May 2017 - 'Doing our bit'

Doing our bit

The monthly Pilgrim’s Progress blog is just one of the updates and reports I work on each month.  I love and loathe writing it in equal measure because – unlike the apparently endless governance updates or funder reports – there’s no-one to “tell” me what to write about.  Other than the nominal word limit (never a problem!) there’s little limitation.  It’s my decision to focus on the vision (it’s the thing I signed up for after all) and so it’s up to me to bring to life the challenges we face in achieving that vision. 

More than anything else, the thing which keeps me awake at night is if Pilgrim fails to transform the Cathedral (in its physical sense) and if the Cathedral (in its organisational sense) fails to be transformed by Pilgrim.  Achieving both is the point of the exercise: getting it right will have a positive impact in the city and county equally.

Strangely, it’s been the writing of one of this month’s other multiple reports which has inspired May’s blog.  If you’ve worked with the Heritage Lottery Fund, you’ll be familiar with the concept of an Activity Plan.  Our Activity Plan is a rather long and detailed description of Pilgrim minus the building works.  Since the building side of things is the most visible (and certainly the easiest to talk about) you’d be forgiven for thinking there wasn’t much left to say.  You would be very wrong!

To help me bring the rather dry Activity Plan to technicolour life for members of the Cathedral Chapter (our governing body) I sought out our wonderful Community Engagement Manager.  As she started talking, I started smiling: we are on track to deliver some awesome activities over the next two or so years!

At its most simple, our Activity Plan is about four things:

  • sharing and interpreting the Cathedral and its stories so that a visit here is truly meaningful
  • reaching out to new audiences - including people who would never think of coming to the Cathedral as well as people who think they might not be welcome
  • providing exceptional “learning” opportunities for all
  • and ensuring we have the necessary resources to deliver activity in the short term and change in the longer term

As well as our new Interpretation Scheme (more about that in future months) and a raft of new volunteer roles and training for staff and volunteers, this is really a question of scale and ambition.  Most of our “Activities” are about developing what we do now and making sure we continue to do more in the future with existing and new partners.  Or they are about developing new types of activity including activities which take advantage of our new spaces to draw in new audiences and to cement the Cathedral’s place in the city’s life.  Ultimately the process of developing and delivering this activity helps the cathedral to grow and strengthen as an organisation. 

But management speak aside, the smile on my face was a result of listening to our Community Engagement Manager’s description of what was actually going on.  Everyone loves the annual Knitivity organised by Gloucestershire Rural Communities Council, knitted by countless (and nameless) people across the county and hosted by the Cathedral.  If you haven't been to see it, it is – as its name suggests – a knitted Nativity.  Are you smiling yet? It turns out this year’s Knitivity will be bigger and better with a social media campaign, a new “character” joining the Knitivity gang and preparations starting in the summer with libraries across Gloucestershire hosting existing characters as part of their Summer Reading Challenge.  All of this helps us with the tricky task of getting out into the county (the Cathedral is stubbornly stationary) and ultimately should bring “new” people back into the building to see their hard work displayed in one of the county’s most glorious and prestigious, spaces.  Being “acknowledged” in a space like this puts you firmly in a tradition of significance, importance and excellence.  Our new visitors may never have been here before, but once they (and their families and friends) cross the threshold there is lots to see and to do, starting – but not finishing – with the Knitivity itself.

Somewhat more poignantly – but fitting very well with the place the Cathedral can hold in people’s lives during difficult times – we are developing a new partnership with the County’s Public Health Commissioning Team.  In practice this means a 12 week series of art classes for people who are experiencing mental health issues.  Free materials and trainers are provided and the Cathedral is not only a venue for the training but the hoardings around the building works outside will provide a high profile exhibition space for the art work produced.  The Cathedral is a wonderful place to raise difficult issues in a sensitive, sympathetic and nuanced way and the exhibition will be launched to support a service being held here in September as part of World Suicide Prevention Day.

Our Activity Plan is making us ask tough questions of ourselves and other people about the role of a cathedral in 2017 and onwards.  Listening to my colleague, it’s clear to me that we are more than relevant.  Listening to our visitors and partners, it’s equally clear that it’s worth the time and effort to get this right and to share our traditions, stories and experience with others and to learn from them in return.


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