Managing the experience of visitors in sacred spaces: a web-based learning resource

Managing the experience of visitors in sacred spaces: a web-based learning resource

How do you reconcile the spiritual role of a place of worship with the fact that many visitors will also or only be interested in the architecture or the history of the building? And what can you provide for those visitors who have no idea of the spiritual function of the building and how it is used for worship? Although, it uses St Paul’s Cathedral as the case study and it is aimed at students, this resource does look at many issues that are of relevance to smaller places of worship who want to attract visitors.

The work was undertaken by the Cultural Tourism Committee of ICOMOS-UK (UNESCO World Heritage Organization), in collaboration with London Metropolitan University, Oxford Brookes University and St Paul’s Cathedral and the project has produced and piloted a web-based learning resource to encourage informed discussion on these issues: how appropriate solutions can be developed, what works well and what can be transferred.

The key aims of the project have been:

  • to stimulate informed debate on ‘visitor management’ versus more inclusive ‘management of the experience’ of each visitor
  • to highlight the importance of sustainable approaches that reconcile respect for the spirituality of a place of worship with the development of tourism
  • to illustrate with reference to the innovative approaches to ‘interpretation’ and cultural tourism that have been developed by St Paul’s Cathedral
  • to identify opportunities to convey the art and science of heritage conservation, and the contribution of visitors to the costs of upkeep
  • to encourage discussion of creative solutions through collaboration between diverse intellectual disciplines and professions

Thanks to a grant award from the International Monuments Trust, the website resource – Sacred spaces: from ‘visitor management’ to managing the experience of visitors – is now available free of charge for use by tutors, students and younger professionals across a wide range of disciplines including: heritage conservation and management, tourism studies, architecture, archaeology, city planning and management, urban studies, and urban design.

So if you already open up your church, or are thinking of doing so, it may be worth just having a look at the website. There are some very short videos which provide insight into some of the thinking behind some of the solutions that St Paul’s Cathedral came up with.