Making Sacred Space Common Ground

Posted on: August 9th, 2019

We’ve started!

It’s been all systems go since we got permission to start the Cathedral’s redevelopment project on 15 May. It has taken a little bit of time to get our heads around the enormity of the task ahead, but Cathedral staff are brilliant at responding to project demands whilst still getting on with the day job.

New faces on the Board

The Project Delivery Board has now been formally established with some new faces from NE1, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums and Newcastle City Council joining representatives of NGI, the Newcastle Cathedral Trust and of course the Cathedral Chapter. We’re now busy setting up the project team and after a successful recruitment drive are looking forward to two new project staff joining the Cathedral in August. Rachael Rickwood will be our Learning and Activities Officer. She comes from BALTIC where she worked in exhibitions, art installations, early years and youth activity programmes. She also has experience as a secondary school Art teacher. Lucy Cooke will join us as Volunteer Coordinator. She currently works as Volunteer Coordinator for the National Trust and was formerly Volunteer Coordinator for ten years at Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. Both posts are demanding roles that are key to expanding our community engagement. We are sure everyone will give them both a big welcome when they arrive in August. We’re also about to appoint a freelancer to coordinate a newly established Heritage Forum which will anchor the Cathedral in NewcastleGateshead’s heritage tourism scene.


There has also been a lot of work with our volunteers capably supported by Canon Jean Skinner and Dave Heslop. We held a very well attended training day on 23 May for welcomers and chaplains. This had a talk on Housing and Homelessness in Newcastle where we learned that against a backdrop of 169% rise in rough sleeping since 2010 nationally, Newcastle City Council has prioritised tackling this issue and how our volunteers can signpost people who need help.

We also had a short demonstration of the lone working alarms by Canon Jean Skinner.

An excellent “Monuments and Windows” tour by Pam Walker followed allowing our volunteers to feel better equipped to tell visitors about the history of the Cathedral and the people commemorated within it.

This inspired several volunteers to look at taking on tour guide roles, which will be incredibly useful as we start to advertise these later in the project. We’re also hoping volunteers will get involved when we re-open the Lantern Tower and run some small public events and schools’ outreach during the autumn. If you think you could help, we’d love to hear from you.

The project will expand our volunteer numbers from around 85-90 to 185 with eleven project-specific roles, so we are pleased that we have had five new volunteers already sign up before we even start to recruit in earnest. As we begin to monitor the contribution from these volunteers, we are seeing that in June alone we had the equivalent of 25 working days contributed and that is only in the roles we have established monitoring on.

We have started looking at the stories we want to tell about the people buried here – the Cathedral reflecting the city and its citizens from past to present. Our Community History group are looking at the stories held within the collection of ledger stones – what is thought of as tombstones in the floor (although the bones have long since been moved). Our history advisory panel includes historians, archivists, educator and archaeologist. They get very excited when discussing, for example, the Cathedral’s links to the River Tyne and the power of the pressgang master buried here, or the roles of surgeon and body snatcher in pursuit of medical knowledge and scientific advancement!  It will be so important for our interpretation designers to understand not only the past but also about the working life of a busy cathedral in a bustling city centre that rarely rests and work towards achieving a balance between spiritual and tourist needs and expectations.

Building plans

The Design Team, led by Purcell Architects, has reconvened to progress detailed program planning and design for building works. This relates to underfloor heating and a new floor in the nave, a new East entrance plus visitor facilities and a volunteers’ centre below Cathedral Hall, and re-landscaped churchyards. So, plenty to consider, and to top that off they also have the tricky issues of asbestos in the basement, damp in the chair store, consideration for fire evacuation and rats in the churchyard! We’re working fast to appoint several companies to bring additional expertise in retail fit-out, audio-visual and IT services, wayfinding signage, and creative marketing as well as exhibition design. Did we mention there was a lot to get your head around!

The news is getting out there

There’s been a lot of interest in the project which has helped us to attract excellent new people and a wide range of interest in our invitation to tender for creative marketing and a new website. This was no doubt down to widespread interest in our exciting news by local and regional media with our Marketing and Communications Manager, Catherine Mair, doing a marvellous job spreading the word about the Cathedral’s ambitious plans. On ‘announcement day’, Monday 13 May, our story featured on BBC Look North, BBC Radio Newcastle and ITV Tyne Tees. We featured on the front page of The Journal and in The Chronicle and secured a fabulous five-page spread in the July issue of Living North, the highest-circulating regional magazine for the North East. If you haven’t seen it, please click the link below to download a digital copy. There was also extensive coverage online and on social media, locally and nationally!

Join in the fun

We are starting to look at providing more activities and events as part of the four-year activity plan, and as our team swells, we will start to look at working with more schools, community groups, and our heritage venue partners.

This started with The Late Shows with The Shakespeare Club Gathering in the Crypt. The followed weekend we hosted an excellent exhibition from Whickham Photographic Club.

Our PhD student Shaun Cutler has been exploring the idea of a Lantern Tower Light Show with the thought being that during carefully chosen winter evenings the tower will stage a mini performance of the Siege of Newcastle 1644.

Shaun wants to use the tale that when the Scottish army threatened to blow up the then Church using a cannon, the mayor Sir John Marley put his Scottish prisoners in the lantern tower, saving it from destruction. Shaun is investigating a performance that could end with the Newcastle Cathedral Doves swooping the Tower and Cathedral emphasising the Lantern tower at the heart of Newcastle’s historic quarter: a limited and short show as a must see event – like the practice runs you may have been lucky enough to see.

Also we had quite a coo when Games of Thrones came to the Cathedral and all that was in May alone!

For more information please see our website, or get in touch with Lindy Gilliland or Alice Massey on: