Cathedral’s £100,000 mission

Occupy Sheffield Camp outside Sheffield Cathedral...
Occupy Sheffield Camp outside Sheffield Cathedral...

SHEFFIELD Cathedral is facing “a big challenge” to get its finances back on track after seeing the end of the protest on its doorstep but being left with a bill it estimates at around £100,000.

Cathedral authorities were reflecting this week on a loss of income as a result of some event organisers shying away from the building while members of the Occupy movement were camped on the forecourt.

After Sheffield County Court granted a possession order, before an official eviction hearing later this month, part of the agreement that paved the way for the tents to be removed last Saturday was that the Cathedral will not be claiming legal costs.

When added to lost income from proposed events such as farmers’ markets, a food festival and vintage fairs, the cathedral says the tiotal estimated cost is approaching £100,000.

The Dean of Sheffield, the Very Rev Peter Bradley, said: “Through some careful financial management and a large donation, before the Occupy camp, we ended last year more or less even.”

This year would present a bigger financial challenge, he said. “But I am confident that with staff free and able to focus on it, we’ll get there. We feel very positive about the future.”

The cathedral forecourt was clear this week, 99 days after the protesters moved in as part of an international campaign raising issues about the economic system, corporate greed and funding cuts. They had opted for Church Street after considering locations in front of the City Hall, the Peace Gardens and Devonshire Green.

Cathedral authorities made clear that they had not given permission for the camp, but accepted they had a “duty of care” towards the protesters.

Over the three months, according to court submissions, there were two incidences when a protester interrupted services by screaming obscenities, and Midnight mass on Christmas Eve was interrupted by music from the campsite.

It was also claimed there was a lack of supervision on site, many tents were left unoccupied, arguments could be heard, health and safety was compromised and an “inappropriate” workshop called ‘Cannabis the cure for cancer’ was advertised.

The Cathedral authorities are relieved that the demonstration has ended, and that Occupy Sheffield “can now focus attention on the issues they raise rather than their location, and we can return to our ministry and continue with our development plans”.

The Gateway Project is designed to improve the entrance to the building and to install new heating, lighting, seating, flooring, a shop and a new organ.

It is also intended to resume plans for farmers’ markets and a food festival.

Mr Bradley said the outcome had allowed “everyone to step away with their heads held high in a very reasonable and respectful way.”

He added he had been moved by people’s support for the Cathedral. “We will now focus on our mission alongside addressing some of the issues raised by the Occupy movement such as poverty and social inclusion. I will do my best to affect change in my capacity as an active member of city boards and community organisations.”

Church leaders said found negotiations difficult with the demonstrators, partly because different people were pressing for different things, and one lesson learned had been the impact of social media, such as Twitter.

Meanwhile, the protesters, who are squatting in the old Salvation Army citadel in Cross Burgess Street, say the Cathedral camp may have gone, but Occupy Sheffield will continue.

A statement said: “The snow has been fun, but the threat of over £100,000 of High Court costs, and the Cathedral’s answer to peaceful, public protest as eviction has made the decision easier.

“Our stand against excessive greed and corruption of our democracy continues. Since November 5, thousands of people have come to show their support for the camp in many ways.

“Thank you Sheffield. Occupy is a global movement, manifesting itself in the heart of this city with a occupied space that has been a mission for fairness, a sentry point for justice and an outpost for compassion. But we are more than the sum of our parts; more than tents and sleeping bags. We will continue this process with events, and build on discussions with peaceful direct action.”