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Ecclesistical & Heritage World No.91

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Wells Cathedral awarded a £578k grant by National Lottery Heritage Fund to implement major project

Wells Cathedral in Somerset has received initial support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund for its ‘Vicars’ Close: A Medieval Street Singing Through the Centuries’ project. Made possible by National Lottery players, the project aims to make a number of the historic properties on Vicars’ Close in Wells accessible to the public for the first time, to better share their rich history. The project will also conserve the unique architectural heritage of the Close, the oldest continuously inhabited medieval street in Europe.

Development funding of £577,562 has been awarded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund to help Wells Cathedral progress their plans to apply for a full National Lottery grant at a later date.

The project aims to open up two of the houses of Vicars’ Close as interpretation centres alongside creating public access to other hidden gems on the Close, such as the Vicars’ Hall and Treasury Rooms. The Close was built for the Cathedral Choir in 1348 and is still inhabited by the Cathedral Choir today. An unbroken archive of the Cathedral Choir exists from the Close’s construction until 1936. This archive will be used to bring to life the social history of the inhabitants of Vicars’ Close alongside the wonderful story of its musical heritage which has been integral to life on the Close and the Cathedral for over 600 years. 

This exciting work will also provide opportunities, through new programming, to work with and support groups throughout the Cathedral’s local and regional communities. 

The project will also carry out essential work to the exteriors of the properties on the Close, conserving aging buildings to ensure they survive for future generations to experience and enjoy. Changing weather patterns are accelerating the deterioration of Vicars’ Close, so the project provides an opportunity to address the climate crisis through factoring in ambitions to reach carbon net zero will be factored into conservation works.

This funding brings a number of other important benefits including funding initiatives to reach and engage with audiences who would not normally feel a sense of connection with Wells or Vicars’ Close; supporting communities with specific needs such as help with mental health issues and social and rural isolation, particularly following the Covid pandemic. Delivering this exciting new visitor experience will also create wider range of opportunities for visitors to enjoy the rich history and heritage of Wells and support the local economy. 

Commenting on the award, the Dean of Wells, the Very Revd Dr John Davies said: "We are delighted to receive this support thanks to The National Lottery Heritage Fund and National Lottery players. ‘Vicars’ Close: A Medieval Street Singing Through the Centuries’ project is a critical step to conserve, interpret, share, and make accessible this wonderful heritage asset. The project will create opportunities for our local and regional communities through skill building, education and employment that will work towards healing the effects of the Covid pandemic. 

"The project will also create an innovative and exciting new experience for Wells, Somerset, and the South West to be proud of. It is delightful to know that we are a step closer to ensuring future generations will continue to be able to experience this wonderful place."

For further information visit wellscathedral.org.uk