Stoke-on-Trent, one of Coventry’s rivals in the race to be crowned UK City of Culture 2021, has attracted a more-than-usually large amount of media attention of late. Unfortunately, much of it was of a type it could probably have done without.
The Daily Mail for instance, while conceding that the city ‘may now be reversing the long decline in its famous ceramics industry’, still maintained that ‘many areas remain neglected, boarded up or burned out’. Mirror Online meanwhile, in a photo baldly captioned ‘Stoke Central’, brought readers apocalyptic scenes of derelict houses with mounds of rubbish piled up outside. Everywhere, the narrative seemed to be one of disengagement, decay and Stoke as sorry symbol of left-behind, Brexit-voting Britain. Coventry will just have to hope that none of its MPs gets so naffed-off with Jezza between now and 2020 that they throw in the sponge and trigger a by-election here.
Because much of what was said about Stoke could also be said about us. We too have have suffered the decline of major industries; we too have the run-down city centre, the litter and the grime; and we too are often overlooked in favour of our bigger, trendier or better-looking neighbours.
But as we who live here also know, there is far more to Coventry than this. For a start, the motor manufacturing industry is already on the up, and if JLR’s ambitious plans for its Whitley site go ahead, the city could become the epicentre of Britain’s manufacturing future, home to hundreds of highly-skilled jobs. On top of that, there is a small but very vibrant arts scene and – the thing that ties the two together – a pair of hugely successful universities, creating a knowledge-based economy set to fuel both business and culture in the local area.
But there are still notable deficiencies. The massive expansion of Coventry University is good for the city as a whole, but has arguably led to an ‘unbalanced’ feel in the city centre. To remedy that, more effort needs to be put into creating a mixed-ecomony destination, one that twenty-first century Coventrians of whatever background will want to head to for leisure and entertainment. And part of that picture has got to be great food.
As I have argued on this blog before, Coventry is miles behind comparable towns and cities in terms of its food offering. There are a number of reasons for this – the proximity of established foodie towns like Leamington for example, and the apparent perception amongst the restaurateur fraternity (exemplified by some tweets that came my way after I published the ‘State of the Nation’ post) that Coventry is ‘too big a risk’. As a result, the city centre has become dominated by chain restaurants.
But despite that (and pace some of the posts on here) Coventry does have some terrific independent food and drink – and I want to give it a helping hand to fight back. So that is why, starting next month, I am launching a new internet-based resource called ‘Food Covolution’. Its aim will be to act as a one-stop-shop promotional platform for independent restaurants, cafés, producers and specialist retail outlets in our great city, putting all the news, events and offers in one place.
I am realistic about this: Michelin-starred dining ain’t coming to Cov any time soon. In fact, it’s unlikely that anything will change quickly; that’s why my initial aim is simply to raise the profile of independent food in the city and maybe get people talking about it a bit more.
On the other hand, a review from last weekend’s Observer gave me food for thought: the restaurant profiled here shows that if canny Coventrians are holding out for great food at bargain prices – it can be done. But more than that, this place also sounds like a living celebration of that energising cultural mash-up that characterises modern Britain at its best; plus its across-the-board appeal – from thrifty students to beardy hipsters to middle-aged foodies and beyond – reaches out to one and all. Sounds like a perfect fit for Cov.