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Norwich Cathedral’s Seeing It Differently project draws to a close after capturing the imagination of thousands

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The Bishop of Lynn, the Rt Revd Jonathan Meyrick, delivered a sermon from the helter skelter – the centrepiece to Seeing It Differently – before taking the symbolic final slide during the service on Sunday 18 August in which candles were lit and the lights of the helter skelter were turned off one last time.

The Revd Canon Andy Bryant, the Cathedral’s Canon for Mission and Pastoral Care and who came up with the idea for Seeing It Differently, also led a time of reflection on the project which first opened to the public on Thursday 8 August and ran until Sunday 18 August.

Seeing It Differently aimed to offer new perspectives on the Cathedral and to open up conversations about faith, and the helter skelter ride in particular was designed to enable people to get closer than ever before to the Cathedral’s medieval roof bosses which tell stories from the Bible and are the largest collection of their kind in the world.

About 10,000 people enjoyed this unique ride over 11 days, with many more people enjoying the wider Seeing It Differently project that included the chance to lie down and look up at the Cathedral’s incredible ceiling, take part in a trust trail, and sit inside a Bible box and be completely surrounded by the word of God.

The project was put into the national and international media spotlight as, alongside local media coverage, Seeing It Differently was featured by the BBC national news and World Service, Sky News, and most of the UK’s national papers as well as media outlets around the world. Some of global coverage included features by The New York Times, CNN, Japanese broadcaster TV Asahi, Tokyo-based news programme Tokudane!, Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, Czech Radio, Danish paper Kristeligt Dagblad and travel publisher Lonely Planet.

The BBC’s Songs of Praise team also spent a day filming at the Cathedral for an episode that will be broadcast in the near future meanwhile VisitBritain’s chief executive Sally Balcombe paid a visit and praised the Cathedral for the joyful and innovative nature of Seeing It Differently.

Reflecting on the project, the Revd Canon Andy Bryant said:

“Many will want to focus on the sheer numbers we have been able to welcome into the Cathedral and the relaxed happy and joyous atmosphere in the Cathedral. However the things I will most carry away from this time are the individual conversations, people sharing stories of connecting with the Cathedral, enjoying seeing the building from a new perspective, finding a welcome distraction at a difficult time in their lives, asking questions about faith and gaining new encouragement in their relationship with God. This is what this event has always been about; providing time and space for both human and God encounters.

“As the lights on the helter-skelter are turned off for the final time, it truly does feel like together we have learnt to see things differently and that the real adventure is just beginning.”

The Dean of Norwich, the Very Revd Jane Hedges, said:

“What a joy it has been to go into the Cathedral Nave and hear the buzz of happy voices as people of all ages enjoy riding the helter skelter. Then it’s been incredibly moving to see parents with their children lying on the mats provided just in front of the Nave Altar looking up at the roof bosses depicting the birth of Jesus and talking about what they are seeing. Then, in the midst of all this activity, it’s still been possible to enjoy the peace at the East End of the Cathedral where people have been walking an indoor labyrinth, exploring the Bible Box, lighting candles and leaving their prayers, and perhaps stroking Budge the Cathedral Cat as he is curled up on his cushion in the Choir Stalls.

“Clergy and volunteers on duty throughout these 11 days have heard so many moving stories from people who’ve never been in a Cathedral before and also from people who have just faced a tragedy or from those living with serious illness.

“Inevitably there have been people who have complained about having a helter skelter in a sacred place but the overwhelming response has been incredibly positive.

“As the Dean I would like to thank my colleague Canon Andy Bryant for having the vision to do this but also the perseverance and energy to carry it through. As Dean and Chapter we are also incredibly grateful to all our staff and volunteers who have worked so hard over these past 11 days – they are an amazing team.”

The helter skelter belongs to Irvin Leisure and construction began in the Cathedral’s Nave at about 8.30am on Tuesday 6 August. A team of four people spent more than 19 hours installing the ride which is made up of more than 1,000 parts held together by about 500 nuts and bolts and decorated in just over 2,000 lights.

Henry Chipperfield, from Irvin Leisure, said:

“Norwich Cathedral is definitely one of the most unusual places we have been to. Even though we have been all over the world, as a unique venue the Cathedral is in a category of its own. As far as I know, this is the first time a helter skelter has ever been in a Cathedral.”

Throughout the whole of Seeing It Differently, Norwich Cathedral’s regular rhythm of worship continued as normal.

All photos included with this article are copyright Bill Smith/Norwich Cathedral.