A broad church

Hail the ale: The Very Reverend Peter Bradley, Dean of Sheffield, pictured inside Sheffield Cathedral, which is set to stage a number of arts events during the year.
Hail the ale: The Very Reverend Peter Bradley, Dean of Sheffield, pictured inside Sheffield Cathedral, which is set to stage a number of arts events during the year.
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IT has been a place of prayer, quiet worship and religious contemplation for some 600 years.

Now, in 2012, Sheffield Cathedral is set to relaunch itself as a venue where visitors can also enjoy touring theatre, nationally acclaimed circus acts and food and ale festivals.

Officials have revealed plans to open the city’s oldest building for regular events, including folk concerts, fashion shows, art exhibitions and, um, break-dancing competitions.

“In an ideal world I would want something going on here seven nights a week,” says Dean of Sheffield, the Very Reverend Peter Bradley. “I would like us to be seen as a venue just as much as the Crucible.

“The cathedral is determined to support the community as effectively as possible and we feel the space has been under-used.”

It follows two years of pilot events to test both how such proceedings might be fitted around the more traditional uses of the church and what the congregation’s reaction would be.

They have included a catwalk show for Sheffield Fashion Week and comedy nights. All have been licensed to sell alcohol.

“And largely it’s been very positive,” says Dean Bradley. “We have to have the right sort of events. They cannot undermine the service the cathedral supplies or its purpose, and, of course, the priority is still as a place of silent prayer.

“But other than that I do not see us having too many restrictions. Perhaps we would not hold a rave. Or perhaps we would but it would have to be a rather sedate one.”

“But there is an understanding that a venue like this does have to be opened up for the wider community. It’s easily accessible heritage and people do want to come in and see things happening here.”

Now, for the first time, church officials will actively offer the building as an evening venue.

Perhaps the litmus test for the proposals came during last year’s Tramlines festival when a series of folk concerts were held there.

“That was the one I was quite nervous about,” says Dean Bradley, who has been at the cathedral eight years. “There was a lot of young people and it was extremely busy but it was an incredible response.”

He thinks for a moment.

“The church did smell of beer a bit the next day but we opened the doors and burned some incense and it was soon back to normal.”

Nor is it the first time the building has had uses other than the purely religious, he notes.

During the English Civil War, it was a billeting place for soldiers and in the 18th century it doubled up as the city’s fire station.

In a cathedral? Some upcoming highlights

Theatre: The Snail And The Whale, a touring play for children, will be staged on June 26.

Food and ale: A festival championing local produce is to be held in and outside the cathedral October 1- October 21.

Music: Tramlines will be back on July 21 and 22. Expected to be mainly folk.

Circus: The How Like An Angel circus company which has previously performed at churches across the country are being lined up for 2013.