Henry Bellfield, director of Barberry Developments, joins Talking Birds actresses Julie Boyle (left) and Kerry Reading.

An art groups’ tribute to Coventry’s former Royal Mail Sorting Centre, which is expected to be transformed into a £50 million superstore, has been given the property developer’s stamp of approval.

Barberry Developments welcomed the Talking Birds arts company’s imaginative creation of a temporary gallery dedicated to the empty Bishop Street building and other sorting offices.

Midlands-based Barberry has completed the purchase of the 200,000 sq ft former Royal Mail Sorting Centre and adjoining properties, including 50 Bishop Street, and is planning a large and comprehensive retail-led scheme on the site. The development will be known as Bishop Gate. The company allowed talking Birds to use the empty premises to stage its show, A City Grown From Words.

Nick Walker, of Talking Birds, said: “We’ve been exploring the interesting by-product of development, whereby developers with imagination – like Barberry – are open to the opportunity afforded by temporarily empty sites. Artists can enliven the space, albeit temporarily, and mark the transition from one type of use to another. Many of the more interesting art projects that happen in towns and cities across the country are down to developers working with artists before the bulldozers get to work. It’s a way of allowing the public to say goodbye to an old use of the city, before saying hello to a new one.”
A City Grown From Words was supported by the Department of Art and Design, Coventry University, Arts Council England, Coventry City Council through its Small Arts Grants scheme, and property developers Barberry.

Barberry director Henry Bellfield said: “We were approached by Talking Birds who wanted to create a homage to Coventry’s sorting offices and were delighted to make the space at 50 Bishop Street available to them. The Royal Mail Sorting Centre played a key role in the lives of Coventry people for many years until the operations were transferred to two smaller sorting offices in Coventry and a large new facility in Northampton.

“This show highlighted the fact that millions of mail items passed through the building to and from local people. We’re now looking forward to beginning an exciting new era which we hope will see the Bishop Street area transformed with a superstore development for Coventry people to enjoy.”    
Nick added: “Following the recent emptying of the Bishop Street sorting office, Talking Birds created a temporary gallery work about the city’s now deserted sorting offices. Coventry has always had a lot of mail passing in and out and through it. At one point, the Bishop Street sorting office handled more mail than any other in the country.

“Perhaps this was because the city had a lot to say, and those elsewhere had a lot to say back to the city. At any rate, there has always been such a volume of post – love letters, bills, postcards, job offers, dear Johns, good news, bad news, wedding invitations, official notifications, pay cheques, good luck cards, sorry to hear cards, and letters to Santa – flowing through Coventry that it’s easy to feel that the sorting offices still hum them, even once the building has become empty.”

Barberry’s development proposals include:

  • A supermarket superstore of up to 130,000 sq ft including a mezzanine level.
  • 585 car parking spaces on three levels.
  • Gym/leisure facility with swimming pool in 20,000 sq ft unit.
  • Boulevard-style pedestrianised zones.
  • Landscaping including trees, high quality street furniture and paving.
  • An 8,000 sq ft ‘green’ roof.
  • Vehicle access off junction one of the ring road into Tower Street.
  • Pedestrian crossing link to canal basin, replacing the existing footbridge.