By The Very Revd Jonathan Greener, Dean of Exeter
Exeter Cathedral is one of Europe’s great medieval cathedrals; the most significant building in Devon. But it needs urgent investment to safeguard our heritage and improve our welcome. The Cathedral, its stories and many treasures belong to the people of Devon, but we are currently failing to receive and engage them effectively.
People are unable to use and understand the building because our facilities are failing and our interpretation is inadequate and outdated. This project will bring new and different people through our doors, address many problems in the East End and the adjoining Chapter House, interpret these parts of the building afresh, and improve the visitor experience. The new cloister gallery will improve access for all to disparate parts of the building, and enable our treasures to be displayed so new people can discover and enjoy their heritage.
We love our visitors and volunteers, but we would like to broaden our demographic — we long to reach out to new people, especially those who think this cathedral is not for them, and let them experience its mystery, its wellbeing and its beauty.
It doesn’t take long for someone coming to the Cathedral to experience the problems we plan to address:
- Our lighting has been condemned. It doesn’t work for visitors or users, and offers nothing to display and interpret the heritage.
- Our heating is failing at ground level, and is damaging the 14th century high-level stonework.
- Our WCs are woeful, and very difficult to access.
- Our 50 exquisite 13th century misericord seats in the quire (probably the most significant set in the world) are in peril; it will be wonderful to conserve them, and watch people enjoy discovering them and the stories they tell about medieval Exeter.
And the opportunity is now…
His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales has agreed to be Patron of our appeal — and we are seeking support from both the UK and overseas.
We have a Round 1 grant from the National Lottery, which is allowing us to develop our building plans and our activities, ready to apply for a full grant in 2021.
We have a specialist team raring to go, though some key experts are past retirement age. Starting the project now will provide succession training for these vital roles. Delay will cause further deterioration to the fabric, and further increase our costs, reducing our chances of addressing these acute problems and our ability to hand on the Cathedral in good order for the next generation.
We have consulted with, and are developing partnerships with, a wide range of organisations to make the Cathedral more inclusive and allow people from across Devon and farther afield to appreciate and ‘own’ their cathedral, Devon’s greatest building.
We’re working with partners across the city, England’s newest UNESCO City of Literature, to share the wonders of the 10th century Exeter Book and the other 50,000 historical items in our Library and Archives to support the city’s cultural strategy and increase tourism.
We are partnering with our Cathedral Music Trust to increase their endowment, and safeguard for the long term our world-class choral tradition: with sung services 7 days a week, and a choir that is the pride of Devon.
The physical size of the Cathedral means we cannot address all our fabric issues in one go — because of cost, and the need for business continuity. We spent 18 months exploring options for dividing the work into logical and manageable phases. The first phase will renew the Chapter House and the Quire and much of the East End. The proposed work will help to reduce our environmental footprint, and create a more resilient and sustainable organisation. Once this is complete, we shall turn our attention to the entrances, the nave and the other Cathedral buildings.
This project is full of ambitious plans to remedy years of neglect. It will be truly transformational.