Restoring Pugin: The Development Phase

Restoring Pugin

Thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, work is finally underway on the Restoring Pugin Project at Nottingham Cathedral.

Last year the Cathedral won a significant grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, to discover and restore A.W.N Pugin’s original decorative paint schemes to the Cathedral’s east end chapels and ambulatories. You can learn more about this here. The Restoring Pugin Project is split into two parts; a Development Phase and a Delivery Phase. The ‘development phase’ will unfold over the next twelve months and involves undertaking extensive research to prepare the Cathedral for the ‘delivery phase’ in 2025, which will finally see Pugin’s decoration restored to the Cathedral’s east end. The project comprises a unique partnership with the Cathedral, Nottingham Trent University and Culture Syndicates CIC. This article sets out some of the key aspects of the Development Phase; why it matters, who’s involved, what it entails and what it hopes to achieve by its completion in September 2024.

The purpose of the Development Phase is to ensure that the eventual restoration of Pugin’s decorative paint schemes and this needs to be fully informed by detailed research into the paint patterns and colours as well as the materials, pigments, glues and surfaces used. Paint conservators will be appointed to undertake this work and it is hoped they will be able to fully record every layer of paint between the current 1990s scheme and the original Pugin schemes beneath this. This detailed research is also important to ensure that the eventual methods the team propose to recreate the Pugin schemes are indeed the best methods available for such works. In addition to the paint conservation team, a Conservation Management Consultant will be appointed to develop a Conservation Management Plan. This person will conduct archival research into the Cathedral’s history, with a particular focus on how the interior decoration and liturgical arrangements have changed over time. As well as forming an essential part of the Restoring Pugin restoration plan, this research will also enable Cathedral staff to make informed decisions about future repairs and restoration work.

Besides the eventual restoration of Pugin’s paint schemes to the east end of the Cathedral, the project has a number of other important goals including raising the profile of the Cathedral’s heritage, developing and improving heritage skills and the execution of an innovative environmental project. Different aspects of the ‘development phase’ will serve and further these goals.

The project is generously funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. As the grant comes from lottery players, it is very important that the money received is well spent and makes a real difference to the local community. The development phase is crucial in this regard. Every aspect of the project is carefully monitored, tested and measure in order to provide evidence that the Lottery Players’ investment is returning good value outcomes.

Sharing the Cathedral’s Story

It is hoped that Restoring Pugin Project will enable the Cathedral’s rich heritage and astonishing decoration to become better known and understood across the city and region. Existing, new and diverse audiences will be encouraged to visit, discover and enjoy this precious architectural gem. Therefore, a key aspect of the ‘development phase’ will focus on audience research. Different activities and materials will be developed and tested on different audiences (such as school students, families, older people, people with special educational needs, persons with disabilities, young people etc.) to find out the most effective and impactful ways of telling the Cathedral’s story and sharing its unique heritage. This work will be led by a part time ‘Engagement Manager’. Activities offered during the recent Heritage Open Days provide an example of how this might look, with insights and opinions gleaned from visitors of all ages and backgrounds participating in talks, tours and the family art workshops.

Improving Heritage Skills

Developing and improving heritage skills is an essential element of the project and will be delivered in a number of ways. This aspect of the project will be delivered through a partnership with Culture Syndicates CIC, a Nottingham based community enterprise which seeks to diversify the heritage workforce and help young people start a career in the heritage. Culture Syndicates will be recruiting, training and supporting the project team.  Firstly, two full time trainee paint conservators will be appointed to work alongside the professional paint conservation team for six months. This will enable young people to gain valuable paint conservation experience and help them embark on a career path in the heritage sector. Two part time heritage assistants will also be appointed to support with events and data gathering. Recruitment for these posts will be targeted at local young people from backgrounds typically not well represented in the heritage sector. There will be a particular emphasis on encouraging and supporting neuro diverse persons to consider heritage careers by gaining experience through this project.

In addition to these paid positions, there are plans to recruit and train at least ten new volunteers who will support the Cathedral with events, guided tours, stewarding and welcoming alongside the Friends’ of the Cathedral. Students as well as those within the congregation will particularly be encouraged to get involved. The hope is to support the development and growth of the Friends’ and this new group of volunteers, with training and mentoring lead by a freelance workforce coach.

Environmental Considerations

An innovative environmental project also forms a key aspect of the Restoring Pugin Project. Parishioners and visitors will have noticed there is damp rising on the column bases in the nave and there is occasionally condensation in the Cathedral. It is important to find a solution to this problem at the development stage of the project, in order to ensure that the restored paint schemes are not at risk of damage. A specialist engineering consultant is undertaking an environmental survey to consider this. Nottingham Trent University, one of the partners in this project, are placing twelve sensors around the Cathedral to monitor humidity and temperatures throughout the next year. This data is then fed back to a Digital Twin of the Cathedral.  Thanks to Heritage Fund support, Nottingham Trent University will be appointing two Research Fellows to develop this Digital Twin model. This should not only contribute to finding a solution to deal with the damp, but the data will be used to create an innovative video game. Players of the game will be able to manipulate temperature and humidity to test the different outcomes on the building fabric. The hope is that this game can become a tool to help young people understand how climate change can affect built heritage, as well as helping them consider careers in the heritage sector.

In 2019, Nottingham Trent University built a virtual reality model of the Cathedral as part of a National Lottery funded Discovering Pugin Project. The hope is to build on this work and dovetail with the paint conservation and archival research elements of the Restoring Pugin Project to develop a virtual reality time travelling experience. Visitors to the Cathedral will be able to see how the Cathedral would have looked in the 1960s, 1930s, 1870s and all the way back to Pugin’s day in the 1840s. This virtual reality experience will be developed with the help of young people and will offer an immersive experience into Pugin’s world.

Once the extensive research of the ‘development phase’ is complete, it will form the basis of a second proposal to the National Lottery Heritage Fund in order to secure the funds for the Delivery Phase of the Restoring Pugin project. If successful, this phase of the project will see the original paint schemes restored to the Cathedral and this will be accompanied by new and engaging visitor information and materials.

Over the Summer the Cathedral has been busy appointing a large team of people with a wide range of skills to deliver this initial Development Phase of the Restoring Pugin Project. Watch this space for a ‘meet the team’ in coming weeks.