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Coventry – rise like a phoenix…. again!

06 05 20 VE day

Friday 8th May 2020 marks the 75th Anniversary of VE Day, the end of World War II in Europe.


Whilst physical celebrations may be somewhat dampened by the current lockdown rules, I’m sure many will be celebrating this anniversary by raising a glass of something from the comfort of their own living room. 

This anniversary got me thinking as to the comparisons between World War II and the current COVID-19 crisis. As someone in their early 40’s, I obviously did not experience the war first hand so would never be bold enough to say that this is anywhere near as bad as the terror and hardship experienced then. However, I have heard anecdotally from people who were alive in the war that the Blitz spirit got them through it, and the current lack of this due to isolation and social distancing is in some ways less bearable. I was also saddened to read that the current monthly death rate in London actually exceeds the death rate at the height of the London blitz.  

What is clear is that World War II and the COVID-19 crisis are both periods of seismic change and turmoil for the United Kingdom. The impact of the war, both social and economic, was felt for many years after VE Day and I suspect we may see the same in the aftermath of the current crisis. 

As a local lad I was made aware from an early age how hard the City of Coventry was hit during World War II. On the night of 14 November 1940, a bombing raid killed 568 people and damaged over 40,000 buildings. Much of Coventry’s once picturesque medieval city centre was effectively flattened.  A level of devastation that had never been seen before on British soil and hopefully will never be again. 

Admirably Coventry rose up and rebuilt. The decimated city centre provided a blank canvas for architects to build their vision of a modern city of the future. This redevelopment, combined with significant growth in the local automotive industry, resulted in prosperous times for the city in the 1950’s and 1960’s. One journalist during this period even claimed the streets of Coventry were “paved with gold.”  

The decline of automotive manufacturing in the area meant that these boom times wouldn’t last forever and regrettably the once futuristic brutalist architecture of the city centre now appears terribly dated. The impact of COVID-19 will also be felt hard in Coventry. 40 years ago local band, The Specials, famously wrote the hit song “Ghost Town” about Coventry and this has never seemed more fitting than in the current lockdown conditions.  

But like those post-War years, I predict that the future can be bright for Coventry. The city centre is proposed to be re-invented again starting with the £300 million City Centre South scheme and developments such as Friargate are already modernising the city. The Ricoh Arena rivals any sports stadia of its size in other cities and is rumoured to be selected as a neutral venue to finish the Premiership Rugby Season. And, of course, Coventry is UK City of Culture 2021.

Fundamentally, Coventry’s strategic central location, faultless transport links and the skills and spirit of its people mean the city will always be an attractive place to do business. 

The resilience of Coventry has wider relevance for the UK in the changed world in which we are living. It shows how emerging from a devastating situation and taking on the challenge of rebuilding can bring opportunities. At this time of uncertainty, Coventry offers hope.

James Cubitt, head of the Birmingham office of Colliers International.


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James Cubitt

Head of Birmingham Office

Valuation and Advisory Services

Birmingham

James joined Colliers in 2006 and is Head of the Birmingham Office and a Director of Valuation and Advisory Services. He began his career with Chesterton PLC in Birmingham in 1999 before moving to D&P Holt Limited in Coventry in 2001. 

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