Cathedrals discover the pulling power of flowers

by
01 October 2009

Flower festivals are a big fund-raiser, Katy Hounsell-Robert discovered

Gold standard: the interior of Chichester Cathedral JAMES CHRISMAS

Gold standard: the interior of Chichester Cathedral JAMES CHRISMAS

CATHEDRALS and churches have redis­covered a successful form of fund-raising: the flower festival. For Chichester Cathedral, which has built up a tradition of biennial flower festivals since 1996, it is now its largest fund-raising event, bringing in between £90,000 and £100,000 each time — and other cathedrals are catching on.

Salisbury Cathedral, to celebrate its 750th anniversary this year, incorporated a flower festival into its celebrations, and made a very acceptable £70,000. Westminster Abbey, host­ing a service to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Association of Flower Arrangers, took more than £70,000 from receipts.

Salisbury Cathedral, to celebrate its 750th anniversary this year, incorporated a flower festival into its celebrations, and made a very acceptable £70,000. Westminster Abbey, host­ing a service to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Association of Flower Arrangers, took more than £70,000 from receipts.

A newcomer to the festival circuit, Man­chester Cathedral, made £15,000, but Anthony O’Connor, its director of fund-raising, is confident that it will raise more next time.

Churches not on the scale of cathedrals can make a profit, too. St Lawrence’s, in Morland, Cumbria, made nearly £3000, which was used to refit its boiler; St Bartholomew’s, in Crew­kerne, Somerset, made more than £4000 for its charities.

The outgoing expenses are considerable, some might think breathtaking: the flower bill for Chichester was £35,000, and for Salisbury £26,000. Lighting can be expensive, and it is regarded as essential to pay a good designer to mastermind the show.

The outgoing expenses are considerable, some might think breathtaking: the flower bill for Chichester was £35,000, and for Salisbury £26,000. Lighting can be expensive, and it is regarded as essential to pay a good designer to mastermind the show.

To raise sponsorship, many cathedrals hold a preview champagne evening, with tickets at about £35 a head, when guests can view the exhibits and meet celebrities.

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Portsmouth Cathedral, another newcomer, held a gala dinner with Alan Titchmarsh as guest speaker, and charged £30 a ticket. The profit, therefore, comes mostly from entrance tickets, but if they are priced too high this can put people off. In the Home Counties, you can charge about £7, with children half-price, but the charge is less in the north. Manchester charges £5, with children free, while Sheffield takes a collection.

Local sponsors will contribute to the festival, and more income can be made from other activities — by renting out space in a marquee, for example. Guildford, which is having its maiden event this week, is offering flower workshops for children and garden en­thusiasts, stalls with exotic foods, and a flower fashion show.

Planning has to begin at least two years in advance, organisers say. Every parish in the dio­cese has to be informed in order to give every flower group the opportunity to take part. Good publicity is essential, especially in local and national papers, and on television and radio. The theme is important: Ports­mouth chose a circus theme, calling it “The Greatest Show on Earth”, with a red and yellow big-top inside, and it was critically acclaimed.

Planning has to begin at least two years in advance, organisers say. Every parish in the dio­cese has to be informed in order to give every flower group the opportunity to take part. Good publicity is essential, especially in local and national papers, and on television and radio. The theme is important: Ports­mouth chose a circus theme, calling it “The Greatest Show on Earth”, with a red and yellow big-top inside, and it was critically acclaimed.

The date also has to be chosen with care. A cathedral or church that has established its regular slot in the calendar does not take kindly to others’ putting on their show in that month (or even that year). This is not just a matter of competition: flower-arrangers often work in several neighbouring cathedrals, and need space between shows.

Festival flower-arrangements, unlike other art forms, are created on the spot, and when 500 flower-arrangers arrive to sort out their flow­ers, which have just come from Holland, in order to make 70 complicated arrangements in a strange environment, it can be an emo­tional time. The Monday before the Thursday opening is often known as “Manic Monday”.

John Waddington, the manager of Copseys Nursery, in Havant, whose mother was a dedicated flower-arranger, has a solution. He began holding open days, in which arrangers can get advice and view all the flowers available at their parti­cular festival time. (He uses mainly locally grown flowers, or fairly traded imports.)

John Waddington, the manager of Copseys Nursery, in Havant, whose mother was a dedicated flower-arranger, has a solution. He began holding open days, in which arrangers can get advice and view all the flowers available at their parti­cular festival time. (He uses mainly locally grown flowers, or fairly traded imports.)

The arrangers list their require­ments and, just before the festival, each order is selected, labelled, put into buckets, refrigerated, and delivered in perfect condition early on the Monday morning. Each group is given a time when it is

taken to its buckets, which helpers carry to the spot, and Mr Wad­dington’s staff stay on hand until the displays are ready. Those who have used this free service have com­mented on its speed and calmness.

There has been scepticism from some clerics, who think of flower festivals as village affairs; but when they see thousands of people, many of whom find churches daunting, enjoying themselves, they change their opinion — even if the income fails to convert them. So the lilies and flowers that “do not labour or spin” are nevertheless reaping a harvest, materially and spiritually.

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