December 2016: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year …..

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year …..

We kicked off our HLF journey with an almost throw-away announcement of our £4.16 million grant success.  Throwaway because we found out the day before Maundy Thursday and knew that we couldn’t sit on such a big secret while we got on with the pressing business of Easter.  So it’s perhaps only fitting that we should schedule our main construction works to start during Advent and Christmas: the other crazy-busy time of year for a Christian place of worship.

And comedy value aside, I have actually wondered about my programming skills these past few weeks – who in their right mind would sign off adding major building works to the logistical and emotional challenge which Christmas can so often be?  Nevermind Christmas in a Cathedral!

On the rational side of the fence, the December start date was important to satisfy an external funding timeline.  It’s also helped us minimise the impact of “construction inflation” on the project whereby every three months’ delay increases our overall costs by £60,000.  Historically, the Cathedral – like the Abbey before it – also has a good track record of balancing worship and building over the past hundreds of years using the same simple but effective technique of “different places for different activities.”   

Tipping the balance further to the side of smart thinking is the inescapable fact that the sooner we’ve completed the construction, the sooner we and the rest of the city can benefit from our beautiful new setting.  Our Community Engagement Manager isn’t the only one delighted that we’ll be able to hold events and activities outside next Autumn rather than waiting until the following year.  In this case, the destination (a great new Green) turns out to be more important than the journey (a challenging build) and no amount of timelapse footage (two cameras already installed and running) or live tweeting can change that.  We cannot wait to start using the space and we can’t wait until others start using it with us – so there’s no reason to delay …

But none of that really helps when you’re spending every last minute working through one more variation on the programme to accommodate the fact that you’ve essentially decided that Christmas 2016 should be spent on a building site! 

As is so often the case when presented with a challenge, we have sought help and support from our friends and have made arrangements for most of the impacts from our decision:

  • Our newly appointed contractors have been extremely understanding in designing a programme which factors in quiet working at regular intervals to allow worship to continue as normal
  • Our on-site archaeologists have come up with ways to work around the unexpected weather impacts (who knew that in covering our heras panels with textile to ensure that human remains are screened from public view, we’d simply create a wonderful sail which would inevitably blow over?)
  • Our Health & Safety consultants have given us clear instructions about alternative emergency access routes
  • Our Christmas market stallholders (10th December if you’re free and in the neighbourhood) are working with us to manage delivery of merchandise and set up of their stalls to a different arrangement than other years
  • Our colleagues in the city responsible for the wonderful Christmas lights procession and switch on were calm and helpful when presented with a much reduced space to operate in – and gracious in their praise after the event

Yet it’s clear that there are occasions when the smart thing to do requires both brutal honesty and strong leadership.  Construction sites are not safe places – even for people who work on them all day, every day.  We’d be remiss in our duties if we didn’t know when to admit that enough was enough.  This is just one of the reasons why I’m confident that people will continue to be supportive when we ask pedestrians to take a slightly longer way around the Close or when we close the vehicle gates in College Street overnight while the main building work is going on.

It turns out that Christmas on a building site is much like any other deadline in construction: one which needs careful management, huge energy levels, occasional well-timed shouting and lots of give and take.  It’s just as well it’s the season of goodwill!

Next month we’ll have appointed the contractors for work inside the Cathedral and will be getting ready to hand the Lady Chapel over to them for some much needed TLC.  While I’m enjoying my Christmas break, I’ll work out how best to share our plans for turning this beautiful but crumbling and under-used heritage asset into a restored, welcoming and tranquil space for all. In the meantime why not follow our progress in real time via Twitter on @ProjectPilgrim1?  

Happy Christmas!


Pilgrim's Progress
Webpage icon April 2017: Spring Forward...
Webpage icon February 2017: The year of living dangerously
Webpage icon January 2017: Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes
Webpage icon March 2017: Welcome to Gloucester Cathedral
Webpage icon November 2016: "Are We Nearly There Yet?"