Heritage & Culture

Spiritual Capital

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In September 2012, Peterborough Cathedral – set to celebrate its 900th anniversary in 2018 – formally launched the corporate phase of its Peterborough 900 Campaign, which included provision of improved access, better venue facilities, new interpretation within the building, a new Heritage and Education Centre and a Cathedral and Community Music School. Toby Venables talks to Charles Taylor, Dean of Peterborough about how the campaign is going, and what it can offer Peterborough

When we last spoke, in November 2012, Peterborough 900 had just launched it Corporate Partnership Programme, and the campaign as a whole was just over a year old. How have things moved on?
In autumn 2013, we announced that the Heritage Lottery Fund were awarding us up to £2.6million, for the visitor interpretation and education centre. How that has a knock-on effect for the local economy is good news. It’s not cash in our lap, unfortunately – the way it works is that at each phase of the project they reimburse the bills, so we still have to find about £800,000 of that to be able to complete the lot. But the good news is that phase one of that work will be starting in August this year, so people will actually see spades in the ground as we revamp and re-landscape the approach to the Cathedral from Cathedral Square right through to the main door, dropping the kerbs and sloping up the path so it meets the top step of the porch. That gives us the new slogan ‘step-free from the station to the sanctuary’! That should be done in time for Christmas.  It will give a more natural connection with the city and its environment, rather than that great northern arch appearing as a kind of blockade, with a complete new entrance to the Cathedral, a new porch inside, so the big medieval doors can be open, and people can see they’re open and feel more invited just to wander in.

Its been extremely encouraging the way business has seen the connection between the Cathedral and the life of the city

When they get in, there’s phase two which will start after Christmas – the new interpretation, which should be done by the following summer. So, things will be visible – as well as audible! When we spoke last time we’d only completed half the sound system and now we’ve done the lot, so the building is much more accessible and usable as a venue. One implication of this for local business is that in September this year, Opportunity Peterborough will be having its annual Bondholder’s dinner in the Cathedral. We’ve said before about the Cathedral being an icon, and if you want to attract new business and investment into Peterborough and the region, then you’ve got to show them something more that just new housing. So, we’re actually going to have those businesspeople and their clients and guests sit down to dinner in the nave of Cathedral itself. That’s one way that the partnership has been developing over the past 18 months. We’re now up to around 50 businesses signed up as corporate partners, and its been extremely encouraging, the way business has seen the connection between the Cathedral and the life of the city, including its commercial life.

Once they realise that it relates to a region, and not just a city or a city centre, then you can see the antennae begin to quiver!

How do you personally go about the business of attracting businesses, and how do they respond?
As an example, last night I was out at Normanton, at Rutland Water, meeting potential business partners in the Rutland area, and Stamford, who look to Peterborough as an economic hub. Obviously I have various pieces of literature telling them all about it, but I give them a short run-down on the origins of the campaign and why it’s good for the region and local community, and they tend to get it. Once they realise that this relates to a region, and not just a city or a city centre, then you can see the antennae begin to quiver!

I think when people see the Cathedral for themselves, they understand its significance – and its continuing potential – but is it an issue of getting them to see it in the first place?
It’s an issue of the marketing, and its not always been easy in the past to have a joined up approach. There has been some research done by a group called Theos, and the Grubb Institute produced a piece called ‘Spiritual Capital’ about the life of cathedrals. We’re used to the phrase ‘social capital’, how each community has its own capital that makes it what it is, and that can be of value to others. Cathedrals have a kind of bridging capital as well, which brings different communities together. In that research they talk to people who visit cathedrals, and it’s a whole range – not just church-minded people, or even historically-minded people. Quite a high proportion are atheists, for example. So there’s an awful lot to discover in there, for people who might come with one motive – ‘Let’s look at this museum’ kind of thing – and actually come out with a transformed vision.

We’re very much in a visual age, long pieces of written text are not necessarily the way to communicate a story

The improved interpretation is intended to help, by providing people with a kind of intellectual access – ‘intellectual’ not being the same thing as ‘academic’. Something that engages their minds but in a contemporary way. We’re very much in a visual age, long pieces of written text are not necessarily the way to communicate a story. We’re still in the design phase of that, but it will be state-of- the-art interpretation, including some interactive stuff in the Heritage Centre.

The Cathedral has expanded its range of events over the past couple of years – is this something you want to see more of, its use as a venue?
It is growing, and it’s something we want to grow more, though we need to keep it within our capacity, both in terms of staffing and our core purpose, which is daily worship. That remains the heartbeat, really – if we lose that we lose our raison d’être. Part of our music department’s point is to enhance that, but we have been doing quite a bit more, and in the past year have really opened that up, doing a couple of live recitals on BBC radio, for example. But it’s not just that – it’s also music by the community that we want to encourage, and we’re working on a project at the moment that brings together the music department of an independent… [cont]

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