Southwark Cathedral has some 250,000 visitors annually, according to a new report on the economic and social value of England's cathedrals.
New research has revealed that nearly nine million people visited England's Anglican cathedrals in 2003 – five million more than went on the London Eye and almost twice as many as visited the British Museum in the same year. St Paul's Cathedral alone is visited by 1.7 million people each year. The report is part of Heritage Counts, an annual audit of the historic environment carried out by English Heritage on behalf of the sector.
The report notes that cathedrals are first and foremost places of worship, and well recognised as places of great spirituality and beauty, but until now little consideration has been given to the boost that their presence gives to the local economy and the range of opportunities they offer for education, events and volunteering. Last year Southwark Cathedral's Millennium Project buildings hosted 400 conferences, and the education centre was visited by 7054 pupils from 85 schools.
The Very Revd Colin Slee, Dean of Southwark and a member of the Association of English Cathedrals Executive, said: "We welcome this report which is published during our busiest time of the year! It underlines the key role played by England's 42 Anglican cathedrals in the nation's life. It shows the enormous economic benefit that English cathedrals provide for society – in addition to their vital spiritual and community role.
"In fact, more detailed research by the Church of England – which includes, for example, Westminster Abbey – indicates that across all the cathedrals in England the number of visits in 2003 was as high as 12.5 million."
The research shows that visitors attracted to an area by the presence of a cathedral spend £91 million in the local economy per year. When the amount cathedrals themselves spend on goods, services and employment is taken into account the figure rises to £150 million per year.
Cathedrals provide huge opportunities for volunteers and benefit significantly from their time and skills. Southwark Cathedral has 472 volunteers
The report notes that cathedrals are open 365 days a year, are open to all and have more contact with non-churchgoers than any other part of the Church.