Behind the scenes at Wells Cathedral

As this Somerset icon prepares for the coming festive period, Sarah Ford talks <br/>to Dr Paul Richards about his work as Cathedral Administrator and his team <br/>of dedicated volunteers

Imagine the thrill experienced by new visitors to Wells when they first set eyes on the splendid cathedral – from its magnificent West Front with its gallery of medieval sculpture, to the quiet cloisters within. To be fair, no description here could do justice to this building, which has survived through eight centuries and continues to dominate the small city. Yet the Cathedral Church of St Andrew is more than splendid architecture alone. It is a place of worship, hosting services every day of the year, and through Advent and Christmas around 35,000 people will take part in services and concerts here.

Over the course of a year the cathedral welcomes 450,000 people through its doors. Recently they have been able to appreciate the major work that has been completed as part of the Cathedral Development Project, which includes a new entrance, relocated shop and caf�, an interpretation centre in the medieval undercroft and the reopening of the original cloister walkway.And all the while, behind the scenes, the cathedral’s busy departments (vergers, maintenance, accounts, administration, visitor management, education, outreach, library and archives, as well as the two companies – catering and shop) ensure daily activities and special events work like clockwork.Dr Paul Richards is the Administrator for Wells Cathedral. It is a role which is similar to that of a chief executive of a company. And having only arrived in March this year, he is looking forward to his first Christmas at Wells.He and his wife, Alison, have moved here from Surrey and one of the biggest changes has been his journey to work – previously in the head office of Macmillan Cancer Support in Vauxhall.“Compared to driving around the M25 to work, I now have a commute from Vicars’ Close in Wells. It’s a skip and a hop away!”Dr Richards is responsible to the Chapter, which is the main governance body of the cathedral, and his direct boss is the Dean.“There are nine of us on the Chapter, including clergy, myself and three other lay canons. You could consider the Chapter to be the board or executive management team.“I asked my predecessor what a typical day would be like and he laughed saying there is no such thing.

“The running of the cathedral is done through the various teams, who keep the day to day activity of the cathedral going. I often think of it like a swan – with my team as legs paddling underneath!“Then there are the commercial activities which we run through the shop and caf�, which are very successful and a vital part of our lifeblood.“We also have about 300 volunteers, many who help before and at services and concerts. Others welcome visitors into the cathedral and guide people around this wonderful heritage. They are an immensely valuable resource and we could not survive without them.“One thing I have found since being here is the quality of people who work around this place is higher on average than you would expect in other commercial organisations I have worked in. We are really blessed.“When talking about how important the cathedral is, words come to mind like treasure, symbol, heart of the community. It’s very symbolic of the county and it is a key icon.“But it is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that it exists to the glory of God and is a symbol of His kingdom in the world. So it is focussed around the religious message.”Father of two daughters, and the son of a Church of England priest, Dr Richards seems to have settled well in his new role and his new home.“The countryside and church has always been part of my being. My father was born and bred in Bath and we have a lot of connections to this area so it almost feels natural that we moved here. I think Somerset is fantastic – an incredible county.” For details of some of the services and events at Wells Cathedral this month see the Somerset Life Christmas towns guide or go to you know an unsung community hero or local personality? Contact us at

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