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The Centre of Excellence will position the Minster as leading the charge for the preservation of ancient craft skills on the international stage, facilitating knowledge sharing and exchange programmes with leading cathedrals worldwide.

The York Minster Centre of Excellence for Heritage Craft Skills and Estate Management is the product of large-scale collaboration between the Chapter of York, York Minster Fund and a number of UK institutions, including the Cathedrals’ Workshop Fellowship, City of York Council, Historic England and York Civic Trust, through the delivery of the York Minster Precinct Neighbourhood Plan.

As a first-of-its-kind Plan, its ambitions to secure the financial, environmental and craft sustainability of York Minster have also inspired religious and heritage organisations worldwide.

This was recently confirmed when our Research and Partnerships Manager, Laura Cotter, alongside Lead Conservator and Stonemason, Lee Godfrey, were invited to share the Centre of Excellence vision with the international community

Generously supported by the Commonwealth Heritage Forum, Laura and Lee’s three-week trip saw them visit Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Mumbai to discuss the aims and impact of the Centre of Excellence.

At their first stop in Singapore, the two presented to students from the National University of Singapore and representatives from the country’s National Heritage Board on the need to accept technology within a heritage setting to innovate and futureproof heritage craft skills.

As Lee explains: “Since we began developing the Centre of Excellence vision in 2018, it has always emphasised the importance of knowledge exchange and collaboration for the continuous development of heritage craft skills. This emphasis on partnership working was very fitting, considering that myself and Nikhil Joshi, Senior Lecturer in Architecture at the National University of Singapore, had trained alongside each other at the University of York over 20 years ago!”

Not only this, but during their trip, Nikhil was able to introduce Lee and Laura to contacts at the University of Hong Kong, as well as at Silpakorn University in Bangkok. This led to the two being invited to give further presentations at each of these universities, as well as having a fantastic opportunity to visit some of Thailand’s finest heritage sites, including Wat Niwet Thammaprawat in Ayutthaya.

Following this, Laura tells us: “Our partner organisation York Glaziers Trust had recently received an email from the Afghan Memorial Church in Mumbai, to see whether they had any advice on how they could repair their stained-glass windows without the stone surrounding them becoming compromised. As we already had plans to be in this part of the world, it seemed like a perfect opportunity for us to make a  stopover in Mumbai and see whether we could help.”

This meeting also led to an introduction between York Minster and the World Monuments Fund, a global organisation dedicated to the preservation of historic architecture and cultural heritage sites. The World Monuments Fund organised for Laura and Lee to give a lecture at the Jnanapravaha Mumbai, one of India’s leading independent academic institutions, on why creating a seamless blend of cutting-edge technology and ancient craft skills will be key to heritage conservation going forward.

So why is it so important that we prioritise this international collaboration? Laura explains: “Having moved from the engineering industry into the heritage world, what really struck me is how everyone in this space is working towards the same goal, namely: looking after the buildings that they care so much about.

“We’re not in competition with each other, we’re all just trying to do our best to ensure we can prolong the lifespan of these fantastic monuments. In sharing our knowledge and expertise, we’re doing our best to ensure everyone is in the best possible position to achieve that ambition.”

While you might think Lee and Laura would be exhausted from their intensive three-week trip around Asia, this is only the beginning of York Minster’s international collaboration journey

Talks are underway to further develop the partnership with the National University of Singapore, with hopes of providing its architecture students the opportunity to complete summer placements at York Minster.

And our international partnerships are set to stretch even further afield, as we have plans to visit the team at Christchurch Cathedral in New Zealand to headline at the Christchurch Heritage Festival whose theme this year is Recognising our Legacy of Learning and Education in Heritage. It is the perfect opportunity to share our plans and discuss further opportunities to share knowledge and best practice across the world.

This will be a full-circle moment for York Minster, as we gifted Christchurch glass for its Rose Window when it was built in the late 19th century, before the window was unfortunately destroyed by the 2011 earthquake.

Not only this, but we continue to work closely with our European and American partners, including Trondheim, Cologne, Milan and Washington National Cathedral, who are all also interested in the prospect of an exchange programme with our stonemasons. Construction on the Centre of Excellence is due to begin in August, for completion in September 2024.

To find out more about the York Minster Centre of Excellence and donate to its fundraising campaign, click here

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