Wine-bar plan mooted for cathedral that may be underselling itself

04 September 2008

by Bill Bowder

Branching out: Birmingham Cathedral

Branching out: Birmingham Cathedral

BIRMINGHAM CATHEDRAL may have an own-label wine, sold at its own wine bars in the city. This is one of the ideas floated by a former department-store executive who has been taken on to raise the Cathed-ral’s public profile.

Mark Hope-Urwin worked for the John Lewis Partnership chain of shops before starting as the Cathedral’s first “director of hospitality and welcome” on Monday. He has also proposed loyalty cards for regular worshippers to use in the cathedral’s shops.

Mr Hope-Urwin was quoted in The Sunday Telegraph as seeing the cathedral wine bars, replete with stained-glass windows and decor-ated an episcopal purple, as raising the church’s profile, while raising money for evangelism.

“This isn’t about turning the Cathedral into a big money-making machine, but we have to think of how we can change and spread the brand,” he said.

Canon Peter Howell-Jones, dio­esan director of evangelism and mission, said that this did not mean that the Cathedral was backing binge-drinking. Any wine bar would have to be outside the Cathedral, because the space was so limited within the building; but it would be closed by 7 p.m.

“But at the end of the day there may be 800 people around the Cathedral, and some of them will have a bottle of wine.

“We need to be more like Jesus, who went to where the people were and engaged with them. He sat with the people. We would ensure that the wine was fair-traded wine, and I would not object to having the Cathedral’s own branded wine label. I embrace the idea, but it has not yet been discussed by the Chapter; so it is not yet a live issue.”

Canon Howell-Jones said the 18th-century Cathedral, which was once a parish church, was one of the smallest in England, and had no historic resources. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘Where is it going?’ How do we present ourselves to the people who are outside our doors?” he said.

The Cathedral receives an annual “Section 23” means-tested grant from the Church Commissioners. A Church of England spokesman confirmed that if the Cathedral’s income rose significantly as a result of the proposals, then this could mean that the Commissioners would cut back on their grant, which could be between £10,000 and £170,000 a year. “These grants are carefully targeted,” he said.

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