PETERBOROUGH CATHEDRAL has raised tens of thousands of pounds in the past 12 months from hiring out the Knights’ Chamber in its visitor centre to act as a Nightingale Court, the scheme set up by the Government to ease pressure on the justice system during the pandemic.
In March 2020, when the first national lockdown was announced, almost half of all courts were closed and jury trials were paused to minimise social interaction between court users. Up to 90 per cent of all hearings used remote technology until jury trials were resumed in May 2020.
Similar to the Nightingale hospitals, which helped cope with soaring hospital admissions at the peak of the pandemic (News, 9 April 2020), the temporary courts were set up by the Ministry of Justice, HM Courts, and Justice Service, in July of last year. Ten locations were chosen across England and Wales, including Middlesbrough Town Hall and the Ministry’s headquarters in London.
Since then, Nightingale Courts have heard civil, family, and tribunals work as well as non-custodial crime cases. This has freed up existing courts to hold custodial jury trials, which require cells and secure dock facilities to keep the public, victims, and witnesses safe.
The Knights’ Chamber in the grounds of Peterborough Cathedral has been used for multiple trials in this time, including for divorce cases. A spokeswoman for the cathedral said on Tuesday: “Peterborough is obviously well connected to transport links so offers a convenient location. They are quiet neighbours, although occasionally there is additional press interest outside the court.”
The Dean of Peterborough, the Very Revd Chris Dalliston, said on Tuesday: “Not only is it good to be part of the drive to reduce the backlog of court cases, with all the associated distress that long delays can cause, but also the rental income has offered an element of stability at a time when so many of our usual channels of income have dried up.
“Like so many cathedrals we rely not only on visitor donations, but also on venue hire fees and ticket sales from events we organise ourselves. It is only now that we are beginning to see those sources gradually restored, and it will be some time yet before things return to pre-pandemic levels.”
National lockdowns and restrictions in the 14 months since March 2020 have hit cathedral finances across England. Peterborough Cathedral was particularly vulnerable, having previously resorted to selling its Old Deanery (News, 20 July 2018) after a cashflow crisis in 2016, which led to the resignation of the Dean and several redundancies (News, 29 July 2016).
Steve CunninghamThe nave of Peterborough Cathedral is set up for the full meeting of the City Council, on Wednesday of last week
On Wednesday of last week, the cathedral gained additional income when it hosted a full meeting of Peterborough Council in the nave to allow for social distancing. A council spokesperson said: “The Council has worked with the cathedral before on a number of events; however, this is the first time that a formal meeting of Full Council has been held at the Cathedral. The Cathedral was chosen as a suitable venue for the meeting due to its vicinity to the city centre and high level of access, in addition to its being large enough to accommodate the meeting in line with the Covid-19 social distancing requirements.”
The cathedral spokeswoman said: “The income from short lettings like the City Council’s, or longer-term ones from the Nightingale Court, are enormously helpful, but they fall well short of replacing the commercial income we have lost due to the pandemic. Graduations, dinners, charity fundraisers, meetings, and numerous entertainment events have all been cancelled in 2020 and much of 2021. We were to have hosted the Natural History Museum’s touring exhibition ‘T.rex: The Killer Question’ last summer, and this would have generated considerable income. . .
“Our cautious and carefully Covid-risk-assessed return to events, many of them outside, or inside with plenty of space for social distancing, is very welcome for staff and volunteer morale as well as for financial reasons.”
The cathedral is busy organising a series of summer events designed to raise revenue and assist local and national organisations post-lockdown. This includes hosting plays, musicals, and touring exhibitions, including “One Small Step” created by the sculptor and artist Peter Walker using imagery from NASA.