December 2017: All I want for Christmas...

All I want for Christmas …

There’s been something very familiar about the last year.

Having joined the Cathedral in October 2014, the new Pilgrim team spent the next 14 months working with a team of consultants to prepare and submit a funding application to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for Project Pilgrim.  This included all of the necessary consultation and investigations to inform our plans and designs; applying for a complex set of permissions from a number of different organisations; programming the tendering and delivery of five separate large capital contracts; working with Cathedral colleagues to prepare for the impact on our daily life, to strengthen areas of governance and to develop a robust business plan; finalising costings and raising over £1.5m in non HLF match funding.  The “To Do” list went on and on but resulted in an online application submitted just before midnight one dark December evening as well as a car boot-full of application papers delivered to the HLF office in Exeter the following day.

Flash forward two years and in October 2016, having closed the old Cathedral car park and handed it over to a team of Archaeologists we began a systematic programme of conservation and construction covering everywhere from the Nave roof to the entrances to the Close.  By November 2016, we’d taken possession of our solar panels, blessed them (in the pouring rain!) and switched them on.  In December, work on New Cathedral Green started with Advent and Christmas happily carrying on as usual.  January brought a new construction team to the Cathedral, the installation of yet more scaffolding and the closure of the Lady Chapel.  Since then, it has been a whirlwind of activity – including an “extra” roofing project – with archaeology both inside and outside the building causing both delays and a significant redesign for our proposed heating scheme. 

Working on the basis that Pilgrim is about people rather than “just” the building, our new Community Engagement Manager has also spent the past 14 months developing new partnerships and activities to draw in different types of cathedral visitors: the success of last month’s Big Draw has been just one of the highlights.  Our new Apprentice Stonemason has completed an NVQ and started the prestigious Cathedrals Workshop Fellowship at the same time as helping the rest of the team with their work to conserve the exterior of our Lady Chapel.  Our new Volunteer Officer has been quietly recruiting even more volunteers to new and existing roles and he and our Visitor Experience Manager  have been delivering training to all staff and volunteers to help us improve the already warm welcome here at Gloucester Cathedral.  If that’s not been enough, we’ve also been putting the final touches to a major upgrade of our Visitor and Interpretation facilities and will begin installing these in the second week of January 2018.

As we head into December, the looming and immoveable deadline has not been an HLF application date but the first Sunday in Advent.  If the Cathedral diary is busy in November (it really is!) then it’s impossible in December: there are so many services, concerts and rehearsals – which are all attended by hundreds of people – that there is simply no time left for building works!

Despite huge levels of activity and good will from contractors and colleagues alike, we agreed last week that we would rather pause things over Christmas in order to guarantee the quality of the final works than rush things and live with second best.  In Cathedral terms, everything needs to be built to last and to stand up to scrutiny alongside some of the best architecture in the world.  I have no doubt we will achieve that in January – and with the addition of our new Interpretation Scheme in January and February we will be better placed than ever to welcome our visitors. 

But like many others, I have known for over a year now that what I really want for Christmas is a post Pilgrim Cathedral, we are within touching distance of that and in a digital world I have become used to instant gratification.  The challenge this month then, hasn’t been hitting the deadlines, but knowing when to stop ….

Happy Christmas



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