about if we want to create a new children’s playground in the programme, how can we bring artists in to support that. So that’s kind of one area, the public realm of the city.

There’s been a huge investment in cultural buildings. So lots of investment from heritage funds, as well as Arts Council and DCMS funding towards upgrading some of the venues that exist.

So, the Herbert Gallery and Museum, the Belgrade Theatre, Warwick Art Centre have all undergone huge construction programmes, again over the last three to four years to make sure that they’re kind of I suppose capitalising on this moment in time and making them fantastic places to visit for local people, but also visitors to the city.

And alongside that, there are some new cultural buildings that are appearing. So there’s the new Daimler Powerhouse that’s being built in the canal basin, which used to be the Daimler factory and the car industry, and it’s now a fantastic factory for art. And that’s had a huge investment, which you know, has been through a number of kind of growth funds from across the city.

And so a big construction programme was opened, had a soft opening back in May, but will be opened officially in August. Then I suppose there’s been a lot of investment in the city in big projects, like hotels, for example. So there’s a number of new hotels opening. The Telegraph Hotel opened in May, which used to be the headquarters of the Telegraph, the Evening Telegraph, which is a local newspaper. And it sat empty for 20 or 30 years now. And so it was a chance to really kind of redevelop that, turn it into a fantastic boutique hotel. And other hotels popping up around the city as well.

So it’s really kind of- we’ve seen a huge amount of investment across the city, probably the biggest project is the new train station. So this is has a cost in the region of 100 or 150 million pounds. And it’s been a massive project that’s been underway now for two or three years, and due to open later this summer. But really something that’s been absolutely desperately needed for the city to really welcome people in and to show that we’re this amazing, dynamic, youthful, diverse city- pioneering and a great place to live, work and visit. So hopefully that gives you a little bit of an overview of all of the investment that’s gone into the city in terms of the infrastructure.”

About the author

Henry McDonald

Investigative journalist and media commentator, who has worked at The Guardian and its sister title, The Observer for over two decades, where he was at the centre of the digital journalism revolution, and also covered Changing Streams and Inside Connections for The Guardian. He has written and worked for a number of international media titles, which includes – The Spectator, GQ, The Sunday Times, The Irish News, Evening Press, Dublin, The Belfast Telegraph, Irish Echo, New York.

Currently, McDonald is a regular contributor on BBC Radio Scotland discussing Northern Ireland affairs. He has participated in two separate podcasts for the Time of Our Lives programme, fronted by the highly-regarded, David Aaronovitch, which focused on recent violence in Ulster loyalist areas and the departure of Arlene Foster as Democratic Unionist leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland. The podcast is part of The Times Radio.

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