Impressive progress for Project Pilgrim
An ambitious £6m programme of capital development, regeneration and community engagement, Project Pilgrim is making good progress at Gloucester’s historic and beautiful Cathedral, which has been a place of Christian worship for 1,300 years.
Osric, an Anglo-Saxon prince, founded a religious house on the site in 678-9 AD, after which it became home to a monastery, with construction of the magnificent abbey church, which so impresses the visitor today, commencing in 1089.
Although all periods of medieval church architecture are represented at Gloucester Cathedral, its two main building phases – Romanesque and Perpendicular, are of outstanding interest and importance.
Main contractors for Project Pilgrim are Ellis & Co and idverde.
The project includes wide-ranging internal and external works, and according to project manager for the scheme Anne Cranston “is a very important part of the renaissance of the city of Gloucester.”
She added: “This is a very ambitious project to conserve parts of Gloucester Cathedral and to welcome our visitors more effectively, as well as to strengthen our links into the city.”
A key element of the scheme involves major internal and external conservation and restoration works to the stunning 15th century Lady Chapel, identified as the most ‘at risk’ area of the cathedral.
In addition to conservation work, the project includes major improvements to access, elements geared to ‘welcome’ visitors and the formation of a wonderful new green public space on a former car park immediately outside the cathedral.
Internal works include the installation of a new glass entrance lobby and glass cloister door; the creation of a new ‘Welcome Area’ incorporating a beautiful glass model of the Cathedral tower to help visitors find their way around the building, and the installation of a new purpose-built shop on the north side of the nave.
“In addition to the works being carried out by the main contractors, our own stonemason team are continuing their work on the conservation of the external fabric of the building. The project also includes the introduction of a new visitor interpretation scheme, including a series of information hubs positioned throughout the cathedral that will also help tell many stories of the building’s history.”
Internal works include ensuring that the Lady Chapel is fully accessible by removing a pillar which was obstructing the entrance and levelling the floor; installing a new lintel; making the space warmer and more comfortable by upgrading heating; providing a new lighting scheme; cleaning all the stonework and stained glass windows; improving ventilation within the space, fitting new furniture and installing a new sound system.
In addition, numerous works are geared to improving accessibility throughout the Cathedral site, including the installation of level access to the west door, together with the introduction of tactile paving to ensure that all who enter the space can navigate their way through it.
Other access improvements include the introduction of an automatic door opening from the south porch into the nave; the replacement of all existing ramps with ones able to accommodate larger mobility chairs, and the installation of two new user-operated lifts in the north transept and the north ambulatory.
These new elements are being augmented with a permanent ramp from the north ambulatory into the quire, meaning that those who rely on wheelchairs for independent movement will be able to worship in the quire at Gloucester Cathedral – without the need for assistance – for the first time in the Cathedral’s history.
Externally, works to the external walls of the Lady Chapel include major repairs to specific parts of the masonry; the conservation and restoration of existing stone, and repointing.
Other external works include the creation of a new Cathedral Green, to provide a fitting setting that not only enhances the building, but provides a green space within the city to host a range of exciting new events and activities.
Designed to offer an improved ‘welcome’ to all and encourage more people to enjoy the space, this re-landscaping includes the creation of a beautiful green space abundant in rich planting, combined with hard landscaping.
On an environmentally friendly note, in November 2016, Gloucester Cathedral became the first ancient cathedral to install solar panels with and array of 150 panels on the south side of the nave roof, providing 25% of the Cathedral’s electricity.
Anne Cranston continued: “Currently we are very near to completion of the landscaping works, with the main internal works being handed over in stages up to the third week in November. Our own stonemasons will continue into early 2018 and the interpretation scheme will be ready for visitors by April 2018.
“We truly believe that this is a ‘once-in-a-generation’ opportunity for the Cathedral, conserving its magnificent heritage and looking to the future by attracting visitors – whether they are interested in heritage or worship. Alongside welcoming more of our usual visitors, the project is also geared to attracting those who may not have previously come to the Cathedral, including local residents who can enjoy the new landscaped area.
“I consider myself incredibly lucky to be involved in this project. My background is in community engagement and regeneration so I am very interested in how places and people interact. For me this project is a very important part of the renaissance of the city of Gloucester – it is both ambitious and forward-thinking and I believe that the Cathedral has a key role to play in the future of the city.”
Andy Dalgarno of Ellis & Co said: “We specialise in the conservation and restoration of ancient buildings and monuments ranging from chapels, churches and cathedrals such as Truro, Bristol and of course Gloucester, and monuments of all sizes. We employ a wide range of skilled craftsman who, through experience and training, have the techniques and knowhow to work on such historically important buildings.
“We have worked with the project/design team before on different projects, so this always helps when being asked to carry out such complex works in historic surroundings.
“One of the biggest challenges with this type of project is integrating the new elements within the historic fabric, but we are experienced in this field and have very skilful craftsman to carry out the works required. Working within a cathedral with its many services and events can also be challenging, but with careful and considerate liaison we can overcome this.”
Melinda Blakemore of idverde, the principal contractor for the external works package, said: “We specialise in the delivery of soft and hard landscaping projects throughout the UK, and when our South West landscaping team discovered the project was out to tender they became very excited at the prospect of delivering such a transformational scheme at such a prestigious and historic site.
“Challenges of the project included the fact that the works have been subject throughout to a full-time archaeological watching brief, with a team of archaeologists working side-by-side with idverde.
“Also with a site of such historical and religious importance, it has been crucial for our teams to plan works sensitively, as the cathedral must remain open at all times.
“The scale of ambition for Project Pilgrim as a whole is huge, and the team behind it are totally dedicated to achieving the vision for the cathedral.
“The external landscaping package is just one element of this vision, but its impact on how the cathedral is visited and on whom it attracts should be transformational.”