Multi-million pound black hole in finances of Yorkshire's cathedrals

The full impact of the multi-million pound black hole in the finances of Yorkshire’s cathedrals remains unclear as the biggest places of worship bear the brunt of the impact of the coronavirus lockdown.

York Minster has suffered a 5.2m budget deficit. Picture: James Hardisty
York Minster has suffered a 5.2m budget deficit. Picture: James Hardisty

York Minster announced last week that it had experienced a “catastrophic” loss of more than £5m since the doors of the major tourist attraction closed, and that it has been forced to make the “difficult but right” decision to close its Minster School.

Senior officials at cathedrals across the region have told The Yorkshire Post that the places of worship are losing many thousands of pounds a month, and are facing “difficult decisions” - including putting off property repairs.

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A spokesperson for Bradford Cathedral said it was “not in the same financial league” as York Minster, but it was losing £6,000 a month “due to lack of visitors, donations and an inability to run events”.

“Looking towards the end of the financial year we might be looking at a deficit of up to £80,000, depending on how long we are unable to operate normally - and what ‘normal’ looks like when we open,” he said.

“This potential deficit would mean that we would be unable to progress all of the much needed property repairs and makes our financial position harder to sustain in the longer term.”

Wakefield Cathedral estimates its shortfall at about a third of what was budgeted.

The Dean of Wakefield, the Very Rev Simon Cowling, said plans were in place to mitigate the losses, including launching an online giving platform, and funding is in place for a funding manager and marketing officer to start work in the autumn.

He added: “The Coronavirus pandemic has encouraged us to be digitally creative in the way we meet the needs of our wider community: our online worship, prayers, daily reflections, weekly music offerings and heritage films have all found new audiences and been well received.

“This is something we intend to continue with as we look to the future and position ourselves to be in the best place to help and support the recovery of our communities, our city, our region and our diocese.”

Ripon Cathedral has launched a fundraising project, ‘A Wing and a Prayer’, which has already raised £100,000 to be split between itself and the Yorkshire Air Ambulance, and regular donations have been made by worshippers and visitors.

It had anticipated a worse-case scenario loss of £250,000 - but the Government's furlough scheme has offset that, and it is now looking at a loss of "in the tens of thousands". Redundancies are not on the table.

The Dean of Ripon, the Very Rev John Dobson DL, said: “We are by no means complacent but as a cathedral which does not charge an entry fee, we have not suffered such severe losses as others and we are hopeful that, with the ongoing contributions of supporters in the region, we can avoid making any redundancies.

“In short, we are ready to extend a confident mission when we re-open.”

Speaking about York Minster, the Dean of York, the Right Rev Dr Jonathan Frost, said: “We will come through this crisis, but only by making difficult decisions, and there will undoubtedly be more to come.

“A very significant proportion of our income stream is directly related to Covid - to a loss of visitor numbers, and a loss in our portfolio of investments - difficulties many are facing at this time.

“We will take the difficult decisions to enable us to come through this crisis and open up our doors to generations of visitors, worshippers and pilgrims.”