THE Cathedrals Working Group should focus on the “living heritage” of cathedrals in the 21st century, over built heritage, in its investigation into their sustainability and management, the Acting Dean of Derby, Canon Sue Jones, has said.
Canon Jones was speaking after the announcement on Sunday that Derby Cathedral is to undergo a £2.5-million restoration of its interior, pending a £1.6-million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The five-year project, which the cathedral has named “Revealing the Derby Story”, is to replace the 1930s concrete floor, install flexible seating, and restore its Compton organ.
“Cathedrals have always had a distinctive ministry at the heart of the Church, but also the ability to reach people right across the population, including those with no church connections,” Canon Jones said on Monday. “People are excited about this project because it is not solely about the built heritage of the building, but celebrating the living heritage — the people of the city, the community of the cathedral, and the music of the choirs.
“It is within this context that the debate around the future sustainability of cathedrals must be set.”
A church has stood on the site of Derby Cathedral since 943. It was rebuilt by the architect James Gibbs in 1723, with side seating and a clear nave, which was filled with pews in the 19th century. The building became a cathedral only in 1927, when a retrochoir was added.
“Cathedrals with limited historic assets, or none, like Derby, are dependent on grant funding from the Church Commissioners to sustain this ministry,” Canon Jones said, “and cathedrals with historic assets face a never-ending cycle of fabric repair which erodes budget surpluses.
“Derby Cathedral consistently achieves a modest budget surplus, and seeks to create sustainable sources of income, which have included inventive fund-raising opportunities. But firmer foundations are needed.
“Revealing the Derby Story allows the cathedral to safeguard its financial future by opening up new income opportunities, while also serving the needs of the wider city as a gathering place for discussion, worship and culture.”
Research conducted for the project in December suggested that access to the building was difficult, especially for disabled visitors. The Chapter Steward, Rachel Morris, said: “Visitors and worshippers want more comfortable seating; they want to explore more of the history of the building; and they want a more varied range of events in the cathedral.”
More than three-quarters of those surveyed were concertgoers, Dr Jones said. “The most common words that they used to describe their experience included ‘spiritual’, ‘uplifting’, and ‘peaceful’ — spiritual words spoken by first-time visitors attending predominantly secular events. This is telling.”
It is understood that the Cathedrals Working Group is to meet for the first time, this week, to discuss the future of the Church of England’s 42 cathedrals (News, 28 April).
“It is vital that the cathedrals remain as places of welcome, history, and hospitality,” Dr Jones said. “For their long-term sustainability, cathedral governance needs to be financially robust, theologically sensitive, and open to new opportunities for mission.”