How one badge brought me closer to my city.
Ever since I was born, Coventry was always somewhere I’d been proud to be from. Largely because everyone from outside of Coventry seemed to think it was something I should be ashamed of.
A city bombed in the Second World War that has ‘barely recovered since’. In the shadow of Birmingham. ‘Nowhere near’ the size and scale of London and Manchester. Poor cousins of Nottingham and Bristol. Rarely celebrated. And when it is, it is through gritted teeth.
We were the underdog.
I always root for the underdog though.
I went to Barr’s Hill School which, at the time, was seen as one of the worst schools in the city - largely judged by the number of 16-year-olds who finished with 5 A-C grades.
But despite that, I was proud to go to Barr’s Hill.
An accepting, multicultural school, Barrs Hill was often ‘sent’ pupils excluded from other schools. A school which built temporary classrooms to offer education to migrant children from Kosovo.
Perceived as the ‘plucky’ school which was trying its best but would often be considered as being in the shadows of some of the other schools in the city. An underdog.
When Barr’s Hill was given the Ofsted rating of ‘good’ in 2012 and celebrated with a massive banner hung on the school gates - it gave me a huge sense of pride.
And this is how I’ve historically felt about Coventry. An underdog trying its best. Destined to be in the shadows.
This isn’t how I feel now.
As you’ll know, Coventry was awarded the City of Culture in March 2018. A huge honour which puts Coventry in the spotlight for a full year starting on 1st January 2021.
If you’ve heard me speak over the past year or so, you’ll know that I was sat at home watching the city win the bid on the One Show on BBC One. Hundreds of people at Belgrade Theatre joyously waving flags in the air as the word ‘Coventry’ was drawn from the envelope.
As the party was taking place, I felt left out.
Another past version of me may have resented this and become disenfranchised with the city I was brought up in.
Instead, I decided I would add myself to the conversation. In a pin badge-sized way.
Starting with the ‘It’s a Batch’ badge, we released a series of badges released monthly displaying popular Coventry landmarks and attractions, including Lady Godiva, Coventry Cathedral and Peeping Tom.
Like a flag waved in the air, a badge is something displayed with pride and I hoped the pins would be worn in the same fashion.
The response to the badges has been truly incredible. We have sold thousands of badges.
But the most important thing was the conversations, meetings, coffee catch-ups following the release of them which opened my eyes to the city in a way they hadn’t been before.
Now, the city centre feels more alive and vibrant to me than it ever has.
As I walk from one side of the city centre to the other, buildings and landmarks I hadn’t noticed before pop out.
As the city regenerates, I feel protective of the old architecture but embrace the new at the same time.
- I rediscovered Herbert Art Museum, Coventry Transport Museum and Coventry Cathedral - an awe-inspiring landmark on my doorstep which I hadn’t visited in 15 years
- I have met - and made friends with - countless business owners, bloggers, volunteers, artists, individuals, public sector workers
- Have seen first-hand the inspiring and incredible work of local charities - the work of which often goes unseen
- I discovered Fargo Village - a hub of creativeness and innovation
- Have been interviewed on BBC radio over 20 times
- I’ve given talks and won awards
I feel, for perhaps the first time in my lifetime, that people want to shout that they are from Coventry. Not whisper. Shout.
There is still much work to be done. The city isn’t without its issues. Just like the majority of big cities around the country, homelessness, isolation, knife crime, poverty, racism, homophobia amongst others are all found in Coventry and conversations about them mustn’t be avoided, nor brushed under the carpet.
2021 is a huge milestone for the city. But it isn’t the destination, nor the starting line. It is something that will arrive, be enjoyed, and then pass fondly in the rear-view mirror as the clock strikes midnight welcoming 2022.
I saw something online last week which suggested that some people in the city do not yet feel connected to 2021.
Draw. Paint. Blog. Photograph. Sing. Write. Rap. Dance. Make. Create. Do.
If you do want to bring something to the table (as I decided to do with the pin badges when feeling disconnected to the development of the city), you will find the most wonderful and inviting community who will engage and encourage.
If you have an idea of something that you want to do, don’t wait. With less than 12 months to go to perhaps the biggest year in the city’s cultural history, now is the time to prepare so you are ready for 2021. Have no regrets.
I don’t consider myself to be an expert but if I can be of any help, please reach out and get in touch. Whether to meet for a coffee or to bounce ideas off. I’m happy to pass on some of my learnings so far.
With the 2021 programme set to be released in the coming months, I look forward to the next chapter of Coventry with intrigue and optimism. I look forward to the legacy 2021 will leave on the city alongside the regeneration work the city is also benefiting from.
Coventry. A city evolving. A city on the up.