January 2017: Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes

Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes

Have I mentioned before how expensive things can become at a Cathedral? 

In an obvious way that’s due to the scale of things - sizes start in extra-large and go from there - as well as the age and the level of wear and tear sustained, especially given how popular these great buildings remain (over a quarter of the UK’s adult population visit a Church of England cathedral at least once a year).  That’s also before you contemplate the choice of materials (we don’t really do MDF) and the level of craftsmanship needed. 

If that’s not enough of a challenge to the average wallet, it’s compounded by the “significance” of the building: we have to be meticulous to design any work needed so that it doesn’t undermine the authenticity of the “historic fabric” in any way.  The icing on the cake is that we then need to pay for a raft of specialists and advisors to ensure we’re getting it right at every stage.

So there are no budget options for Cathedrals. Given the costs involved, you can see how easy it would be to find yourself doing nothing but raising money to take care of a beautiful but draughty building: prioritising the preservation of a glorious past without any ambitions to shape an equally shining future.  If you do ever find the time to stop and think about the people who actually use the building, you can absolutely forgive cathedrals which decide to keep the modern completely separate from the ancient.  A purpose built visitor centre at some distance from the main building itself is undoubtedly easier, cheaper and arguably better suited to our 21st century sensibilities.

That’s where Project Pilgrim started.  Our 2009 Architect’s Inspection told us in no uncertain terms that the “newest” part of the Cathedral – the 15th century Lady Chapel – was also at serious risk of irrecoverable damage.  To stop the rot (almost literally given the dreadful, damp conditions inside) and put things right both inside and out, we’d need millions of pounds. 

And that is the moment where I take my hat off to the Dean and Chapter of Gloucester Cathedral as visionaries.  Because they weren’t overwhelmed and cowed by their role as custodians of the building and they didn’t make the mistake of seeing the Cathedral as a series of glorious parts.  Instead, they asked themselves simple but difficult questions about purpose and role.  What is the role of a Cathedral in the 21st century?  What role do the people of this city, county and diocese need the Cathedral to play now and in the future? How can we best honour and develop our heritage?  How should we use this great building and its resources?  Who can help us with our ambitions? Perhaps the most difficult question of all? Why should anyone else care?

Which is why Pilgrim may have started with a building but it’s ended up being about people: how can people be welcomed into ancient spaces and how can those spaces be used by people?  At its most ambitious, Pilgrim is about maximising the transformative potential of the Cathedral for individuals and for the city.

That transformation starts in earnest on 9 January 2017 with the arrival of another set of those expensive specialists on site.  Two days later we’ll give them the keys to the Lady Chapel.  And over the next ten or so months they’ll painstakingly restore much of the fabric to its original glory at the same time as sensitively introducing the best of modern technology.  We are determined to introduce a high-quality but low energy lighting system and underfloor heating powered by our solar panels.  A slightly ramped floor and the removal of a stone pillar at the entrance to the Chapel are also on our shopping list to ensure everyone is welcome at our cathedral.  Don’t forget the new audio system and moveable furniture to allow us to accommodate everything from weddings to concerts; debates and discussions to dances.  Just as importantly, we’ve raised money to organise and promote these new events and activities by working with others because a building without a purpose - preserved in aspic and admired from a distance - will be back in the “at risk” register in no time at all.

None of this stops the space functioning as a place of worship as originally intended.  That’s important because the one factor which makes cathedrals standout from almost every other type of historic building, is that they are still used for their original purpose at least four times a day, every single day of the year.  And amidst all of the other well-rehearsed reasons for the longevity of these great buildings, much of their continued success relates to the confidence of previous custodians.

So let’s start the year by embracing change and with a toast to all those in Gloucester Cathedral’s long history who have had the foresight to invest in the fabric and the imagination to use the building in creative ways: it’s thanks to them that whilst our Cathedral originated in the past, it continues to be a vibrant, relevant and living place.

Don't forget you can follow our progress in real time via Twitter on @ProjectPilgrim1

Happy New Year!



Pilgrim's Progress
Webpage icon April 2017: Spring Forward...
Webpage icon December 2016: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year …..
Webpage icon February 2017: The year of living dangerously
Webpage icon March 2017: Welcome to Gloucester Cathedral
Webpage icon November 2016: "Are We Nearly There Yet?"