St Paul’s Cathedral, one of London’s most iconic buildings, is at risk of closure due to a huge funding shortfall caused by the pandemic
Lead image: Domagoj Cosic from Unsplash
Prolonged closures due to lockdowns have caused chaos for visitor attractions across London and the UK, but few of us would have entertained the idea of one of the capital’s most recognisable sights being forced to close its doors permanently.
Sadly, that’s the star reality being faced by St Paul’s Cathedral, architect Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece and the setting for Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding in 1981, watched by 750 million people around the world.
As reported by the BBC, the landmark, which relies almost entirely on revenue generated from tourists, saw its income drop by 90% in 2020, with a similar fall so far this year.
St Paul’s received £3.3 million from the government’s £1.57 billion culture recovery fund, but the annual running costs amount to £8 million per year, not including important renovation projects.
The news comes as booking platform GetYourGuide revealed that Brits are more likely to have revisited the same destination abroad than experienced a British landmark or attraction, and Londoners are the worst culprit, with 61% having never been to St Paul’s Cathedral and 63% never visiting the Houses of Parliament.
Large sections of the cathedral’s lead roof are desperate for replacement, and when the pandemic hit in March 2020, a £15 million repair programme was about to be put out to tender.
That money has since been diverted to keep the cathedral running, and surveyors have had to resort to ‘patching things up’.
‘61% of Londoners have never been to St Paul’s Cathedral’
Precious collections – St Paul’s is home to a spectacular array of art, from the carvings of Grinling Gibbons to Sir James Thornhill’s dome murals, Victorian mosaics and Henry Moore’s Mother and Child: Hood – have been covered in plastic to protect them from leaks.
Nearly all the cathedral’s reserves have been spent and a restructure has seen almost 25% of staff made redundant, despite use of the furlough scheme. The Vicars Choral, St Paul’s internationally renowned choir, which dates back to the 13th Century, could also be at risk.
The Very Reverend David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s, said: ‘This has been a year unlike any other, and every organisation that relies on visitor income is facing difficult decisions.
‘St Paul’s has relied almost wholly on visitor income and the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on our finances. But, we have survived many challenges over the centuries, and we are working hard to make sure that we are safe to stay open and ready for visits and worship for many years to come.’
St Paul’s Cathedral reopens for sightseeing from 17 May 2021, Mon-Sat from 12pm-4.30pm. The Whispering Gallery remains closed to the public until further notice. The Stone Gallery above it will open on Saturdays and school holidays only. The Golden Gallery will remain temporarily closed due to physical distancing guidelines. Admission is £17 for adults and £7.20 for children aged 6-17. You can also turn your ticket into an annual pass for the same price. See stpauls.co.uk to book. Donations are also welcome.