Between builders’ yard and blitz

Sheffield Cathedral remains open during the Gateway Project and special viewing points have been built so everyone can see the work taking place
Sheffield Cathedral remains open during the Gateway Project and special viewing points have been built so everyone can see the work taking place
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At first glimpse you could be forgiven for thinking you had suddenly found yourself in the middle of the Sheffield Blitz.

Today Sheffield Cathedral is as you have never seen it before and are never likely to see it again.

The main section of the building is merely a shell.

The major building work taking place is part of the Gateway Project, backed financially by the Sheffield Church Burgesses Trust, to improve visitor access and highlight its heritage.

From outside, just the top of the historic Cathedral Church of St Peter and St Paul is visible behind the mass of screens and scaffolding. What is going on inside has to be seen to be believed.

The pews have gone, several layers of flooring have disappeared and what is left, between the carefully protected pillars, looks like your average building site.

Diggers drive where the congregation once kneeled in prayer, and steel-capped boots are the order of the day.

Remarkably the Cathedral is still open every day to visitors and special viewing windows have been put in place so everyone can watch the transformation take place.

Canon Simon Cowling admits that seeing the usually gloriously beautiful place of worship in such a mess was initially hard to take.

“At first it felt very strange and a challenge for us all,” he said. “But we are used to it now. “The way I deal with it is to think of it more as a building site than a church for now.”

Of course, great care is being taken with every stage of the work and all the workmen on site are specialists.

But having to don hard hats and high-visibility jackets one minute, then lead prayers in one of the as-yet-untouched parts of the Cathedral does bring a new aspect to working life in the Sheffield Diocese. The work is due to be finished in time for next year’s celebrations. The Diocese will be 100 years old and it will also be the centenary of the creation of Sheffield Cathedral from the Sheffield Parish Church.

One of the aims of the project is to get more people through the doors to see its many historical treasures.

So there will be lots more signs and information to help tourists and Sheffielders explore the history of the building and its place in the life of Sheffield - including the screen of swords and bayonets, the HMS Sheffield memorial, the many monuments associated with well-known Sheffield people and the Shrewsbury tombs, including the mystery surrounding the bodies missing from the crypt as revealed by The Star last week.

Another key part is opening up what was described as a “dark and unwelcoming” building by moving the entrance to face towards the bottom of Fargate.

The new entrance will bypass the current steps with a completely new-look approach across the forecourt and the present porch will be enclosed by glass.