February 2018: The Scale of our Ambitions

The Scale of our Ambitions

I’m conscious that January’s Blog may have read like an apology.  It’s understandable - since I’ve committed to sharing the challenges of Pilgrim - but by listing the number of separate construction projects, I wasn’t trying to gain sympathy.  Nor was I getting my excuses in early.  I was simply reflecting the extra-ordinary scale of the challenge – and workload.

Of course, I’m not responsible for actually undertaking any of the construction – and that’s a good thing since anyone who’s received an incompetently wrapped present from me will testify that I’m not that great with my hands.  However, there is no doubt that simultaneously running six separate, large-scale contracts (everything from below-ground drainage to a new Interpretation Scheme; from a re-roofing project to a four year stonemasonry conservation programme) would be challenging in any context.  Once you factor in the complex nature of a building like the Cathedral and our commitment to remain open to all with worship undertaken four times a day without fail, the logistical difficulty is clear.  As is the impact on a large number of people.  The past twelve months has seen me saying “Thank you” and “Sorry” more frequently and to more people than at any time I can remember!

Yet both of those issues – and I hope I’ve managed to bring to life that these are not normal times – pale when compared to our main ambition.  Big and complicated though they are, the amount of work and the logistical challenges of keeping the building open, and the nearly endless piles of paperwork (everything from contracts and invoices to progress reports and twitter messages) are the easier half of the equation.

The really difficult part starts when the building stops.  We’ve set ourselves a target of an extra 100,000 visitors to the Cathedral each year.  We want more of our current “typical” tourist visitor and by offering a better experience at the Cathedral – and by being more confident in offering drinks and souvenirs, alongside clearer ways to encourage people to leave a donation – we also want to see a significant financial benefit.  It’s a tough ask – particularly for our volunteers who will be at the sharp end of things.

We also want a more diverse range of people to come through our doors.  That won’t happen just because we have a beautiful new garden and a couple of lifts – we have to work at it and keep working at it.  Some of it’s about clever marketing, but much more of it is about doing things differently, such as delivering new types of events and activities inside and outside the Cathedral which have been developed specifically to appeal to a different audience or building partnerships with organisations representing people who ordinarily might not consider visiting.

So we have some targets which are stretching in terms of numbers and demographics and bottom line, and to deliver against them we need to plan new activities and become proficient at doing things differently.  But we also have to carry on with most of our current activity (remember, for nearly 1,000 years this has been a site of continuous worship, music and education) at the same time.  So there’s not only a workload issue – and a challenge in being more conscious of and confident in our value – there’s also a question of balance.

I don’t think I’m spilling any secrets by saying that Cathedral folk are no different to anyone else when it comes to “Change”.  If you want to know why we can’t simply carry on as we were, you can look at the history of Cathedrals (a permanent combination of change and status quo).  Or you can read one of three separate reports about Cathedrals and Churches which came out around Christmas.  Or you can go outside of the confines of the Cathedral Close and realise that we have much to contribute to our city and county in 2018.

The next few months promise to be some of the most exciting and daunting in the Cathedral’s recent history.  Our Vision is clear and we know what we need to do.  This is the point at which Pilgrim stops being a project and becomes our way of life.

The challenge this month – and for many months to come - is about balance: to change things enough to be attractive and welcoming to more people than ever before as well as fit for life as a 21st century Cathedral without fundamentally altering who we are, or losing our connection to Cathedrals-past and alienating long-standing friends.   It won’t be easy but I truly feel privileged to be part of this.


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