This is Our Place

“I’m not sure if any other Cathedrals work with the young people that have smashed their windows.”

Simon Rae is the Project Manager of Bardsley Youth Project. He shows us round his patch – Coventry City Centre – guiding us through the spaces that make their patch, and project, unique.

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Simon from the Bardsley Youth Project shows us around his patch – Coventry City Centre – guiding us through the spaces that make the patch, and project, unique. 

Supporting the city’s most vulnerable young people.

Bardsley House is Youth Homelessness Hub that delivers activities and support to young adults aged 16-25. The logo is an image of the original key to the cathedral-owned building that houses the project. The cross in the image is a reference to the Coventry Cross of Nails. The story dates back to the second world war: in the wreckage of the bombed cathedral a clergyman improvised a cross by tying together some nails. It became a symbol for the city’s resurrection. A version of the cross hangs on the wall in the lounge area of the youth project.

A city of resurrection and renewal – and defiance

Bardsley House sits in the shadow of the new Cathedral; which stands next to the preserved shell of its predecessor, destroyed in the second world war. This link between the old and the new is a reminder of the city’s story of renewal; of its rising from the ashes; of its defiance and resistance in the face of adversity. Another iconic symbol of the city is the public statue of Lady Godiver. A local legend dating back to the 13th century tells the tale of a heroic noble woman who protested oppressive taxation on the local people by riding naked through the streets of the city. It’s another strong symbol of the city’s defiant spirit. Today the statue is a way marker for residents and in the centre of a popular shopping square. This, says Simon, is the most significant location in the city. 

The city is always changing

Since its near destruction in World War Two the city has become a place of constant restoration and renewal – and in recent years, gentrification.  A factor that is increasing the marginalisation of young people. Gentrification is pushing up the cost of housing and making it inaccessible to the vulnerable young people that Bardsley supports.  Places of gathering for young people are becoming fewer as the city is upgraded. Simon describes the external space of the city art gallery as “accidentally the best skatepark ever”. Young people loved it. But very quickly anti-skating measures were brought in. Where do the young people hang out now? They don’t. They’ve been kicked out. The council invested a lot of money on spaces for young people, then they took them away piece by piece. One of the few places left is the cathedral gardens – Young people have hung out here for generations. Made in the remnants of the ancient abbey buildings, just a stone’s throw from Bardsley’s doors, this is where the Bardsley House project started. 

‘All the major moments of breakthrough in my work have happened here.’ 

Simon considers the pool table at Bardsley House the most significant space he works in – a space where all the major moments happen. And it’s in a unique location that connects the present to the past. It stands on top of the remains of two ancient cathedrals – and the mythic resting place of Lady Godiva.

“Bardsley is a uniquely Coventry project because when you get the two halves – the cathedral and the city – you get our uniqueness. I’m not sure if any other cathedrals work with the young people that have smashed their windows. Or sleep in the abbey courtyard. Our city’s story of rising up, of defiance, relates well to these young people – because the system is screwing them over. We are trying to set them up to succeed. Taking young people who are being dropped by everyone. We keep fighting for them. Advocating for them when no one else is. 

“I don’t know where the hope is. We’re trying to be the hope.”

Simon Ree is Project Manager of Bardsley Youth Project. Photo Essay as told to Lauren McCombie Smith, FYT Movement Advocate.

This article was taken from the Spring edition of FYT Zine – Here and Now. Download it here: