SEE US IN A NEW LIGHT
A discerning choice of dissertation!
Last year, Northumbria University student James Thomas completed a work placement at the Cathedral. In this article, he writes about how you can help with his final year dissertation, by filling out an anonymous questionnaire…
During my initial interview at the Cathedral, it was clear that their Common Ground in Sacred Space project was something special. Being offered the role of Project Support Assistant working under Project Manager, Lindy Gilliland, was a pivotal moment in my early career. As a Human Geography student with a desire to one-day co-ordinate development projects like this myself, I realised that the Cathedral would prove to be the ideal training ground.
Before I began at the Cathedral, I had little experience in project management; therefore, to say I was anxious about adapting to the role would be an understatement. However, my anxieties were quickly laid to rest when all of the Cathedral clergy and staff gave me such a welcome at the outset and made me feel right at home.
My role was very broad – one day I could be attending important stakeholder and contractor meetings, the next I was co-ordinating the removal of the Cathedral’s pews. Managing the careful removal of these 100+-year-old pews, and their many loose fittings, became quite the task for me alongside organising their allocation to various new homes!
I remember one morning, in particular, when we needed to deliver a large pew to its new owner and Cathedral neighbour NBS, the commercial arm of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). We had to set the 6-metres-long pew across two small trolleys, carefully manoeuvre it out of the Cathedral’s west entrance and across St Nicholas’ Street. Fortunately, it didn’t have far to go – literally just over the road to the Old Post Office building opposite the Cathedral – and with the help of a few other willing volunteers, we managed it. Our efforts didn’t go unnoticed and were accompanied by some strange looks and amused remarks from passers-by! However, the pew was delivered in one piece, which is all that mattered.
In March, and like countless others having to adapt to the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, I was required to continue my Cathedral placement by working from home. However, I was grateful to remain in regular contact with the rest of the Cathedral team and completed my placement as planned.
Now, in my final year at university, I’ve chosen as the subject of my dissertation: ‘Cultural Contestations and The Rebranding and Commodification of Sacred Heritage Sites’.
I decided to base my dissertation around the Cathedral’s capital works, as I had instantly felt a special connection with the building – as I’m sure many others will have (and, if not to this Cathedral, then to another). I was intrigued to understand why this was and explore how fundamental this redevelopment will be to the Cathedral in achieving its long-term sustainability.
My work seeks to highlight how sacred spaces like the Cathedral have many complex uses and determine what people want/desire the space to be used for. The aim is to understand how a religious institution such as Newcastle Cathedral has had to adapt to find its place in the modern world.
The questionnaire will be pivotal to my dissertation, as it will capture real, genuine opinions from the Cathedral’s users (or any other Cathedral’s users, for that matter). I hope to determine how subjective and varied these special places are in their use, meaning and role within people’s lives.
It would be appreciated if you could take a few minutes out of your time to complete this anonymous questionnaire. By collecting this data and your opinions, I hope to create an insightful piece of literature about how sacred spaces like the Cathedral are perceived and used in the future.