Campers in U.K. shun beaches for work on ancient cathedrals

About 150 youth in the U.K. are spending part of their summer helping to restore ancient cathedrals, chapels and churches. Photo: Colin Hutchings
About 150 youth in the U.K. are spending part of their summer helping to restore ancient cathedrals, chapels and churches. Photo: Colin Hutchings
Published August 1, 2012

While many young people in the U.K. are gearing up for a summer of backpacking or the beach, one group is choosing to stay home and spend their holidays in a more unusual way — doing voluntary conservation work in ancient cathedrals, chapels and churches.

Cathedral Camps, run by the U.K. charity Community Service Volunteers, is seeing about 150 young people from ages 16 to 25 painting walls, polishing spires, ringing bells, surveying tombstones and cleaning graveyards during the day and sleeping overnight in gardens, presbyteries or cloisters.

“The experience is a chance to see the hidden corners of some of the nation’s most iconic religious buildings in England, Scotland and Wales,” said Hannah Foxon, a seasoned camper. “It’s also a great way to meet new people and learn new skills. Most volunteers come away with the feeling of great pride, success and achievement. This is my fourth year and fifth camp as a leader for CSV Cathedral Camps, and each camp I have attended has been totally different.”

One of the venues this year is Islington Union Chapel in London — a Victorian building which is used as a non-denominational “free church,” as well as a center for fringe theatre, comedy and music. Campers will be painting, polishing and cleaning the grounds, and may even get treated to concert tickets.

Another, Winchester Cathedral in Hampshire, southeast England, is more than 1,000 years old. The town of Winchester is packed with historic structures such as a fortified medieval gateway, museums and tranquil green spaces.

Bangor Cathedral in North Wales is situated in a region of natural beauty where the Snowdonia Mountains reach the sea. Campers will get a chance to explore the U.K.’s smallest city, which has its own Victorian pier and longest High Street in Wales.

Ripon Cathedral in Yorkshire is described as the “perfect” cathedral due to its epic proportions. Dominating the city skyline, the medieval woodcarving at Ripon inspired Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll.

The first camp, which opened on 4 July, was at Edinburgh’s Gothic Revival 19th century St. Mary’s Cathedral, the largest church in Scotland. Campers have begun polishing, gardening, dusting and are being treated to some outings in Edinburgh.

Wendy Lee, CSV’s project manager for Cathedral Camps, said that the program “is a great opportunity for young people … to learn new skills, while protecting historic places of faith. The charity celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, which is a testament to its success and the young volunteers who show great enthusiasm and commitment. Without the time and energy of volunteers, these jobs will not get done and spectacular buildings may be at risk.”

Cathedral Camps run throughout July and August.  Campers make a contribution of 195 pounds (US$239) towards accommodation, food, tools, equipment, instruction, supervision and work materials.


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