Rochester Cathedral’s £3.5m lottery grant success a divine intervention

There is more good news for Medway’s regeneration plans. On Monday, Rochester Cathedral was awarded a £3.5 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The cathedral has been at the heart of the town for more than 1400 years and is the second oldest cathedral in the country.

Gaining the grant means work can begin on a project that will make cathedral’s archives accessible and display the “treasures” in their collection. It will create disabled access to the crypt for the first time. The crypt will then be converted into a new permanent exhibition space.

Dr Mark Beach, the Dean of Rochester said: “I am delighted that the hard work of so many people here at the cathedral has been recognised by this major grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

“This will enable us to open up parts of the cathedral which have been inaccessible and to display our treasures in a way that will both preserve them and share them with our visitors.”

The cathedral is the largest visitor attraction for the Medway towns. And the cathedral hopes visitor numbers will thrive, bringing more people to Rochester.

Dr Phil Hesketh is Canon Pastor at the cathedral and the head of visits and education. He said: “It means we will be able to enhance and enrich the experience of visitors here.

“It will benefit Medway as a whole because it will attract people into the Medway towns and into Rochester. The High Street and other places will benefit and that’s got to be a good thing for all of us.

“We hope that people will enjoy their experience and come back.”

The project will see the ‘jewel in the crown’, the Textus Roffensis, put on permanent display after years in store in the Medway council archives.

The Textus is a very important historic document. It is the first recorded collection of English laws and was written by a monk at the cathedral in around 1120. Some historians claim it is more important than the Magna Carta because it predates it. But it is certainly a vital piece of British and Medway heritage.

The grant is providing the bulk of the funding. However, the cathedral and supporters have already raised £1.3 million with another £200,000 to go.

But Dr Hesketh says the work will create a “challenge” and “enormous disruption” for the cathedral. The crypt will be closed for a year and much of the community, school and choir activities will have to be moved.

Stuart McLeod, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South East said: “With today’s support, new opportunities will also be made available for people from near and far to see for themselves what makes the cathedral such a special place.

“More people than ever will now be able to explore the cathedral’s ‘hidden treasures’ and learn about the significant role it has played in the lives of many generations of local people.”

Following the announcement in December by Medway council that the High Street’s Elizabethan gem Eastgate House will also be renovated, Rochester’s visitor numbers could see the Medway economy given a vital boost.

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