Visitor engagement at Worcester Cathedral

A three-year interpretation project that provided 3D visualisations, digital interactives and visitor signage to help visitors better appreciate the wonderful history of Worcester Cathedral.

Digital visualisation of the medieval interior of Worcester Cathedral.

This three-year interpretation project, running between 2012 and 2016, aimed to explore the many interesting, interweaving stories surrounding Worcester Cathedral, from its origins to the present day. Both the building itself and the cathedral's community have a rich history, but these aspects also offer an opportunity to relate current cathedral life, offering ways for visitors (including the local community) to explore further and develop an ongoing relationship with the cathedral and its activities.

The project presented a number of challenges as to how we provide:

    freedom of movement for visitors, whilst highlighting key aspects of the cathedral encouragement to engage in depth whilst offering different, flexible routes of exploration opportunities for preparation prior to visits (both individuals and tour/schools groups) ways to continue engagement and learning beyond a single visit The last point is particularly important, since the desire to return and continue exploring is key to a successful interpretation scheme. By combining heritage and spiritual aspects of the cathedral, and promoting the balance between these in the public perception, an increased understanding of the breadth and variety of the cathedral's nature can be conveyed and repeat visiting promoted.

Phased Approach

Our strategy utilised a phased approach that introduced interpretative materials over a three-year period. Different subjects and themes, combined with a variety of interpretation media, helped maintain interest levels across the scheme's duration whilst maximising awareness and benefit from the investment.

Key themes covering three or four related 'stories' were selected for the different phases. These were selected to give insight into different periods of the cathedral's history and showcase the range of material that visitors can explore. In addition, each year has three 'spotlight' features that focus attention on a topic which may be outside the year's main theme. These offer an even more 'bite-sized' route into the cathedral's life, but also flag up areas that highlight aspects of particular relevance to the cathedral's development campaign, notably music and the fabric.

Year 1 - Anglo-Saxon Worcester, Music and Pilgrimage

In 2013 the first interpretative materials were installed. Three interactive touchscreens enable visitors to learn more about the Cathedral’s importance in Anglo-Saxon England; its musical heritage - including rare medieval manuscripts from the Cathedral Library, the life and work of Sir Edward Elgar, and the Three Choirs Festival; and the Cathedral’s role in medieval pilgrimage.

A mobile app trail allows visitors to explore the history, art and architecture of the Cathedral and their meaning today. A second trail can be used, either in the Anglo-Saxon crypt or in the main cathedral, to discover the riches of Anglo-Saxon spirituality though poetry, prayers and meditations and learn about Worcester as a centre for Pilgrimage.

Year 2 - World War I and Conflict Today

In July 2014 new interpretative material was installed which explores Worcester Cathedral’s links with the First World War, its close relationship through the centuries with Worcestershire regiments, the role of chaplains then and now, and the continuing need to support and care for serving soldiers and their families.

A touchscreen programme brings to life the impact of the First World War in Worcester and compares the contribution of famous Worcester-linked chaplains, such as ‘Woodbine Willie’ and E.V. Tanner, with the role of military chaplains today.

A new mobile app trail ‘Remembering’ explores Worcester Cathedral’s links with the First World War, through the stories of individuals and families, including the sons of those who lived and worked here, boys who studied at the King's School, and chaplains who cared for soldiers as they faced danger and death. It also links the past to the present, through the experiences of those who face similar challenges today, as conflict continues in many countries and communities. In all periods we glimpse the sadness and waste conflict brings, but also discover caring, compassion, hope and love - and the desire to forgive, rebuild, and find a new way forward.