York Minster is facing up to the catastrophic impact of the pandemic on its finances after recording a £2.3m deficit last year.
Income at the cathedral plummeted from a surplus of £332,000 in 2019 due to low visitor numbers caused by the pandemic, according to the minster’s recently published accounts for the year to 31 December 2020.
The number of visitors fell last year to just one-fifth of previous levels – from 706,500 in 2019 to below 147,500 in 2020 – as lockdown measures meant the cathedral was closed for four and a half months, and open with limited capacity for another six months.
While income from visitors and worshippers was down 74% to £1.3m last year, government and church grants meant overall income fell by 40% to £6.5m.
York Minster was financially supported by the government’s furlough scheme and a small grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund Emergency Fund, plus significant additional emergency grant support from the York Minster Fund and central Church of England funds.
The Rt Rev Dr Jonathan Frost, dean of York, said the pandemic had forced a restructuring of finances to ensure York Minster would survive into the future, including the closure of the independent prep school the Minster school, which had been one of the oldest schools in Britain.
The Grade II-listed building is slated to be turned into a refectory cafe if planning permission is approved.
He said: “In two phases of restructuring the Chapter of York took hard but, I believe, the right decisions: to close its Minster school; to secure the future of York Minster’s internationally renowned choral tradition, through a new partnership with St Peter’s school, York; and to work with elected staff representatives to deliver a process which saw, with great sadness, the departure of 55 valued colleagues from the minster’s staff community.”
He added: “The community at the minster, drawn from all those who serve here, lay and ordained, paid and volunteer, came together during 2020 to weather the storm with courage, with tenacity and with care for one another. We take heart from what was achieved during a time of great difficulty.”
York Minster is currently raising money for the £5m restoration of the St Cuthbert window, which is one of the largest surviving narrative windows in the world and dates back to about 1440.
The five-year project involves individually removing and restoring 154 panels of stained glass which tell the story of the Anglo-Saxon monk and bishop of Lindisfarne who was later sanctified as St Cuthbert.