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“All Visitors Are Welcome As Christ”

The past month has been ever so slightly odd.  Transitional is the best word to describe things as we move from being a “place of worship-slash-tourist destination-slash-construction site” to the slightly more familiar (and reduced) combination of “place of worship-slash-tourist destination.”

Admittedly, the timing of Easter this year and the overrun on construction meant that we had to manage one of the key points in the Christian calendar at the same time as we were saying both Goodbye to our contractors and Hello to large number of visitors for the start of our main tourist season.  But with that trifecta safely behind us, we’re now in a period of adjustment.

Our Benedictine history means that a Warm Welcome has been part of the game (and part of our business plan) for centuries.  But it’s equally true that the last twelve months have impacted most on our visitors – and on those who use the Cathedral for events other than worship.  Our contractors have had no choice but to down tools for the four acts of worship which take place each day, but keeping the doors open throughout construction has meant some inevitable compromises.  It’s also had an impact on our overall visitor numbers with daytime visitor numbers down 80,000 compared to 2016/17 and evening visitor numbers 50,000 lower.  Some of that can be traced back to the absence of a “big” event (a Three Choirs Festival or a Crucible Sculpture exhibition) and we’ve factored that in to our thinking for future years.  But we’ve still got some distance to go to ensure visitors know we’re truly open for business – and if I’m being honest, there’s also work needed closer to home if we’re to achieve our Benedictine ambitions whereby “All are welcome as Christ”. 

Which is one of the reasons that the Cathedral has recently taken on a new full time Visits Officer.  This role is about promoting what’s on offer at the Cathedral and ensuring that those who come to the Cathedral (as part of a tour or otherwise) have the best possible experience.  This isn’t about stopping the Cathedral’s daily business of worship (or education or music) so that we can fit in more tourists, but about taking the time and effort to bring our core purpose and activities to life and ensuring that our visitors are welcomed alongside those activities rather than treated as less important or second-class citizens. It’s about putting ourselves in the place of our visitors – who come from a range of backgrounds and from across the world – and who don’t spend all day, every day up close and personal with the minutiae of this particular English Cathedral.  It’s also about recognising and responding to our visitors’ needs, whether that’s remembering to turn our new lights on so that the magnificence of the building can be seen or ensuring that our website, new What’s On screen and the information in our south porch is as clear and engaging as possible to help visitors plan and get the most out of their time here. 

With the building work finished and most of our new Interpretation facilities now operational, the next few months are really about upping our game and our offer for visitors.  All staff and volunteers at the Cathedral have recently been through some refresher training on our Welcome values because we know that the difference between a good visit and a great one (or even a dreadful one) is more likely to be linked to an encounter with a person than a building.  That’s true even when the building is as exceptional and awe-inspiring as this one and we’re fortunate to have so many volunteers here (over 500 at the last count) to help with this human touch.

But the challenge from here on out is to ensure that every single person associated with the Cathedral arrives here every single morning ready to make that particular day exceptional for every single visitor.  To succeed, we’ll need to turn that individual effort into a team performance: something truly collaborative to which everyone (staff, volunteers and the wider community) contributes.

Ideally we want our visitors to stay longer - and to spend or give a little more on things which add to or remind them of their visit.  Unlike St Paul’s or Westminster Abbey (where more than nine out of ten visitors will visit only once) we also want people to return to Gloucester.  As so many of our visitors come from within an hour or so’s drive that’s a reasonable ambition – and even if turns out not to be possible for all visitors, we still want people to tell their friends and families about their time here.  Be it spiritual, or awe-inspiring, fun or magical we know there’s more to Gloucester Cathedral than you can cover in half an hour ….

I’ll let you know how we’re getting over the next few months. If the comments in our Visitor Book and the takings in the Monk’s Kitchen are anything to go by, we are definitely heading in the right direction…

Anne 


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