This Project sprang from very modest beginnings, namely that the toilet facilities were inadequate both for staff and visitors, and that the introduction of a girls’ choir to complement the boys, produced problems of space for practice and for robing before services.
The decision to embark on a comprehensive programme to cure all ills and enter a vibrant 21st century, was a brave and imaginative one, which required meticulous planning to enable the cathedral to function as normal throughout the building period.
The works department was the first to be relocated and built, with, for the first time, proper custom built workshops, stores, a mess room and the office of the Clerk of the Works all planned as an integral unit.
This then enabled the freed space to become the site of a music and education block, known as the Friends Building, since the Friends of the Cathedral took over the entire financing of this part; a truly heroic gesture of support.
For the first time the choir has proper practice rooms, places to robe, a superb music library and secure toilet facilities for all children, including visiting schools.
The education department now has a dedicated space to use for workshops, for talks and for all activities centred round the cathedral as an historical and learning space. Over 8000 children visit each year on organised trips alone. They will benefit enormously from these new facilities, where before there was only ingenuity and improvisation to make their visits memorable.
Not all the buildings in this project are new. The octagonal undercroft, below the Chapter House, was originally the strong room or treasury of the cathedral but over the centuries was increasingly used as a storage place, cluttered up with tables, chairs and all kinds of furniture and staging. New purpose built storage space was constructed and the undercroft was restored to its historic rugged beauty.
This is now an interpretation centre, designed to be accessible to people of all ages. There are things to touch, such as the different stones used in the building of the cathedral, many artefacts which have played their part in different centuries and interactive displays. Links can be found to music, education and the medieval library, so that those who cannot access the spiral staircase which leads up to the library, may have a taste of what it contains.
The fourth area of construction was another new building, which is surrounded by a small cloister leading from the new entrance porch to the cathedral by way of an ancient newly re-opened ‘Pilgrims’ Porch’ and the medieval west cloister. The shop and restaurant have been moved out of the cloisters into light and airy new premises. The cloisters themselves are now restored to their original use, that of an ambulatory where, in tranquillity, people can walk and ponder on all they have seen.