The stark figures were revealed by the Chapter of York, the governing body for York Minster in its Annual Report and Accounts for 2020, which lays bare what it describes as the “catastrophic impact” of the last 15 months.
The cathedral closed completely from mid-March until the end of June because of the Covid-19 pandemic and while it did reopen from July to October and again in December, reduced capacity due to social distancing guidelines saw a drastic reduction in visitor numbers.
Just under 147,500 people passed through the Minster’s doors in 2020, compared to almost 706,500 the previous year. Sightseeing visitors represent the cathedral’s largest single income stream.
However, it dropped from £5m to £1.3m in just 12 months. Overall income decreased by 40 per cent to £6.5m, although that does not include income earned from investments.
The Dean of York, The Rt Revd Dr Jonathan Frost, admitted that the unprecedented financial and economic emergency caused by Covid-19 had involved some difficult decisions.
He said: “The Chapter of York took hard but, I believe, the right decisions - to close its Minster School, to secure the future of York Minster’s internationally renowned choral tradition, through a new partnership with nearby St Peter’s School, and to work with elected staff representatives to deliver a process which saw, with great sadness, the departure of 55 valued colleagues.”
The renowned Minster School, which dated back to 627AD, said farewell to its pupils and staff at the end of the 2020 summer term. It had been operating at half capacity with just 95 students and the financial support it needed to survive had become unsustainable.
The loss in visitor income was partly offset by a grant from the York Minster Fund and central Church of England money. The cathedral also received a small grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund Emergency Fund.
Dr Frost said: “Covid has changed the world and changed us all. The community at the Minster came together to weather the storm with courage, with tenacity and with care for one another. We take heart from what was achieved and affirm our commitment to continuing to serve one another and our diocese – as the Minster has done for over 1,000 years.”