Sunday, 30 March 2014

I love it when a plan comes together

It has taken almost two years for the return of the Furness Abbey crosier and ring to be achieved. Now after a lot of work and collaboration we are basking in the success of the venture.

In 2010 a unique and internationally significant burial was found. The fully articulated skeleton was found with two rare artefacts-a crosier and a ring. From the first moment I knew of this (and I was rather lucky to hear of it-my son was an archaeologist at the abbey when the find was discovered) I knew it had to be important for the abbey. I and many others waited to hear what would happen to these amazing items and it sparked a conversation with the late Alice Leach. We met at a lecture on Jocelin of Furness and had discussed the seeming decline of the abbey and our concerns around that. Alice in her time had been very involved with Furness Abbey, had written books about it and was latterly studying the Coucher Books. We had a lot in common, both teachers, both writers and both with an abiding passion for the abbey.

We had conversations with English Heritage and pressed our issues about the lack lustre appearance of the abbey as a visitor attraction. The response initially was a little lukewarm but we came away with plans to set up a "friends" group to attempt some sort of partnership. Amazingly, the structure of English Heritage was changed almost immediately and there appeared to be a sea change in attitude and approachability. A Channel 4 News report (my other son was the producer on this piece) put the discovery of the crosier on the map and this gave us the focus we needed. We had our first meeting in March 2012 and set up the Furness Abbey Fellowship. Alice unfortunately, decided she would be unable to continue with FAF and wanted to concentrate on the Coucher books and the Civic Society of which she was Chairman. Sadly, she passed away in January this year.

From then on we forged a relationship with English Heritage and began working to raise funds and develop ideas to draw in more visitors to the abbey. We were concerned that the visitor numbers were low and one of the aims was to raise these and extend the publicity and reach of the Abbey, hopefully attracting people from outside the area and well increasing local traffic.

With the advent of the Medieval Fair last year we knew we had broken the back of the problem. The numbers who came to the fair and to see the crosier in situ encouraged us and we set off an appeal to raise funds for the special cabinet required to house the crosier permanently at the abbey.

However, none of us truly believed we would achieve this so quickly, but we have to thank the intervention of EH for this. They showed great belief in us and organised the creation of the box and the display to be ready in time for the new season.

It totally exceeds our expectations and we are delighted with the results. I believe the crosier has been found for a reason. Call it divine intervention, fate or whatever you like-but its discovery has come at just the right time. It can and will provide focus and attention to the abbey and will raise the profile. This can and must be capitalised upon. We will not rest upon our laurels now. In fact we will be regrouping and moving forward in our efforts to raise the level of the abbey, working in partnership with EH and the wider community. We do hope that everyone will continue to support us and even though it was an extravagant remark I made on Thursday- I actually DO believe we can become -if not a World Heritage site- a significant Heritage site which will attract visitors world wide!

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