July 2017: Open for business

Open for business

One of the most basic things about any construction project is that (in general) it’s considered sensible to build a place and to occupy it at separate times.  It’s a tried and tested method which you may well have experienced in your own daily life, be that through kitchen refurbishments and loft conversions, endless waiting for a move-in date if your new house is being built as part of a new estate or just through some committed armchair enjoyment of Grand Designs.

But that tried and tested method (first you build and then you occupy) is just not possible with this particular building project.  Whilst we’ve been able to close the Lady Chapel and hand it over to the builders, the rest of the cathedral has to stay open.  And if the building’s open, then the grounds need to stay open as well since they are the only way in and through for people, bicycles - and the odd cement mixer.  So throughout Project Pilgrim, we are continuing to celebrate worship four times a day, every day of the year.  We are also continuing to host concerts and other performances and all types of events from Gloucestershire’s annual school leavers’ services to a Roots-Reggae gig. Those occupying homes and businesses in the cathedral grounds remain in residence.  Just as importantly, we are continuing to welcome thousands of visitors to one of the country’s most significant and beautiful tourist destinations.  And did I mention the fact that the cast and crew of Father Brown were here last month filming for their new series?

Never mind keeping the construction programme on track, right now, one of the biggest challenges is keeping the cathedral open for business amidst the noise, dust and general disruption.  Some days I focus on the destination (#worththewait we reassure our twitter followers) but at other times I remember that the journey is just as big a part of this project.  So we are committed to keeping our doors open through the works but we are also keen to make a virtue of this necessity: offering scaffold tours which let you get up close to rarely seen parts of the cathedral; organising talks to share archaeological and other discoveries; briefing our Welcomers and Guides each week to help them make sense of the work for visitors; and tweeting about the more quirky parts of our journey almost as regularly as we hold daily worship.

We’re working hard on all those fronts but I think it’s fair to say that we’re now at the stage where even knowing where the main cathedral entrance is, isn’t as obvious as you’d hope.  If you’ve walked through the Close in the last two weeks you’ll know that we’ve closed the south porch (with different sets of builders working on both sides of the threshold) and have a much less grand temporary entrance via the west doors.  New signage has been added to the mix and some of our Welcomers have taken it upon themselves to greet visitors just outside the main doors.  When you’ve made it through a building site, it’s amazing what a difference a friendly and sympathetic smile can make!

And so, despite the fact that it’s a building site and our signage bashfully acknowledges that “we’re not looking our best”, if you’re thinking of visiting the cathedral, I’d urge you to do it.  Make sure to take a look at the website first for the most up to date information about access and to book your place on one of our scaffolding tours; ask our gatekeeper if you’re not sure which way to go when you get here; take a look at the information spread around our builders’ heras fencing to find out about the work itself; talk to one of our Welcomers to help you get the lay of the land generally; enjoy the peace and quiet of our lunchtime worship; stop off for refreshments in the cathedral coffee shop or some of the equally lovely cafes and restaurants in the city centre; and follow us on twitter (@gloscathedral and @projectpilgrim1) for a real insider’s view of our current daily life.

One of Pilgrim’s ambitions is to ensure that everyone feels welcome at Gloucester Cathedral and that a visit here is meaningful.  Whilst it will be easier to do that when building work is finished, the challenge for everyone this month is to make that true now.




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