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Future of cathedral jobs in the balance

30 October 2020

Decisions are being delayed until furlough scheme is ended


Ely Cathedral

Ely Cathedral

LAY staff at cathedrals across the country face an uncertain future as their employers take stock of the financial impact of the pandemic.

At some, including Westminster Abbey, redundancies have already been announced, while others, such as Carlisle, believe that they can weather the storm without job-losses. Some Deans and Chapters are waiting until the end of the Government’s job-retention scheme before making any decisions.

Twenty cathedrals have been handed a lifeline this month with grants from the Government’s £1.57-billion Culture Recovery Fund (News, 16 October). They are Canterbury, Chichester, Coventry, Derby, Ely, Exeter, Gloucester, Hereford, Leicester, Lincoln, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Salisbury, Southwell Minster, St Albans, Sheffield, Truro, Wells, Winchester, and Worcester. The Archbishops’ Council has been awarded £10 million from the Heritage Stimulus Fund, much of which will go towards cathedral projects.

Chichester, which earlier this year was forecasting losses of more than £1 million, has received £297,000. It had already started consultation on job losses, which resulted in the closure of its café and the temporary closure of its shop. The Dean, the Very Revd Stephen Waine, said that the Chapter was “incredibly grateful” for the grant. “These funds will support the cathedral and its community on our journey of recovery. The cathedral costs £3000 a day to maintain. The funds will contribute towards essential existing job roles and operational activity.”

Lincoln, which also faced losses of almost £1 million, will receive £970,600. The Dean, the Very Revd Christine Wilson, said: “This grant will help to stabilise the cathedral’s finances as we continue to recover and build a sustainable future.”

A grant for Ely Cathedral came too late to prevent redundancies in the face of a projected deficit of £700,000. The Dean, the Very Revd Mark Bonney, said: “As well as being a place of worship, of course there is a business side of running a cathedral. Like many of the UK’s heritage organisations who rely primarily on the visiting public to stay operational and maintained, we are hugely grateful for this funding, which will enable us to sustain key areas of our cathedral life.”

At Truro, about one fifth of its 40 lay staff have been told that they face redundancy. The Dean, the Very Revd Roger Bush, said: “The jobs that will go are all back-office roles: we wanted to maintain as many front-line posts as possible. None of the vergers will go. We started talks in August, looking to act only after the furlough scheme ends.

istockTruro Cathedral

“We have been working very hard to make savings, discussing with the diocese how we might share roles and office space. We are also looking at new working practices, including more working from home — although that does have its own on-costs.”

Truro will receive a recovery fund grant of £140,000, but this will not cover staffing costs.

Westminster Abbey is set to make about 20 per cent of its staff redundant after the collapse of its income from visitor entrance fees, which provide 90 per cent of its revenue. A six-week consultation process began in August, and lay-offs are due shortly. The Dean, the Very Revd Dr David Hoyle, predicted a “breathtaking” loss of of up to £12 million next year, and that visitor numbers would be unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels for up to five years.

A spokeswoman said: “We have no choice but to bring our expenditure into line with a significantly reduced level of income for the foreseeable future. The Abbey is, above all, a community. It is a matter of deep regret that we must take these steps.”

Among those still to make decisions are Durham, Worcester, and York. At Worcester, which received a £241,000 grant for urgent repairs to the cathedral library, the Dean, the Very Revd Peter Atkinson, said: “We are considering our budget for next year, which will be extremely difficult.”

Durham is currently consulting staff. Its Dean, the Very Revd Andrew Tremlett, said: “The furlough scheme has been invaluable, enabling the cathedral to keep people in employment during lockdown. It will clearly be some time before normal operations can resume and hard-hit income streams recover.

“A number of jobs are at risk of reduced hours or redundancy as we go through this period of consultation. It is with great sadness that we do so, and we will be working with individual staff to explore all alternative options.”

At Peterborough, which had to weather a financial crisis before the pandemic, two staff were laid off and a third was placed on an extended sabbatical; vacant posts have not been filled. The Dean, the Very Revd Chris Dalliston, said: “We took steps to furlough the majority of our team, but could see we were in for a difficult year and reluctantly undertook a consultation with a number of our staff — particularly in areas where a return to pre-Covid areas of activity seemed unlikely.

“In the event, emergency funding from the Church Commissioners and the National Heritage Lottery Fund, among others, has meant we have been able to retain most of our staff, some of whom have returned to handle rather different pieces of work; for example, online worship and virtual tours. We are obviously praying that 2021 will be able to see a relaxation of the current restrictions and some return to more ‘normal’ levels of activity.”

Many cathedral shops are closed or operating with reduced hours, and this is expected to continue well into next year; but the chairman of the Cathedral and Church Shops Association, Hugh Fearnall, said that there was little sign of long-term job cuts. “I have heard talk of reviews, but not of actual redundancies,” he said. “I wonder if some were in the pipeline before Covid. A lot of the managers are staff doing other jobs as well within the cathedral; so, if their other job isn’t safe, the shop could go as well.”

A statement from the Association of English Cathedrals said: “The Covid-19 crisis has affected us all: our life and ministry has been significantly changed, [and] sharp losses across most of our income streams [have] meant we have had to look at our costs and rethink our structures to ensure we can continue to serve our communities in this new and uncertain world.

“We know there will be no sudden return to normality; we know our pattern of life will be very different for the foreseeable future; and we know most of our cathedrals have had to make some difficult decisions, especially where redundancies are involved.”

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