THE DEAN WRITES…
Slowly, but definitely, the summer draws to a close and long days begin to shorten. I hope that you have found at least some time to enjoy warmer weather and for refreshment. My mind’s eye seems to recall longer summers of the past that were both more blessed with sunshine and where the pace of life slowed to a gentle amble. More than likely that memory is probably infused with a large dose of nostalgia and I am reminded all too often of the quip,
‘These are the good old days – just you wait and see!’
It is not hard to see just how true that adage might be as I reflect on all that has been happening recently in the life of the Cathedral. To be sure summer at the Cathedral this year has not been quiet, slow or restful, rather full, fast and exhilarating. As we move into autumn I wanted to write to bring you up to date, a little, with all that has been happening. So, if you will, please fasten your seatbelts (and have your hard hat ready) and I will take you on a whistle-stop tour of summer living, Cathedral style:
Firstly, we have been able to recruit some welcome additions to our staff team. In August Rachael Rickwood and Lucy Cooke joined the staff.
Lucy comes to us with great experience in the National Trust and Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. As our Volunteer Co-ordinator she will be working hard over the next three years to bring some much-needed cohesion to the way we recruit, deploy, train and support volunteers throughout the life of the Cathedral. It’s a challenging area of our present life and will be crucial to the future. Among her targets is the task of helping us recruit a further hundred people to double the number of Cathedral volunteers. It’s great to see her energy already at work among us.
Rachael was busy working at the Baltic Arts Centre when we enticed her over the water to join us as the Learning and Activities Officer for the Cathedral. Rachael is going to be helping us widen our reach to different groups of visitors, encouraging them not just to cross the threshold but participate and engage with the Cathedral and its heritage. We are looking forward to having Rachael’s skills and experience among us. The third new post-holder is Elanor Johnson. Her task is very focussed and she has only a few hours a week to undertake her work. Elanor will be helping the Cathedral play a role in bringing together other heritage locations in the city into a supportive forum, The Newcastle Gateshead Heritage Forum.
It has been great to welcome these new additions to our Staff, and all are thankfully paid for by our grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. In August we were also able to announce the appointment of our second Commissioner’s Canon, the Rev’d Peter Dobson.
Peter is at present Vicar of St Peter’s Monkseaton and will join us at our Patronal Festival on 7 December at 11am. Peter is an exceptional Priest and we look forward to harnessing his enthusiasm, compassion and sharp, prayerful reflection for the Cathedral’s mission. He will not only bring his skill and prayerful insight to us, and we hope enjoy the fun of our teamwork, but without much effort drop our age profile.
Meanwhile as well as appointing staff there has been huge amounts of work emanating from our ‘project team’. The Design Team, which brings together Architects, Quantity Surveyors, Landscape Designers, construction teams and engineers has been putting together the tender documents for the proposed construction work. We have a good number of construction companies who are now in the lengthy process of tendering for the work and at the same time all the final permissions are being sought from local and national bodies. This is a major undertaking in a very tight time scale: getting everything as near right as possible is a real challenge, from lighting fittings, and toilet bowls to positions of plug sockets, it’s all in there! The final interviews will take place in early November.
At the same time, we have been appointing a number of significant consultants/contractors:
• We have now agreed a provider to design and deliver a new Cathedral website. We look forward to their creative expertise building a new platform for our presence on the World Wide Web.
• We have appointed a creative design company to develop the creative content for our marketing campaigns and interior and exterior signage. We loved their ideas and look forward to seeing them developed into a reality.
• We have appointed an interpretation design team. This team look set to offer us a very creative way to help visitors engage with the Cathedral fabric and heritage. As part of the process we asked them to tell us how they would help us create a ‘wow’ factor. They responded (but I’m not giving away any secrets as yet) and are a very talented and enthusiastic group.
• We are working with a retail designer to look at the proposed retail/refreshment area in the Cathedral.
