Interesting times as Dean of Peterborough Cathedral marks two years in the post
Few deans of Peterborough Cathedral will have overseen such a progressive spell as the present incumbent.
In just two years The Very Revd Christopher Dalliston has overseen the arrival of everything from space capsules to the Planet Earth itself to the city's most famous building, and 2020 looks like promising more of the same.
The biggest task, albeit an exciting one, was overseeing the building's 900th anniversary after his arrival in January 2018.
The Very Revd Dalliston said: "It's been a great two years - It seems to have flown by. Lots has happened and it was exciting to be here for the 900th anniversary.
"There are still lots of challenges to face but it’s really felt the right place to be at this exciting time."
The Very Revd Dalliston had previously held positions in Essex, then Boston as vicar of The Stump, before an enjoyable time in Tyneside as the Dean of Newcastle Cathedral for 15 years.
He then moved closer to his roots in East Anglia by taking on the role in Peterborough, which he describes as 'growing into itself and becoming a grown-up city.'
That grown-up city has a cathedral asking some grown up questions; as part of the 900 Celebrations in 2018, more than 170,000 visitors enjoyed viewing the Soyuz spacecraft that took British astronaut Major Tim Peake to the International Space Station.
The exhibition was followed by the Museum of the Moon and then Gaia - two giant depictions of the Moon and Earth brought to life in the cathedral by artist Luke Jerram.
This summer the building will host something that could be potentially even more impressive. T: Rex - The Killer Question will roar into the cathedral from July 21 to August 30, as part of a touring exhibition from The Natural History Museum. One can only imagine how the animatronic beasts will appear inside such ornate surroundings.
The Very Revd Dalliston said: "As we face extinction of some species these days it's appropriate to look back at the dinosaurs and ask some questions. Why aren’t they here any more? What happened to them? The cathedral needs to be a place where deep questions such as these are explored.
"We hope loads of people will come and enjoy it, but hopefully go away with the questions of what we are doing with the world - or what God is doing with it, more importantly.
"There are things that people question as to whether it’s appropriate to have in the cathedral. We didn’t find that with the space capsule so much; interestingly, it was more about people wondering whether it’s compromising science for a Cathedral to have something scientific, which was an interesting turnaround. But on the whole people have been incredibly positive of the quality of exhibitions and the scale and style of how we’ve approached it.
"There are some things of a more commercial nature that some people question - gin festivals and markets for example - but we see those events as offering hospitality, welcome and bringing people into connection with the space that wouldn’t normally come."
The dinosaur exhibition will be a ticketed event, and the cathedral is also looking for sponsorship - the realities of a building that is not cheap to maintain.
The Very Revd Dalliston said: "It costs £4,200 a day to keep the building open and to be this place of welcome and wonder and hospitality and beautiful music.That’s an expensive operation to run and there is still a gap between what it costs to run and the amount we get in.
"We are working very hard to bridge that big gap and making sure we make ends meet, So in one way we are not apologetic about experimenting and trying to find events that will bringing people in, because if we don’t do that we won’t be able to be a place that’s open for everybody all the time, as it is at the moment.
"Over the past three or four years there have been lots of difficult decisions. People were made redundant and we sold the old deanery.
"That’s been challenging and difficult but we don’t want to keep going down that road. We want to make sure the building is thriving and flourishing, and that we can invest in it.
"We’re heading in the right direction, we’re looking at other ways to bring in revenue, to develop the cathedral precinct for the benefit of the cathedral and the city. We’re looking positively at the future and I think we’ll get there. The cathedral is a wonderful building but we’re also in the heart of the city in this great green area with fabulous ancient buildings - the cloisters, some of the older buildings that were part of the monastic heritage of the old monastery when it was an old abbey in the middle ages.
"Those buildings have been reshaped, redeveloped and re-purposed and are still interesting in themselves. We want to enable people to enjoy, interpret and understand the whole of this historic core of Peterborough. We’re looking at how people journey through the precinct, what they can find and explore as they come through and if the grounds can be used in a creative way.
"Our gardeners are developing a wildflower garden so we can be environmentally positive as well, and bring in more bees and insects as well. It’s about setting an example."
The cathedral will continue to invest in its mission and work to support the people of the city, which will mean a continuation of working with partners in dealing with homelessness and the Winter Night Shelter.
The Dean added: "There are pressures on our local council in terms of funding which are not making it any easier and people are being pushed to the edges because there aren’t the resources. The voluntary sector and churches can help, and we at the cathedral are committed to support the Garden House and one of our buildings takes its turn in the Winter Night Shelter for people on the streets."
Other events this year include Peterborough's participation in the Year of Pilgrimage, with the creation of a pilgrimage trail back from Castor back along the river to the cathedral.
The cathedral recently hosted a display of plans for the new university, and The Dean believes this would be an enormous benefit to Peterborough.
He added: "We’ve seen the impact of that in other cities where it enriches the life of the place, it brings investment, young people and energy, and cultural activity. We’ve got some great further and higher education institutions in the city at the moment, but a university would make such a difference to us as a city."
For more information on the summer dinosaur display click here