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Delight as cathedrals reopen to visitors again

21 May 2021

Relief is tempered by worries about finances after the prolonged closures


Staff in The Monk’s Kitchen Café in Gloucester Cathedral, which reopened on Monday

Staff in The Monk’s Kitchen Café in Gloucester Cathedral, which reopened on Monday

CATHEDRALS were delighted to be reopening to visitors this week, although relief and euphoria were tempered by the financial concerns of many after the prolonged closures.

The Chapter of Worcester Cathedral launched an urgent appeal for financial help to keep the historic site running, revealing losses of £903 per day in revenue. The Dean, the Very Revd Peter Atkinson, called for continued help from the community.

“We have felt very strongly the benefit of the community support, encouragement, and prayers, enabling us to come through this most difficult year,” he told them. “But the hard work is only now beginning. Public and other bodies have given emergency support to the cathedral, as to many other organisations. But, in the year to come, we must stand on our own feet again, relying on visitors and our community of donors and supporters.

“I know what a special place the cathedral holds in people’s hearts. Emerging from the pandemic, we must ensure that the cathedral and its grounds are kept in good repair, open and safe for all to enjoy our amazing heritage. But the stark reality is that this is impossible without stable finances.”

Income at St Paul’s Cathedral, which has annual running costs of £8 million and depends almost entirely on tourist ticket sales, dropped by 90 per cent last year; a similar loss is forecast for 2021. Along with Westminster Abbey, which was down £12 million last year (News, 31 July 2020), it relies heavily on foreign visitors, not predicted to return in pre-pandemic numbers.

Derby Cathedral is to receive £125,600 from the second round of the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund. The Dean, the Very Revd Peter Robinson, said: “Funding is vital in facilitating our return to full opening and financial sustainability.

“As well as covering core costs at this challenging time, it ensures that the necessary work, such as a full accessibility audit and maintenance to the east end of the cathedral, is completed, both of which will improve the visitor experience so that everyone feels welcome and able to engage with all the cathedral has to offer.”

Several cathedrals have used the closure to reconfigure the visitor space and to install new systems. At Salisbury this week, 300 cathedral volunteers, Blue Badge guides, and families tested a new ticketing system and previewed developments of the visitor experience, before its opening on Wednesday.

The cathedral is another to have received funding from the Culture Recovery Fund and the Heritage Emergency Fund. The Sub-Dean and Canon Chancellor, the Revd Edward Probert, expressed his gratitude to these and to the Friends of Salisbury Cathedral for helping to support it during the pandemic.

Chichester cathedralLizzie Waine arranges flowers in Chichester Cathedral, on Thursday of last week

Several, including Truro and Peterborough, have extended their opening hours, and all emphasise their continuing attention to Covid safety measures. The Dean of Peterborough, the Very Revd Chris Dalliston, said: “This place of prayer, pilgrimage, events, tours, and hospitality is historic, but it is also a modern and crucial focus for this city, and the chance to reopen it more fully is the greatest joy.

“But we know that, as the restrictions caused by the Covid pandemic are lifted, our excitement must be combined with caution as we ensure the safety of those that come to visit.” The cathedral’s events programme has resumed, and its Lou Lou Vintage Fair is due to take place tomorrow.

The Chapter of Durham Cathedral — another to acknowledge generous grant support — was also delighted to be reopening on Monday. The Director of Visitor Experience and Enterprise, Andrew Usher, said that they were “proud that during one of the toughest times the cathedral has ever faced, we have been able to bounce back and offer a wide variety of indoor and outdoor activities for our opening”.

At Gloucester Cathedral, the Dean, the Very Revd Stephen Lake, said: “This has been a long time coming. . . Gloucester Cathedral is meant to be open 365 days a year, and now we can return to our famous welcome for all.

“The building is huge and safe; so now is the time, especially for local people, to return to this special place, where we have been praying for you throughout the last year of this crisis. This is your cathedral — welcome home!”

Exeter Cathedral has also been declared essentially back to business. The Dean, the Very Revd Jonathan Greener, said: “This is a building that thrives on welcoming everyone — worshippers, heritage and music fans, tourists and coffee-drinkers alike.

“Our teams have been holding their breath for the moment we can resume business as normal, and anyone who comes to the cathedral in the coming days will find an exceptionally warm welcome.” Conservation and development work has continued while the cathedral has been closed.

The Church of England adviser on medical ethics and health policy, the Revd Dr Brendan McCarthy, said on Monday: “The changes in guidance which come into effect today represent a relatively modest step along the road to easing restrictions affecting places of worship in common with many other public places.

“However, despite major progress in the rollout of vaccinations, recent developments around the world — especially the tragic events in India — show there is still uncertainty ahead, and we will continue to encourage a measured approach to the path forward as we seek to protect the most vulnerable.”

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