A charge to answer?

ABOLISHING cathedral fees has been discussed at a recent meeting of the Church Of England s General Synod, but the general view is that charging is necessary if cathedrals are to remain open to the public. We were the first cathedral to start charging pe

ABOLISHING cathedral fees has been discussed at a recent meeting of the Church Of England's General Synod, but the general view is that charging is necessary if cathedrals are to remain open to the public.

"We were the first cathedral to start charging people in 1986," said Alan Hargrave, Canon Missioner at Ely Cathedral, "but it's only the price of two pints of beer. Even with the entry fee, the cathedral made a £40,000 loss last year."

Last week, paying visitors (anyone living in Ely does not have to pay) Dennis Bourdot, who was on holiday with his wife Stella, said: "We have come all the way from Christchurch New Zealand for the Stained Glass Museum.

"When you see the sign at the entrance that it costs £3,000 per day for upkeep and there's no assistance you can't expect not to pay.

"Neither can you expect the congregation at church to fork out every Sunday. That's when cathedrals start turning into a commodity, not when they charge tourists like us to come to such a lovely place."

Both Dennis and Stella received over-60s concessions on their admission fee.

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Darren, 28, and Joe, 32, both Ely residents said they didn't realise it was free.

"I didn't know that we could get a pass if we were residents," said Darren. "I might go in then. I've seen that guy, the verger, a couple of times and he's not at all snooty. I wouldn't say the staff here were snobs, no."

Joe agreed, but said: "I can't see how it costs £3,000 to keep that up though, maybe that's why people have a problem with paying, they can't see where their money's going."

Visitors are met by people like Heather Ewart, from the Ministry of Welcome. She says that paying to enter an attraction has to be put into context.

"If you go out in Cambridge you'd pay our entrance fee for car parking alone. £5.20 is a small price to pay for all this splendour and once they've paid, visitors can come back at any point in the day. People are mostly willing to pay and we do take into account those who want to pray. If they ask me I take them up to a more private area than the cathedral entrance. Our south transept is reserved for private prayer and if people want to come and have quiet contemplation they're welcome to."

Sandra Bailey, from Stamford and Pauline Perry, from Barnet both thought the entrance fee was a bit expensive. "I'm not against charging per se," said Ms Bailey. "We paid about the same when we visited Bath Cathedral. Many people will give donations but it's a bit unreliable."

Canon Hargrave confirmed that the average visitor donation before entry fees were charged was a measly 17p. Mrs Perry said: "The only problem with charging is it discourages the casual visitor.

Asked what they thought of the cathedral being turned into a film, concert and book reading location, Mrs Perry said: "They've got to diversify to get income. It opens up the cathedral to people who wouldn't go there otherwise."

Canon Hargrave says holding non-religious events at the cathedral is necessary as the amount of funding the cathedral receives from English Heritage is dropping each year. "Money usually designated for arts and culture goes to fund the 2012 Olympics, and although the Blair Government let us recoup tax on entry fees through Gift Aid, funding local heritage sites is pretty low on the Government's priority list. When people want a good education for their children, people want a good health service, funding your local heritage site from public money is never going to be a vote winner."

It was announced this year that Ely will get £16,000 in a one-off grant from English Heritage to carry out essential repairs.

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