Est.1118 – Peterborough 900

In September, Peterborough Cathedral formally launched the corporate phase of its Peterborough 900 Campaign. But what can a 900 year-old cathedral and the city's business communities really offer each other? The Business Moment talks to Charles Taylor, Dean of Peterborough

Join an inspiring campaign

says Peterborough 900’s corporate literature. It’s certainly hard to imagine a more inspiring sight than the soaring medieval architecture of the city’s cathedral – set to celebrate its 900th anniversary in 2018.

It’s an icon of the city, even for people who have never set foot in it. The people who run the refuse collection put the outline of the Cathedral on the front of their dustcarts

says Charles Taylor, Dean of Peterborough,

As we sit and chat, looking out across the beautiful lawns and gardens of the Deanery, Charles Taylor’s energy and passion for the Campaign are immediately evident. He talks in enthusiastic terms about a bright future for the city, and the positive changes in attitude here, spurred on in recent months by the huge national morale-boost that was the Olympics and Paralympics.

Peterborough is becoming a can-do city, and I want to know how we can help with that

But while 900 years in business is an impressive record by any standards – and the premises none too shabby, either – one might wonder how this ancient building over which he has stewardship relates to 21st century, hi-tech business, other than providing general inspiration and an iconic image for a logo. And, despite the obvious satisfaction to be gained in helping the Cathedral achieve its ambitious £10 million target, there may be those in business who are tempted to ask: “What’s in it for us?”

Well, the answer is quite a bit.

Firms can become part of the project, sign up as members, and as corporate partners they get certain benefits

Those benefits relate to the size of the donation, and range from the relatively simple – invitations to networking events, and various forms of public acknowledgment of the gift – to the more elaborate –  including a recognition on the Cathedral wall of donors and free use of the Cathedral for a private corporate event. Perhaps most interesting of all to up-and-coming companies is the possibility of a bespoke PR campaign to local and regional media regarding your gift, run by the Cathedral.

Clearly Peterborough 900 must be doing something right. So far, the Campaign has attracted a formidable array of corporate supporters, including Diligenta, Hegarty Solicitors, BGL and Travelex. The official launch of the corporate campaign on 13 September – a black-tie dinner in the ‘New Building’ of the Cathedral, so-called because it was added in 1494 – was attended by a who’s who of the city’s leading businesspeople, as well as His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester – patron of the Cathedral Trust – and the Global Sales Director of Travelex, Mark Smith, who gave the key speech. But it’s not just a range of benefits that has caught their imagination. It’s a vision.

To understand it, and indeed what Peterborough 900 is all about, it’s necessary to go back a little way – fortunately, not the whole 895 years to the foundation of the present building. Charles Taylor explains

When I came here five years ago they asked me: ‘What’s your vision for it?’

To arrive at an answer to this, he spent a whole year going around the Diocese of Peterborough, where the cathedral is the mother church of around 300 parishes.

These parishes range across Rutland and ‘the old soke’ of Peterborough (which is not me, it’s a place!) and all of Northamptonshire, too. I met not only the church people but also civic leaders, and business people – particularly within Peterborough – building up relationships. And they were really saying: ‘What do you think your Cathedral’s for, what do you think we’ve got that we can share more widely?’

What he had done, in effect, was conduct some extremely thorough market research.

Out of all that came a strategic plan leading up to the year 2018. It was chosen so we had something to aim at – but also, 2018 is the 900th anniversary of this particular building, and it seemed to be about the right timescale, because it’s giving us a seven-year run-up

Long-term thinking – sadly all-too rare in many areas of business – is perhaps more natural in an environment with such a long history. What’s most interesting here, however, is that the focus is firmly on the future. This is no fire-fighting exercise designed merely to preserve the past or keep roofs in good repair – although the Cathedral has had that to deal with, too.

My predecessor had to spend most of his time putting the place onto its feet structurally, getting the building restored, getting the finances straight, the infrastructure right and so on. But now it’s in a position to look outwards and get on with its job. That’s part of my brief – to develop the resources and skills that we have here, the things we felt we could share in particular, such as the Cathedral being a venue for the city and region. And we can tell our own story, sharing it more widely, helping raise the profile of the city.

What’s good for the city is good for business in the city, of course. Still, there may be those who wince at the idea of the Cathedral as a “venue”, or perhaps feel that the needs of business and the needs of the church are entirely opposed. Charles is keen to dispel such misconceptions. “There is a history of using large churches and cathedrals such as this in this way: the nave area would have been a public gathering space, sometimes a market, sometimes a forum…” What is being suggested, then, is not something revolutionary – it is simply restoring the Cathedral to its proper place at the heart of the community. The enhancement of the Cathedral as a venue will include improving access both physical and intellectual. By intellectual, I mean improved interpretation – how we tell the story about the heritage of Peterborough, the city, the community and so on, through the building”

It also includes some fairly mundane, but no less important improvements, such as better toilet  facilities for visitors, and a complete overhaul of the old sound system, which Charles describes as “steam-driven”. Phase One – the £100,000 installation of new speakers – has already been completed. “We’re about to embark on Phase Two. We’ve got about another £120,000 to spend to get that right, because if we’re going to host events people have got to be able to hear what’s going on.” Even at this early stage, the benefits have been felt. “Last year there were over 2,000 people in the building at eight o’clock on Christmas Eve – a family service. You could hear a pin drop because the sound was so accessible. It changed the atmosphere.”

