Cathedral of the community

Tim Sweeting photographed in Norwich Cathedral for #mycathedral campaign

Tim Sweeting photographed in Norwich Cathedral for #mycathedral campaign - Credit: Hal Shinnie

Come on in, the Cathedral’s lovely, say five people who use it and are helping launch its new website. Rowan Mantell reports

A children’s hospice nurse listens to the choir, a trainee solicitor calls in every lunchtime, a company director carves out a morning a month to help make sense of his workload, a volunteer offers smiles, a student finds the right words.

They are all inspired by Norwich Cathedral.

For 900 years it has been a place of solace, celebration, peace and passion. It began as a church and monastery, offering hospitality and healing to visitors, prayers and worship to God, education for neighbours and sanctuary to all. This month it launches a new website, highlighting the inspiration and sanctuary it still offers.

Photographer Hal Shinnie has taken a series of pictures to illustrate Norwich Cathedral as a place people turn to in the 21st century, as they did nine centuries ago.

Ben Wild sits at the base of a pillar in the soft light of a stained glass window, Jan Morton snatches a moment to enjoy the beautiful building in which she serves, a nurse is framed by the organ pipes which fill the vast cathedral with sound. Five people have been chosen as the faces of the website launch - they are not clergy or celebrities but represent ordinary people who use and love the cathedral.

James Shelton, the cathedral’s marketing manager, says: “We want to make people realise that this is a place for everyone, where they are welcome. I came across Ben, a trainee solicitor who comes in every lunchtime to meditate; Kate had happened to start coming to the cathedral and found the music really uplifting. Tim is chief executive of YMCA Norfolk and comes to the cathedral one morning a month; Jan is a volunteer, just one of those special people.

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“In saying what these people use it for, we might break into people’s preconceptions. We are attempting to reach out and engage new people as well as look after existing people. It’s the cathedral of the people of Norwich and the county of Norfolk and we want to encourage the maximum number of people to come here.”

The photographs were taken by Hal, who has known the cathedral since he was a pupil at Norwich School, which holds assemblies in the cathedral. “At the time we took it for granted but it is very special,” says Hal, who worked in portrait and fashion photography in London for 14 years but has now moved back to Norfolk.

Of the cathedral portraits he says: “I didn’t want them looking into the camera; we were looking at their world rather than them looking at us. I have always seen the cathedral as a corridor - it was the way we walked through from one part of the school to another. And now it is from one part of the city to another.”

For many it’s also a pathway from the mundane whirl to the wonder of music, from chaos to clarity and from the secular to the spiritual.

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