September2017: A Very 21st Century Cathedral

A Very 21st Century Cathedral

Despite the fact that I always leave writing each month’s Blog until the very last minute (dignified as “Just in Time” in terms of project management style), I’m never short of subject matter.

Last month I attended a training session with a number of colleagues: over the next 12 months (as part of Pilgrim) all staff and volunteers will take part in similar classes to help us build on our Benedictine tradition of Welcome and refine that into a 21st century version.  One of the early “exercises” was to talk about ourselves, our roles (including how long we’d been involved with the Cathedral) and then to say what we really liked about being here.  I was very much a “Johnny-come-lately” with less than three years’ “service” but without exception, everyone around the table mentioned the variety of life at Gloucester Cathedral as part of the appeal.

Despite the fact that I often think I have the best job in the world (and that my role as Project Manager is somehow “special” in terms of its variety) I’m not really surprised that for most other staff and volunteers, no two days are the same.  This is the nature of cathedral life - the pattern is set by our daily worship but wrapped around that we are simultaneously: a national and international tourist destination (including shop, cafe and tours); a classroom; a building site - and heritage craft skills training workshop; a wedding venue; a place of reflection and sanctuary; a school assembly hall; a concert hall, theatre and film set (No, I didn’t see Margot Robbie or David Tennant but I was just as awestruck by the miles and miles of electrical cables.). I really could go on but whilst I did take a couple of photographs recently where it’s really not obvious if we’re a cathedral, a building site or a film set, we clearly can’t be all of those places at the same time. 

Which brings me to this month’s Pilgrim challenge: there is so much work involved - and the deadlines are so looming - that it’s hard not to prioritise Pilgrim above everything else.  Pilgrim still means five separate construction contracts: Cathedral Green; the Lady Chapel and other internal works; conservation of the exterior of the Lady Chapel; our new Interpretation and “Visitor Experience” scheme; and re-roofing the Abbot’s Chapel. 

It also means all of the activities linked to Pilgrim which are picking up momentum… The scaffolding tours led by volunteers and an Apprentice Stonemason to let visitors get up close to hidden parts of the building are sold out, and the few remaining undisturbed spaces in the Cathedral and its grounds have played host to a range of different workshops and classes over the past few weeks covering archaeology, geology, the daily lives of monks … as well as knitting and sewing!  

This month, there’s even a cathedral-scale version of “clearing out the attic” in preparation for a loft conversion: in this instance the removal of some beautiful, historic but no longer used nave furniture from one side of the Tribune Gallery to the other so that the north side of the Gallery can be used as a dedicated Visitor space.  What that sentence doesn’t tell you, is that this isn’t a question of a step-ladder and a bit of help from your next door neighbour… Instead we’ll need to close the ambulatory, spend a couple of days putting up some scaffolding (in between services of course) and then move benches, stalls, stonework, chairs, a forgotten bronze bust and a rather dusty model cathedral to their new homes.  Only then can we use a heavyweight hoist to lift one of the old south aisle gargoyles and the recently replaced west end pinnacle into the space to help visitors appreciate the scale and skill of every single element in the building, whether it was designed to be seen or not.

I’ve allowed myself to get distracted again - and this really is the point in the building works where that’s very easy to do!  But in case it’s not clear enough, the challenge this month is not to be so keen to stay on time and on budget that I forget where it is I’m working.  


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