Why it’s time for occupation to end

Occupy Sheffield Camp outside Sheffield Cathedral...
Occupy Sheffield Camp outside Sheffield Cathedral...
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“Justice for all is at the heart of Sheffield Cathedral’s mission.

More than 20 years ago, the Cathedral congregation and clergy founded the ground-breaking Cathedral Archer Project.

This Project supports those who are homeless and vulnerable in our region, offering practical help and the friendly support people need in order to make a new start.

Thanks to our partners in the city we teach music in 13 schools in the city, some in places of real challenge and need and at the end of every term, the Cathedral is full of Sheffield children singing and laughing.

The Cathedral is a major tourist attraction, welcoming 50,000 visitors a year. To preserve it as a place of worship and make it more accessible to the whole community, we have secured funding from external donors to begin an exciting new scheme of work, the Gateway Project.

This will include a new entrance, new heating, a new stone floor, new seating and lighting and will make it possible to welcome many more visitors.

Contractors will need to move onto the forecourt to begin work on the first phases of this.

People often think that cathedrals are rich. I can tell you that we are not: we have very limited resources of our own, and we rely on grants from other charities and donations by ordinary people to keep us going.

Like many other charities, our finances are precarious. We receive no government funding and less than 10 per cent of our funds comes from the Church of England. Now, more than ever, we need to be able to make maximum use of the whole complex; let our rooms and allow our staff team to focus on their work.

Occupy Sheffield set up camp without our permission on November 5. We were interested to hear what they have to say and to identify places where their diverse agenda meshes with our own.

We organised a meeting so that Occupy Sheffield could explain their protest to church leaders and we already have a long record of encouraging community leaders to engage with many of these issues.

As time has passed, Occupy Sheffield’s presence is affecting more and more of the Cathedral’s life.

A variety of people visit the Cathedral each week – including schools and university groups, local history society and people from adult education courses. Numbers of visitors have fallen markedly since Occupy set up camp.

As long as the protesters are in the churchyard, we have legal responsibilities for their safety. We are worried that open fires and other activities close to the tents are dangerous, for the public and for the demonstrators.

Managing this is taking up an increasing amount of our time and tens of thousands of pounds. We have repeatedly made this point to the protesters about the problems they are inadvertently causing a charity like ours, that wants to put all its resources into building our ability to serve the whole community.

We have tried very hard to negotiate an end to the Occupy camp, that allows us to continue our work, and yet ensures that the valuable issues raised by them are not forgotten.

Although senior members of the Cathedral team have met twice weekly with protesters, it has not been possible to find an agreement about when they will leave.

The Occupy group has no defined leadership and that makes it difficult for us to build on discussions.

There are inevitably going to be people there with differing views and opinions, which has meant that at times our perspectives have been misreported. We will continue to listen and very much wish to negotiate.

We still do not have any assurances from the protesters about when they will leave the Cathedral and we have had no option but to take legal action to resolve the situation.

Even at this stage we are hoping that Occupy Sheffield will dismantle the camp and find ways of taking their protest forward.