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Cathedrals bring in millions of pounds for cities, says report

19 August 2021


Visitors at Salisbury Cathedral, last month

Visitors at Salisbury Cathedral, last month

THE 42 cathedrals in England have a hugely positive economic and social impact on the cities and communities they serve, says an independent report commissioned for the Association of English Cathedrals and published on Thursday.

In 2019, they contributed £235 million to their local economies, provided 6065 full-time equivalent jobs and 15,400 volunteering posts, and received more than 14.6 million visits. They also hosted a programme of arts, music, heritage, and culture, besides providing the venues for film shoots such as The Crown and Doctor Who.

They also played a part socially, responding to local needs by running foodbanks; support groups for the more vulnerable, the unemployed, and the homeless; and providing outreach activities in schools, residential homes, and hospitals, lunch clubs, parent and toddler groups, and community cafés.

The lockdowns and continuing restrictions during 2020 had a direct impact on their ability to be self-sustaining, the report says, estimating that their finances “will be constrained for some time to come”. A significant fall in the average non-visitor income reflected a reduction of almost 80 per cent in income generated from the use of cathedral facilities. Closure and restrictions on congregation size also meant fewer people attending services, and a subsequent drop in donations.

Cathedrals benefited from new coronavirus-related grant programmes from the Government, the Church Commissioners, and independent trusts. This included at least 96 Culture Recovery Fund and Historic England grants in 2020, totalling £27.8 million, enabling urgent repairs to allow cathedrals to open safely, and safeguarding their core activities.

Visitor numbers in 2020 fell by approximately 70 per cent, compared with 2019. But Covid-19 has also given rise to newer opportunities, the report says: in particular, by encouraging cathedrals to live-stream their services and to use Zoom to provide pastoral support. Recognising schools’ increased reluctance to travel, by the end of 2020, one third had begun offering or developing online resources.

Case studies were carried out at Gloucester and Rochester as medium-sized historic cathedrals; Leicester and St Edmundsbury as functioning parish churches; Liverpool as an urban cathedral; and Winchester as a large cathedral of international importance.

Cathedrals are a key feature of the nation’s cultural heritage, the report states: there were 9.8 million visitors in 2018. Even though only a few cathedrals charge for entry, paying visitors accounted for 33 per cent of all visitors to cathedrals in that year.

Figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) show that St Paul’s was the 18th most visited attraction in the UK in 2019, receiving more than 1.7 million visitors. Canterbury, Durham, and York also featured in ALVA’s top 53 attractions in 2019. Innovative exhibitions attracted many visitors, including the Poppies: Weeping Window temporarily installed at Hereford (News, 23 March 2018) (196,000 visitors), and the helter-skelter in Norwich (News, 16 August 2019).

There has been a significant increase in tourist numbers at Leicester since Richard III was buried in the cathedral. York Minster had a record number of visitors in 2019, thanks partly to its Northern Lights sound-and-light projection events (News, 8 November 2019), which were seen by 22,500 people.

It is estimated that cathedrals generate a total spend of more than £235,000,000 in their local economies. They can form an important part of the visitor offer in an area. More than 90 per cent work with their local tourism promotion agencies to further this, and cathedrals often represent a powerful and iconic image of a city. They are valued for their architecture, their place in history, and their aesthetic appeal. Teaching is also a big part of their impact, the report says.

Community support included setting up initiatives designed to address the needs of the most vulnerable members of the community, such as Sheffield’s Archer project, which seeks to help lift people out of homelessness. More than 90 per cent of cathedrals provided details of specific projects or initiatives to provide support, and the most common initiatives were supporting a foodbank and the homeless.

Overall, cathedrals spend about £51 million per year on wages and salaries, suggesting a total wage bill of about 20 per cent higher than that estimated in 2014. The study found clear evidence that the activity of cathedrals “results in a range of social benefits which would be expected to impact positively on the wellbeing of participants and of society in general”.

“Cathedrals stand at the heart of their communities and regions — places of faith and worship, welcome and service, wonder and education,” said the Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, who chairs the Association of English Cathedrals. “By our welcoming and inclusive ethos, millions are drawn to our cathedrals every year. It is touching to receive so much public attention and endorsement.

“We have, though, been badly affected by the pandemic; the data proves that very clearly. But we’ve risen to new challenges. We’ve gone digital, streamed our services, and reached out to provide practical and spiritual care to be beacons of hope in tough times.

“This study gives the evidence of our impact as sacred spaces and places of compassion, community, and solace. England’s cathedrals are resources for our local communities and the nation.”

Read the report here

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