Thursday 22nd October 2020
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Words: Caroline Bingham
Featured in the November 2020 issue

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For the first time in over 40 years visitors to Lincoln Cathedral can now access the Dean’s Green. Caroline Bingham was given a tour of the landscaped garden as well as the renovated and newly created buildings of the Lincoln Cathedral Connected project.

I walked towards the West Front from Eastgate and took my first view of the garden and the impressive north facing aspect of the Cathedral, which is revealed now that the boarding has been removed.

I am one of the people who were more familiar with the Old Deanery when it was part of Lincoln Minster School and the Dean’s Green was the tarmac playground. Two years ago work began to improve the Cathedral’s setting and visitor experience – a Heritage Lottery Funded project to bring both social and economic benefits to the Cathedral and the city with more accessible and peaceful spaces as well as galleries, education centre, meeting rooms, larger café and shop.

My guides were the two people most instrumental in overseeing the delivery of the project, Subdean The Reverend Canon John Patrick and programme manager Dr Anne Irving. We began with a visit to the garden, which was looking pristine in autumn sunlight. Neil Swanson of Manchester based Landscape Projects has designed a ‘curvaceous’ garden whose arcing borders, box hedging, pathways and furniture reflect the circularity of the Dean’s Eye stained glass window.

“We have been delighted that the garden is already drawing so many visitors into the Cathedral precinct,” said Anne. “The space is inviting but the backdrop of the Cathedral takes people by surprise. The limestone water fountain, with its hidden Lord Tennyson poem, first draws the eye but they then explore further, seeing two distinct sides to our stone statue if they take a seat on the high backed, semi-circular oak bench.”

The garden successfully mixes elements of both formal and drift planting. “Box hedging defines some of the boundaries while flower beds and lawned areas shape others. Planting has been chosen to be serene and self-sustaining. We have been told it will take about three years for the garden to mature sufficiently to reflect Neil’s vision,” said the Subdean.

This new space will be an ideal venue for open air events in the future and visitors can see and get close to the Wren Library doorway and Dean’s entrance to the Cathedral, which are both within the Dean’s Green.

We crossed the terraced area, which will provide an outdoor seating area for the new café, and entered the three ‘L’ shaped rooms which are its indoor space. The high ceilings, large windows and period features of this heritage building have been restored to a high specification, but it is newly created views of parts of the main Cathedral building which surprise and delight. In places there are panoramas; in others perhaps a glass atrium roof will focus your eye on intricate medieval carving on the spires of the central tower.

Architects Simpson and Brown of Edinburgh have incorporated contemporary materials to sympathetically blend with the lead and original fabric of the Cathedral. Examples can be seen on the dark zinc roof and wall panels of the new buildings connecting the Cloister to the Old Deanery. The exterior wall of the largest exhibition space is a laser cut metal feature in itself, giving a hint to the art and displays within. Main contractor, William Birch & Sons of York, has worked throughout to the highest possible specification, in keeping with the Cathedral as a world-class heritage site. The whole project has cost £16 million, of which £12.4 million came from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the remainder from fundraising. Significant individual donations were also received including one from the David P J Ross Foundation.

“Our first application to the HLF in 2003 was declined,” said Anne, “which was hugely disappointing at the time but it made us go back to reconsider aspects which now are some of the most pleasing, challenging us to make the site even more accessible and in keeping with the Cathedral as a place of worship, hospitality and welcome. We forged a very creative and fruitful relationship with HLF who pushed us to make sure the outcome was as community friendly as possible. An additional lift and a Changing Places disabled facility are just two of these benefits which were not included in the first bid and the scheme has been delivered considerably under the £25 million original estimate.”

The new Cathedral LED floodlighting is one of the features of the scheme which city and county communities have already taken to their hearts. The Cathedral was bathed in blue light to honour the NHS and in green to recognise care workers during lockdown, sending a powerful message in colour from the county’s most famous and cherished landmark.

I asked Anne and John, what were their landmark moments during the last two years of highs – and a few lows too?

“There have been tears on occasions,” said Anne, “but we had an original ‘wish list’ and now as we look back it is immensely satisfying how much of that list we can tick and which are even better than we dared to hope.”

“For me, receiving the news of our HLF grant was so significant,” said John. “I was on holiday in Denmark when Anne rang me, so it is a call I will never forget. Another occasion was when all the archaeology was complete and we stood as concrete was poured into the footprint for the new buildings. We went from a muddy hole full of archaeologists to a construction site and buildings in a short time.”

“Most recently,” added Anne, “June 25th was the day the team from William Birch handed the buildings over to us. The quality and level of detail they have achieved is wonderful. I still notice aspects of where they have gone above and beyond to combine heritage features with natural elements of wood and pleasingly tactile finishes.”

The Old Deanery will become the Cathedral’s new state-of-the-art visitor centre when it opens in summer 2021. As well as offering a welcoming social space, there are community rooms, exhibition and learning spaces from which a varied programme of activities for schools will be run, as well as family-friendly events. One of the first major events will be the Flower Festival – Vision 2021 (see below for details).

The Dean’s Green, which is accessed from Minster Yard, is open Monday to Saturday 10am-4pm and Sunday 11am-4pm. www.lincolncathedral.com

Tickets for Flower Festival – Vision 2021 – now on sale

From Thursday 29th July to Monday 2nd August 2021, visitors will be able to enjoy more than 130 spectacular arrangements in the stunning setting of Lincoln Cathedral. The theme for the flower festival is ‘Vision’ and the displays will celebrate the life and vision of St Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln from 1200 to 1220, who was responsible for the rebuilding of Lincoln Cathedral following an earthquake in 1185.

Other notable visionaries who have made a significant impact on Lincolnshire and beyond will also feature in the stunning floral creations, with displays covering the arts, film, fashion, history, world exploration and more; there will be something for everyone, from the Pilgrim Fathers’ journey to the New World, to Harry Potter.

A special preview evening will take place on Wednesday 28th July, when visitors can enjoy drinks and canapés whilst getting the exclusive opportunity to see the beautiful blooms on display before the event opens to the public.

Visitors are also invited to a ‘Musical Meander’ on Friday 30th July which will include musical accompaniment from a selection of talented musicians and tour around the Cathedral for guests to take in the colourful arrangements and learn about the themes behind them.

Adult £15, concessions £13.50, group (10+) £12.75, under 16 – FREE. Tickets to the preview evening on Wednesday 28th July will be £25 which includes drinks and canapés, and entry to the Musical Meander on Friday 30th July will be £30.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.lincolncathedral.com, or by calling 01522 561612.

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