Despite the absence of visitors due to lockdown restrictions, Exeter Cathedral has become a socially-distanced hive of activity as archaeologists, renovation experts and heritage building specialists set to work on a programme of essential restoration and improvements. As the Cathedral’s Clerk of Works, Chris Sampson explains:
“Everyone at the Cathedral is sad to have had to close the doors to our local community, visitors and worshippers, because those people are the reason we are here in the first place.”
“But in normal times, gaining the necessary access to carry out essential projects is much more of a challenge, because we’re continually working around a packed schedule of services, visitors, tours and community groups. So, working with strict coronavirus safety measures in place, this lockdown is at least an opportunity for us to speed up progress on some essential projects. And we’re making improvements that will be to everyone’s benefit in the future.”
One of the main areas of activity this month is the Cathedral’s 13th century Chapter House building, which would typically be in daily use for a variety of events and community initiatives, such as Wednesday Kitchen, which provides weekly hot meals to the local homeless community.
The Cathedral’s plans to make better use of the historic building, which is situated at the far side of the Cloister Garden, include the installation of a new underfloor heating system. The project – which has been supported with a £50,000 grant from funding group Viridor Credits, and additional funding from Exeter-based plastic film materials firm Packexe – begins with lifting the existing stone floor and removing an old, broken heating system which was installed 50 years ago. As part of this process, archaeologists will also be examining the soil below the floor, which is known to have once formed part of the Bishop’s garden.
Viridor Credits’ General Manager, Alison Salvador, sees the project as an important improvement:
“We are delighted to be supporting this work at Exeter Cathedral’s Chapter House. We feel it is work that will bring real benefit to the people of Exeter, by improving a well-used community hub, and also by preserving an incredibly important and much-loved feature of this city’s fascinating history.”
It is support that has been warmly welcomed by the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral. For the Dean of Exeter, The Very Revd Jonathan Greener, the Chapter House has long been a top priority in the Cathedral restoration and development plans:
“We wanted to use this time in lockdown to focus on the Chapter House first, because it’s an important asset for the whole community of Exeter, in the very heart of Exeter. It’s a great space for meetings, with plenty of room to allow physical-distancing, serving so many people in different ways. So we’re extremely grateful to the organisations and individuals who have helped to fund this project in such difficult times.”