Not part of The National Lottery Heritage Fund grant, yet very much entwined in its delivery and the outcomes it is designed to achieve, we have also been busy:
• We have looked carefully at the Audio Visual (sound and sight) equipment needed to improve what we do. We have drawn up the specifications and are working with The Cathedral Trust to see how this can be delivered.
• We have put some better infrastructure capacity into the computer systems and developed plans for a more integrated computer/phone system.
• We have reviewed Fire Alarm arrangements to make sure they all connect well and are extended to the new areas designed in the construction plan.
• We have looked at the Cathedral lighting system and now have identified some clear options for improvement.
So, just a brief note about time scales and planning for the new year. If all goes to plan the main contractors will come on site at the very beginning of January in the New Year. The first task will be to deal with asbestos in the Hall basement. Then work will begin in earnest in the Cathedral, the Hall and the Churchyard and last for just over a year. During this time the use of the Cathedral will be restricted but we hope that we will not need to close the Cathedral fully at any point. The Nave, of course will be closed for the whole period. We will have to work flexibly with the construction contractors and the architect to make the best use of accessible areas without hindering the progress of the works. I don’t think that this is going to be a straightforward or easy task and it will be important for us to learn how to be as flexible and patient as possible – now there’s a spiritual task for 2020. I’m personally looking forward to meeting a patient Geoff Miller, so is my wife!
During the year of ‘works’ we have some exciting ideas for keeping people informed and for opening up those parts of the Cathedral we can in different ways. Not least we are hoping there will be an archaeological dig (under the Nave floor) and that on some set days the Cathedral Archaeologist will take tours around the site to explain what the student archaeologists have found or are looking for. Perhaps, I should save more details for a future letter.
Amid all this planning, life in the Cathedral has been as busy as ever. The choir goes from strength to strength for which we are all so very grateful. Weekly organ recitals, Choral Evensong every weekday, planned concerts make for an inspiring programme. In recent months we have been privileged to host some major events: Ordinations, a service for those attending Newcastle Pride, Remembering Srebrenica, the Artists in Recovery (AiR) exhibition, London Concertante, visits from the Dean of More and then a further group of Clergy from the More Diocese, a Celebration of Women’s Ordination to the Priesthood, Traidcraft 40 years celebration, Heritage Open Days Weekend, the new Merchant Quarter Revival: Bakers, Makers and Shakers festival, ‘Dare You Climb the Tower?’ Tours… the list goes on and on.
In the next couple of months, we will host the annual Letters Patent Service; a White Ribbon event, and a Celebration for Citizens Advice Bureau. Then we will begin the special Christmas events which need a dedicated newsletter just to list them. I note with some irony that one great Cathedral has recently placed a helter-skelter in its nave as an art installation.
In the next couple of months, we will host the annual Letters Patent Service; a White Ribbon event, and a Celebration for Citizens Advice Bureau. Then we will begin the special Christmas events which need a dedicated newsletter just to list them. I note with some irony that one great Cathedral has recently placed a helter-skelter in its nave as an art installation. I like to muse that Newcastle has put all its staff and friends on a metaphorical fast-moving helter-skelter that seems to have no end in sight – and what a journey it is. Realising that life is busy and about to get busier we are hoping to issue a more regular (weekly?) Bulletin from October so that we will be able to have a nimble conduit for up to date information that is easily accessible.
However, more important than all this is that day in day out this Cathedral of ours is grounded by prayer and is open to welcome all who come in for a smile, or a listening ear, a concerned conversation, a moment of reflection, and so often a simple cup of tea. All in the name of Christ.
I hope this is enough to keep you informed. I am acutely aware that there is so much more I could tell you. There is probably much more that you could tell me. Space doesn’t allow us to share, at least in this format the personal stories that inspire me and energise me to keep on keeping on. There are many, so many. Perhaps a coffee together at some point might be good?
The Very Revd Geoff Miller, Dean of Newcastle
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