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St Edmundsbury Cathedral reveals its plan to tackle a £60,000 deficit

PUBLISHED: 08:00 16 February 2017

St Edmundsbury Cathedral. Picture: PHIL MORLEY

St Edmundsbury Cathedral. Picture: PHIL MORLEY

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St Edmundsbury Cathedral has revealed plans to curb a £60,000 budget deficit in the next three years – but has confirmed it will not start charging visitors to help balance the books.

The view of St Edmundsbury Cathedral's Labyrinth from the top of the tower. Picture: PHIL MORLEY The view of St Edmundsbury Cathedral's Labyrinth from the top of the tower. Picture: PHIL MORLEY

With the closure of its Edmund Gallery revealed last week by this newspaper, the cathedral has gone on to say the closure was part of a wider programme to wipe out the five-figure deficit by 2019.

“We’ve spoken with church commissioners and they understand the plan we’re putting together and we’re doing things to put the situation right,” said Tony Kimber, the cathedral’s commercial director. “We’re not just sitting on our hands wondering what we’re going to do.”

Visitor numbers

Last year saw an additional 9,000 visitors to the cathedral, yet astonishingly the amount received in donations dropped by nearly £10,000.

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh visit St Edmundsbury Cathedral for the historic Maundy Thursday distribution of Alms in 2009. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh visit St Edmundsbury Cathedral for the historic Maundy Thursday distribution of Alms in 2009. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

Mr Kimber said: “We’re very lucky with our congregation and are very grateful for what they give us. We rely on visitors and their donations. Our visitor numbers were up in 2016 but the average donation fell from 84p to 62p.”

In 2015, 71,000 visitors donated around £59,640, whereas in 2016 the 80,000 visitors gave £49,000.

It costs around £70 per hour to run the cathedral.

Deficit should be halved in 2018

St Edmundsbury Cathedral viewed from the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: PHIL MORLEY St Edmundsbury Cathedral viewed from the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: PHIL MORLEY

Apart from the closure of the gallery, the cathedral is hoping to make no further cuts but is instead planning on ways to bring in further income over the next few years.

With plans to let the gallery building to a commercial business expected to bring in around £10,000-£15,000 per year, and several events also planned for 2018, the cathedral has plans in place to balance the books.

Mr Kimber said it was too soon to give details on what these might entail.

“Part of our plan of going forward to reduce the deficit in 2018 is based on five major events booked that should bring in around £17,000,” he said, adding that with the predicted income from the former gallery building this would bring in the extra income necessary for 2018, when they hope to halve the deficit.

A viewpoint into the cathedral on the way up. Picture: PHIL MORLEY A viewpoint into the cathedral on the way up. Picture: PHIL MORLEY

St Edmundsbury will remain free for all

Many cathedrals charge for admission, including Ely, Canterbury, Winchester and York.

Nevertheless, while it has discussed the possibility of charging visitors, St Edmundsbury Cathedral will remain free of charge to all.

“It’s been through chapter on a couple of occasions and the chapter are adamant they won’t charge for admission. A church should be open to everyone,” said Mr Kimber.

The Abbey Gardens viewed from the top of the cathedral. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT The Abbey Gardens viewed from the top of the cathedral. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

Being less aspirational and more realistic

Joining the cathedral in 2015, Mr Kimber has had to take a hard look at the figures to balance the books for 2019.

He says the cathedral has to be more pragmatic, with a number of organisations facing cutbacks across the country.

“We realised there had been a lot of aspiration [in the past] and myself, our head of finance, finance committee and the chapter all agreed we should be less aspirational at the moment and look to be much more realistic,” he said of the decision to bring in a three-year plan.

The Norman Tower viewed from the top of St Edmundsbury Cathedral. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT The Norman Tower viewed from the top of St Edmundsbury Cathedral. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

A huge tourist attraction

The cathedral is also investing in the destination management organisation that has been recently created in Bury, designed to boost tourism in the town.

“For Bury, and for the non-religious part of Bury we’re a huge tourist attraction,” he said.

“From a pure religion side of things we bring an awful lot to a lot of people. They get the peace and tranquillity and spiritual setting of being here and a belief in God.

“We do everything we can to take that out into the diocese. We have an outreach project from here working with around 95% of the other churches within the diocese.”

The cathedral remains determined not to cut any jobs. It has 23 members of staff, equating to around 17 full-time staff.

A lean time

Asked if this was the trickiest financial time in the cathedral’s history, Mr Kimber replied: “There are always peaks and troughs. We’ve perhaps never been in this position before because the diocese has only been here 103 years. There have been lean times before and we’re in quite a deep lean time at the moment and are working through to get back. Generally we find it’s the support of the community that helps with that. We’re Suffolk’s cathedral and are open to everyone.”

He praised the cathedral’s 300 volunteers.

“We’re incredibly grateful to them,” he said. “They give their time and effort for nothing and are key for us carrying on.”

Email visits@stedscathedral.org to volunteer.

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