Multi-million makeover for St Albans Cathedral

A MULTI-million pound scheme to extend the St Albans Cathedral Chapter House and improve facilities for visitors has been submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The scheme has emanated from a vision for the future of the Cathedral drawn up by the Dean and Chapter in 2009 to ensure it meets the needs of the 21st Century.

Although the proposal is very much in its infancy with no detailed plans drawn up, an application was submitted to the HLF shortly before Christmas and a response is expected in the spring.

And even if the bid is unsuccessful, the cathedral authorities are committed to continuing with the proposal by other means.

At the heart of the project is the need to ensure the cathedral is well positioned to meet its current and future needs.

It has in a way become a victim of its own success with groups wanting to visit and use the facilities having to be turned away and little or no opportunity to run multiple events.

The current education centre, which now welcomes 16,000 children a year, is located in a converted plant room and contains only one small classroom and no internal toilet.

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The proposal, which would extend the Chapter House on the first floor to the side of the Deanery while keeping the public thoroughfare accessible, would incorporate a new Centre for Learning with purpose-built classrooms, learning resources, toilets, cafe and an exhibition space.

There would also be a new welcome centre which would include retail space – currently spread over two areas – and new toilet facilities to replace the existing ones downstairs in the Chapter House.

The existing part of the Chapter House would be returned to its original purpose for parish and community use, the demand for which cannot currently be met.

Cathedral development manager, Stephanie Pisharody, said while the scheme was in the early stages, there had been plenty of consultation with the local community, the district council and various bodies in St Albans as well as architectural research. Initial feedback has been positive.

She went on: “We are at a point where we are clear about what we want to achieve and what would meet the needs of local stakeholders.”

Should the HLF application be successful, the scheme would be opened up to an architectural competition – at the moment only architectural visions have been drawn up.

If it was unsuccessful, Stephanie explained: “We would have to look at it more incrementally but the ambitions and aims are at the core of what we want to deliver.”

The original Chapter House, built on the site of an original building, was opened by the Queen in 1982 and even at that stage, extending it was always an option.

A medieval Chapter House had stood on the site but was destroyed in 1539 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.