Sheffield Cathedral's 'bullying and blaming' culture led to 'fear of speaking out'

A ‘bullying and blaming’ culture at Sheffield Cathdral left people afraid to speak out, a report has found.

Friday, 19th March 2021, 3:21 pm

An investigation also showed there had been ‘no meaningful consultation’ about the controversial decision to disband the cathedral choir – a move it said had impacted the mental health and faith of those young people affected.

And the inquiry exposed concerns too about how complaints were handled and the lack of scrutiny in place to ensure good governance.

An independent ‘Visitation Team’ was invited by the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox, to inspect aspects of cathedral life following the unexpected resignation of the Dean of Sheffield last October.

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Sheffield Cathedral, where a report found there was a culture of 'bullying and blame'
Sheffield Cathedral, where a report found there was a culture of 'bullying and blame'

Its report, running to nearly 80 pages, has only been shared confidentially with the bishop and the cathedral chapter which advises him.

But Dr Wilcox has outlined the findings in his reponse, or ‘Determination’, in which he acknowledges that the full report makes for ‘undeniably uncomfortable reading’.

In it, he writes: “The Visitation Team found evidence of an environment at the Cathedral which has tolerated bullying and blaming and has been characterised by a fear of speaking out.

The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox

"There is a pattern of people who have fallen out of favour at the Cathedral subsequently exiting the organisation, and the perception of this for onlookers among the staff and volunteers has only served to reinforce their fears and concerns.”

Dr Wilcox says members of the chapter were ‘genuinely unaware’ of such behaviour and he has set out out steps to address the problems, which include an audit of senior management skills, updating the staff handbook and creating a volunteer handbook.

Sheffield’s Anglican cathedral last summer announced it was disbanding its choir as part of attempts to broaden its appeal to the city’s diverse population.

Parents at the time claimed the choir’s young members had been ‘thrown under the bus’ and left feeling ‘betrayed and abandoned’.

Dr Wilcox said the inspection found there had been ‘no meaningful consultation’ prior to the decision being made and this had ‘compounded the reputational and relational hurt’.

"Moreover, the Visitation Team found that, according to testimony of choir parents, the disbanding of the choir impacted on the young people, not only on their mental health, but also on their faith,” he wrote.

He said that to help the cathedral community ‘move on’ and repair relationships, it should ‘give serious consideration to issuing an unreserved apology for the unintended hurt

that has been caused by the closure of the Cathedral choir and in particular to former choristers’.

Dr Wilcox said the report ‘celebrates’ the cathedral’s efforts to serve a broader spectrum of people but found that without any specific targets there was no way of measuring how successful this was proving.

He added that he hoped the publication of the Determination would enable the cathedral community to ‘move ahead with renewed hope’ in its work to be 'a place for all people'.

In a joint statement, the cathedral’s acting dean, the Reverend Canon Geoffrey Harbord, and the cathedral chapter said the Determination showed there were many areas where progress was being made, including safeguarding, but that ‘more needs to be done by us all as we learn the lessons from the past’.