Cathedral cities have been at the heartbeat of human affairs since the dawn of recorded history.
They form a select and distinguished group and, whilst there are only about 20 such cities in the UK, the strength of their names alone makes them instantly recognisable and gives them a unique position in the meetings and conference marketplace.
Conference organisers will know, instinctively, that cities like Canterbury, Chester, Durham, Exeter, Gloucester, Lincoln, Oxford, Salisbury, Worcester and York will be surrounded by beautiful English countryside, will be dominated by their Norman or medieval cathedral and will have a historic core full of hotels, restaurants, shops, theatres, museums and lively markets.
England’s Cathedral cities are usually home to between 100,000 and 150,000 fairly prosperous, well-educated and welcoming residents and, as they are the administrative centres of rural counties, they will also house an array of sporting, cultural, commercial, governmental and financial institutions.
They will also have good accessibility and transportation because our national rail and road systems were first designed to connect these ancient centres of population and serve their commercial needs and, in medieval times, ancient roads and trackways, often following mystical ley lines, brought pilgrims, travellers and Roman legions to their gates.
Meeting planners and delegates alike will be also familiar with these places through the works of Chaucer, Dickens, Hardy and Shakespeare and from contemporary film and TV.
You simply can’t buy this kind of brand understanding and status.
Interweaving space and time
Something special happens when people meet in historic buildings.
The acoustics might be lousy, the floor uneven and the heating inefficient, but places like Oxford’s 13th century colleges, York’s 15th century Mansion House and Salisbury’s 18th century Guildhall (complete with ghost) have a special atmosphere that somehow reminds us of the transient nature of things – and of our own lives – and this sense of human perspective can be very helpful when trying to resolve disputes and complex issues.
This is really what makes historic cathedral cities special. These buildings act upon us in all four dimensions, providing reference points in both space and time.
Meanwhile, their success and their longevity has resulted in many of our historic cathedral cities being threatened by overdevelopment, overcrowding and, especially, inadequate traffic management systems, many of which are still based on narrow medieval street patterns.
In response to these pressures an organisation called the Historic Cathedral Cities Alliance (HCCA) was formed last year (2016) with the aim of protecting and enhancing historic cathedral cities and helping resolve the economic, cultural and social pressures that threaten them.
The conflict between economic growth and sustainable development becomes ever more challenging, but the popularity of cathedral cities as MICE destinations can only be regarded as a good thing, continuing their time-honoured tradition of civic hospitality and as centres of commerce.
7 February 2018