We spoke to Sarah Hollingdale, our new Accessibility Officer, to find out more about her new role and how she is planning to make Hereford Cathedral more accessible for everyone over the next six months.

So Sarah, tell us about yourself and your new role at Hereford Cathedral.

I’ve been here at Hereford Cathedral for just over a year, as I was employed to write an activity plan for the Heritage Lottery Fund bid for the Eastern Cloisters Project. Part of that project meant that I spent a lot of time working on identifying things that we can do to improve our accessibility and create new resources. This mainly came out of the fact that the cloisters are a really peaceful and quiet place and, if you struggle with sensory overload, that kind of peace and quiet can be of real value. I started to look at how we could help individuals on the autism spectrum and people living with dementia which has led onto this role now. My new role of Accessibility Officer will be looking at accessibility throughout the whole cathedral and not just in the cloisters.

What do you hope to achieve from this role?

I would really love for Hereford to become one of the most accessible cathedrals in the UK, so I’m aiming high! Unfortunately, very few UK cathedrals are currently able to prioritise accessibility due to a lack of resources. But we have an opportunity here – we’ve got six months and we genuinely can make small changes which will make a huge difference to the general community.

What things have you been able to implement already?

We’re two weeks in and already we are in the process of changing the toilets to make them more dementia friendly which is a result of a focus group we held earlier this year. The group said some really small things such as changing the colour of the toilet seats and signage would make a huge difference to how accessible the toilets were for people living with dementia, so we are already in the process of implementing that. I have also been working on creating a sensory trail for people on the autistic spectrum. There will shortly be a pack of resources which will mean that for the rest of the summer holidays, families will be able to come in with their child who is on the autistic spectrum and go round the cathedral as a family, but with the child having things that makes it more relevant to them and helps them learn about the environment. We’re also hoping to book another four cathedral quiet hours over the summer holidays. So really we’re really focusing on things that help families given the time of the year.

Why are you so passionate about accessibility especially within cathedrals?

I really think that the churches should be leading the way on this, I know that heritage organisations struggle – we’re in listed buildings and we can’t make every bit of our building as accessible as a new build. But we as churches should be setting the standard, we should try to be kind of the flagship within cities saying that we are open to everyone and inclusive. We want everyone to feel welcome here and that isn’t going to happen if you can’t get through the door – if you literally can’t get through the door you’re never going to relate to this building. I just want the cathedral to be an open place for everyone.

If you have any feedback on accessibility at Hereford Cathedral or would like to find out more please feel free to contact Sarah on [email protected]