In Conversation With Paul Smith, Liverpool Cathedral

This week, we’re speaking to Paul Smith from Liverpool Cathedral, which is the fifth largest in the world!

Can you tell us who you are and what you do?

I’m Paul Smith and for the last four years (just coming up to my anniversary on Sept 5th) I’ve been Director of Enterprise at Liverpool Cathedral. My job involves raising much-needed revenue for the cathedral to help pay for its running costs, maintenance and its various other important activities. In normal times, the cathedral is financially self-sufficient and has for the last two years – despite our size and breath of activities – broken even financially. I report into the Dean (Sue Jones) and our Chapter (the cathedral’s Board).

My job is quite a diverse one and involves managing a number of in-house revenue raising-departments (retail, tower, events, visitor services) plus I line manage the Executive Director of our social justice charity Micah Liverpool which feeds hundreds of people every week through our foodbanks – as well as undertaking a range of other vital activities to alleviate poverty for those most in need. I also oversee our Community Events programme (things like abseils and sleepovers) which we do in collaboration with other charities to raise money for themselves and the cathedral. Finally I act as a key point of contact for a number of key external bodies across the city by sitting on the boards of the Hope Street CIC and LVEN (Liverpool Visitor Economy Network) to make sure that the cathedral can continue to make a valuable contribution to this great city.

How has the Covid affected life at the Cathedral in terms of the visitor experience, numbers and the way you work?

Before Covid we were on a pretty successful upward trajectory in terms of visitor numbers – having seen a significant rise in recent years from around 450,000 visitors per year to 800,000 in 2019. We had been very focused on engaging visitors to bring newer and more diverse audiences through a series of things like Gaia, Museum of the Moon, Arts Markets etc. All of these activities were centred around bringing large numbers to the cathedral – and by doing so – raising our revenues. Similarly with the Community Events we brought a large number of people to the cathedral to raise money for charity. Obviously with Covid all this has changed. Social distancing has meant we’ve have had to completely re-think how we do everything operationally. Now the cathedral is bookable via Eventbrite (capacity is much-reduced), our hours of opening are shorter and we have had to institute a far more directed experience – with a set route for visitors. This has meant a large amount of work for my events and visitor services teams to ensure that we are providing a good, safe experience. The feedback we’re getting on TripAdvisor is pretty positive I’m pleased to report.

Is there anything new you have put in place to reassure visitors and worshipers?

As I mentioned, we are now bookable for services and for general visits. We have hand sanitisers at the entrance and our welcomers and guides have all been trained to advise our visitors/worshippers on what they can expect in a visit and what they need to do.  Like many others, we applied for and got, the Visit Britain Good to Go accreditation. We now have attendants on the toilets to manage the numbers in and out, we have a designated route to follow and we have an extensive amount of new signage throughout regarding social distancing etc. Staff, volunteers and visitors all need to wear face coverings and we have instituted a track and trace mechanism.

Have you seen any green shoots emerging?

We’ve seen our numbers grow a little from when we re-opened a few weeks ago, but we’ve not seen a return to anything like the healthy numbers visiting we’ve had over recent years. It’s currently running at around 10% of visitor numbers year on year – which obviously needs to grow significantly.

Do you have any future plans or activity that you can share with Marketing Liverpool partners? Perhaps any new developments or events?

We’re hoping to bring a range of new events to the cathedral over the next 12 months including many more art installations. We’re working with a great British artist called Peter Walker on a few things which we’re hoping to finally sign off shortly including a spectacular sound and light show in November which will be a takeover of the whole of the cathedral for five evenings. This will be followed by hopefully another sound and light show in February. In Spring we’re looking to bring the Peace Doves exhibition to the cathedral which will be a beautiful community arts project – led by Peter Walker and then we’re going to do another major art installation in the summer of 2021. Christmas this year is likely to be very different from previous years, but we’re looking to incorporate many of the key elements our visitors and worshippers want. We strongly believe that we need to be able to offer something which our visitors will love and appreciate – after the year we’ve all been through.

The last few months have been very demanding on us all. Can you tell us what you do to relax and take your mind off the day job?

It’s really important in jobs like mine to keep abreast of all the many changes we need to adhere to and to make sure that our visitors are kept safe – but at the same time it’s vital to escape. I’m normally a bit of news junkie, but like many others I’ve also been watching a bit more Netflix and Amazon Prime over recent months, but I also like to read a lot and listen to music and just hang out with my wife and children.

Head to Liverpool Cathedral’s website to find out more information.