York Minster Revealed
In 2005, York Minster began to consider the conservation of the Great East Window, dating from the early 15th century and the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the country.
Once the final panes of glass are restored to their original positions in 2018, they will have completed the restoration, drawing to a close what became a much wider reaching project with a huge impact on the minster as an organisation.
Vision and project summary
The desire to preserve the glass and stonework of the window led to the design of a much larger, multi-faceted, project.
As well as the conservation objectives, the project aimed to: provide apprenticeships in craft skills; improve intellectual and physical access to the cathedral and its collections; provide new facilities to enhance visitor experience, and redisplay the Undercroft museum. The project, which came in under-budget, cost around £20 million, with a £10.5 million grant from Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
The outputs and outcomes for the project included:
- Provision of craft skills apprenticeships
- Improved intellectual and physical access (new ramps, toilets, interpretation of the Great East Window and redisplay of the Undercroft museum);
- A new audience development plan to engage with both new and existing audiences including: schools, families, over 65s, BAME groups;
- Development of a new learning programme.
Since the project, the minster has received positive feedback from visitors on the exhibition, interpretation and new facilities. The minster is now consistently rated among the top five things to do in York on TripAdvisor.
Outputs and outcomes
Conservation and craft skills
The York Glaziers Trust carries out all work associated with the Minster’s 128 windows. As some of the most experienced practitioners in the country, they were able to provide advice on permissions and planning for the project. They have also offered tours of the Bedern Studios in York where much of the conservation work has taken place.
By March 2016, the conservators had returned the glass in the Apocalypse section of the Great East Window to its original position. The conservation of the upper section of the window is still underway and estimated to finish in 2018.
The HLF grant was partly used to fund apprenticeships in stone masonry and stained glass conservation over the course of the project. In 2017 York Minster extended its apprenticeship programme; it offers apprenticeships in a variety of roles from joinery to IT.
Improved access and facilities
In 2003, York Minster began charging for admission which led to increased considerations of visitor experience and needs. During the project, and influenced in part by their relationship with HLF, the minster carried out work to improve the experience for all visitor types, from casual tourist to pilgrim.
The impact of the work is obvious even before a visitor enters the building. It was important to the minster that all visitors should enter the building from the same point, which has led to new ramps being constructed at the main South Transept entrance. This involved remodeling the external landscaping.
Internally, the Undercroft museum and Revealing York Minster exhibition, closed for a year during works, is now fully accessible with the addition of a lift and ramps throughout the exhibition space. The Minster’s toilet facilities have also been remodelled.
The project has had an impact on the worship space. This has mainly been at the East End where work continues on the Great East Window and where for two years a temporary aluminum orb displayed some of the stained glass. Some chapels also hosted temporary exhibitions during the project, and these are gradually being reopened.
As a complex project requiring, among other things, planning permission and Scheduled Monument Consent, the partners and consultees included: Historic England, the York FAC, the CFCE, SPAB, York City Council, Highways Agency (now Highways England) and external contractors.
The project team and Chapter worked very hard in their bid writing and negotiations to ensure that the permissions process went as smoothly as possible.
Grants and funding
The main grant funding for the project came from HLF, who gave £10.5 million, and the minster raised other funds from trusts, such as the All Churches Trust, and private donors.
This was an early HLF funded project in a cathedral and there were some initial misunderstandings around language, expected outcomes and different ways of working.
For example there was some confusion over whether faith narratives could be included in interpretation in an HLF funded project. They can be, providing no religion is promoted over another. Developing a close working relationship with HLF helped to shape the project and move it forward especially in terms of physical and intellectual access.
Working with HLF has contributed to the minster’s understanding of sustainability and their current business model. The Chapter is working to ensure that mission and future projects complement each other. The team at the minster believes that this project has generally helped cathedrals and the HLF to better understand each other and work together.
Reflections and lessons learned
Successfully completing such a large-scale project has given the minster an increased sense of confidence about taking control of future projects and in dealings with external partners and contractors.
The minster stresses the importance of their project team. They recruited externally due to the range of skills required to run and manage a project of this size and complexity. This allowed permanent staff to oversee the project rather than to manage it in addition to their own roles.
Thorough planning and clear lines of communication are required to ensure that the right people are signing off on contracts, meeting with contractors and deciding the remit of the project team.