And then there’s interpretation – how one tells the story of the heritage of the community. “We’ve got  a fixed exhibition which is a good example of its type, but it’s very dated and text-heavy – OK if you’ve got an hour or two to hang around and read, but if you want to whizz round quickly it’s no use at all.” They now have consultants working on that, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Tied in with all this is the experience the visitors get when they arrive in the Precincts, and a plan for new education facilities. “We have got an education centre out the back but it’s a converted ladder store – nicely done, but very small. So part of the strategy is to acquire from the Church Commissioners some of the houses on the main front of the Cathedral. Everything between the coffee shop and the arch we now own, and that will be the heart of our visitor and education work.”

Gradually, the grand plan – and its significance to the city – becomes clear.

Our aim is to double the number of schoolchildren from the region who come on visits. At the time we were planning what to develop, we were already getting 3,000 schoolchildren a year coming here. Then, 18 months ago, we employed a full-time Schools and Families Officer – a young deputy Head from one of the local primary schools. He knows the education system, knows the schools round here, and he’s already doubled the numbers to 6,000. But we’re aiming for 12,000

If you’re still wondering: “What’s this got to do with business in Peterborough?” Charles Taylor offers this: “12,000 kids a year coming in, mainly from outside the city – that’s two school coach drivers employed for a whole year. And if we can partner with, say Flag Fen and have schools coming out for the day visiting both, kids will go home, say what a great day they’ve had, and come back with 12,000 sets of parents…” Of course, they will want to buy food and drink, do some shopping while they’re here, and perhaps visit other local attractions – and the better and more welcoming the amenities, the more likely they are to return again and again.

Lincoln Cathedral had a study done a few years ago, on their impact on the local economy. Apart from the people they employed directly, the Cathedral’s activities generated the equivalent of six to eight hundred full-time jobs in the city. This is why the corporate partnership aspect is appealing to people

Something that has already proven its worth – and which uses the Cathedral as its venue – is the Heritage Festival. “It’s something we started a few years ago, attended initially by about three or four hundred people. Now it’s twenty-something thousand coming into the city. Shops in the square said their takings were up 10% this year compared to a normal June weekend, and that’s despite all the refreshment facilities provided within the festival itself. It’s just another example of how that sort of thing can knock on while still remaining faithful to what we’re here for, which is to share the story of the Christian community and its faith.”

The ongoing Campaign is not just about encouraging day trips, however. The Cathedral has long been a venue for sacred and choral music, and the Campaign will not only ensure this thrives, but is made accessible to more than ever before. “As we subsidise a new Key Stage 2 department at the King’s School, we can now offer chorister training for boys and girls from the age of seven. That means, irrespective of their parents’ financial means or background, they get the education at King’s. So we’ve now got 60 kids off the streets of Peterborough and the region, training, singing as professionals. And a new, fully staffed Community Music Centre will allow us to share our music more widely with the community, using our musicians to help others, enabling enthusiastic amateurs to sing with professionals, and so on”

Inspiring indeed.

And what about Charles Taylor’s inspiration? “It’s what the whole story of Jesus is about, really, about God coming to live in our midst as one of us, mucking in and living alongside. That’s what we are called to be as a Christian community: we are not apart, we are rolling up our sleeves and sorting things out.”

There is, of course, a long road ahead, with the fundraising going through various phases – but the Cathedral is perhaps better placed than most to take the long view. “Phase One was with major donors who are principally trusts and grant-making bodies. We’re now entering Phase Two, which is the corporate partnership. We feel there’s an interest now in Peterborough, in how the Cathedral and the city can work together, and we have a small team of local business leaders working on this.” One of those is Diligenta, Indian-owned and Hindu. It’s a clear recognition of the way the Cathedral contributes to the broader life of the city.

The Cathedral may have a rich past, but if there’s one thing it will not become, it seems, it’s a museum – something preserved, static, and unchanging.

For me, tradition and heritage are living things

says Charles Taylor.

We’re part of a continuing tradition, and we’re putting our chapter into it, but we’re not going to be the end of it. And the past is what makes you who you are, too. If you don’t look at your past or you deny it, you’re denying yourself. Peterborough, from that point of view, is an amazing city. The story of Peterborough is the story of incomers: the Bronze Age settlers, then the Romans… This place was founded by Northumbrians coming into the kingdom of Mercia. Then within 40 years of their arrival the Normans put up the present building. And Catherine of Aragon, one of the city’s most famous celebrities – where’s she from? Spain! Peterborough’s been built on cultural migration and literal migration, and that is part of its story, its tradition

For more information, go to:


Hegarty Solicitors is delighted to be supporting the Peterborough 900 campaign. The development of the new music and education centres, and the improvement of facilities for visitors to the Cathedral is an exciting project which will benefit the local community for years to come.

Andrew Heeler – Partner, Hegarty Solicitors

As a company we are keen to support local projects which will have a lasting impact on a large number of people. The Cathedral’s plan to increase their education facilities, as well as providing space for use by a range of community groups and charities fitted the bill perfectly. We are delighted to become involved

Peter Winslow – CEO, BGL Group

As business leaders we have a responsibility to support this inspirational Campaign and play our part in making it happen

Neil Darwin – Director of Economic Development, Opportunity Peterborough

 This project will give Peterborough an identity that other cities both in the region and indeed nationally will envy

Marco Cereste – Leader of Peterborough City Council

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