First Take: Paul Smith, Liverpool Anglican, Director of Enterprise
Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral is more than a place of worship, more than a no 1 tourist attraction and more than an awe-inspiring, beautiful building. It’s also a business and a savvy one at that.
The Cathedral’s role and position is divine, but it also showcases the best our city has to offer, balancing spirituality with show-stopping events and bringing major functions to Liverpool by offering something truly unique.
But even the heaviest voluntary donation box isn’t going to keep the vast Cathedral up and running, let alone generate a sizeable income. The man who intends to keep the Anglican – Britain’s largest Cathedral – firmly in the green is Paul Smith, their new Director of Enterprise.
Paul grew up in York, worked in London and for the past 14 years he and his family have been living and working in the North West. Paul’s work experience is varied and apt, with key roles in PR, charities, publishers, TV stations and Chambers of Commerce, making him the ideal choice for a role that requires a depth of experience in a number of fields.
But what does he think of his new city? Where are his favourite places to go and why are strong partnerships the key to Liverpool Anglican Cathedral’s future success? It’s Liverpool spend some time with Paul to get his first-take on our city.
Paul, tell us a little about your background.
“I grew up in York, but after university, my career started in London, where I worked for some great organisations like MIND (The Mental Health Charity), Penguin Books and Channel 4, managing PR for their factual programmes for six years.
“I then diversified into commercial management in the not-for-profit sector, where I gained a good amount of strategic and operational experience. This lead to a position in Greater Manchester’s Chamber of Commerce, the UK’s biggest chamber, working with an array of different businesses across all sectors. Over the past decade, for five years, I ran a UK trade body, working closely with businesses, councils, ministers and officials.
“What I love about my new position is that it combines all of my skills and experience in one. Liverpool Cathedral plays such a vital role in this great city and my job is all about ensuring that the cathedral remains a valued partner, something my predecessor, Eryl Parry, did so well.”
“We stand and fall on the quality and breadth of our partnerships…”
How would you describe your new position?
“Basically I’m responsible for the cathedral’s commercial activity, across a wide range of areas. That includes our retail, catering and our Tower Experience as well as our volunteers, vergers and cleaners, who all work so hard to keep the cathedral operating so well. I’m also currently overseeing our volunteer programme called Volition which is delivering some great results, getting more than 80 marginalised people into work.
“It’s a diverse and challenging brief, but the team here are all fabulous and really dedicated. It’s a tremendous privilege to work here, it’s such an iconic building. Every morning, when I come to work, I feel incredibly lucky.”
Is it difficult balancing commerciality with spirituality?
“Getting the right balance is something which is always uppermost in our minds. We always need to be aware that Liverpool Cathedral, by any objective measure, is not a typical venue. We’re much more than that and that’s a key part of what draws so many people to us.
“We’re principally a place of worship and everyone who works here respects that. We’re proud to be Liverpool’s cathedral built by the people of Liverpool and we don’t charge admission to come and visit us. But we do appreciate the donations that our visitors chose to give us. We’re one of the largest church buildings in the world and that means we have significant running costs.
“My team provides a decent chunk of the money to do that. We’re totally focused on ensuring that the cathedral remains an important place open for people to come to, from Liverpool and beyond, for a host of reasons.
“Our diverse programme means that one day we may be holding a major service of worship for a thousand people and the next a big corporate dinner, for a similar number and our staff and suppliers do an amazing job at creating a quality experience for all. These shifts in use for the building may seem odd to many on the outside, but to us, they’re just part of what we do on a daily basis.
What’s your ambition for the cathedral?
“I want us to be a place which means something special to every visitor who comes through our doors. On one level we’re already a major success – as the number one visitor attraction in Liverpool on TripAdvisor for the last three years. Strengthening our connections to our visitors and delivering a friendly and positive experience, can and does deliver revenue for us.
“The equation is simple: If people feel comfortable they spend longer with us, then they’re more inclined to go our restaurant or cafe or the shop and the money they spend with us helps to fund a broad spectrum of our activities”.
The Cathedral seems to unite many organisations in the city.
“We stand and fall on the quality and breadth of our partnerships and these come in many forms; With church organisations, relationships which are managed by my clerical colleagues, key partners like Marketing Liverpool, civic organisations like Liverpool City Council, with private businesses, with other cultural organisations and schools and universities”.
“I imagine my previous experience in this regard was one of the key factors in getting the job. Working together is critical as we continue to build visitor numbers specifically to the cathedral and to the city more generally.
“As a former employee of a Chamber of Commerce over in Greater Manchester, I’ve been developing a really good working relationship with Liverpool and Sefton Chamber, which I’m keen to grow over the coming months and years.
“Our partnerships with coach operators are increasingly vital too and we truly value them. Our partnerships with the Hope Street CIC and with the Knowledge Quarter are also extremely important in building our visitor numbers and footfall to our locality”.
Are there any events that you would love to host in the Cathedral?
“It’s not really about having a wish list of events. The main thing for me is that we continue to increase the diversity and scope of the events we deliver. In my first few weeks, we’ve announced forthcoming events with the Clothes Show and Cream, we’ve delivered corporates dinners, award ceremonies, drinks receptions and concerts, whilst simultaneously continuing to produce a large array of liturgical services every week. I’d like us to do more cultural events and I’d like us to be on the radar with a host of people who want to deliver events which have a wow factor”.
How well did you know Liverpool before you moved here? Have your perceptions changed?
“I still live in Trafford and commute into Liverpool, as my children are both at school locally. However, I’ve been a very regular visitor to the city for nearly forty years, so I’ve got to know the city pretty well. Liverpool has always been a city which has meant a lot to me – there’s an enormous energy, individuality and spirit to the place, which cannot fail to get under your skin.
“This was a key reason why I wanted to do this job. In the last three months, since I’ve been working here that everyone I’ve come into contact with has been extremely welcoming and helpful. I have to say, on a more light hearted note, that it helps that I’m not a Manchester United supporter – for the record I’ve supported York City my whole life.
“Obviously, Liverpool’s fortunes have fluctuated considerably over the years, but, certainly since Capital of Culture, there has been a renewed mood of optimism here. As a very regular visitor, since 2008, I’ve seen this new confidence emerge over several years. The job we still need to do now is to try and dispel some tired and damaging stereotypes, which some people in other parts of the country, still have about the city”.
What were your first impressions of Liverpool?
“It’s hard to remember what I first felt about the city, I’ve been coming here all my life, but certainly, as someone who is new to working here, I’ve found it to be extremely friendly. I’d heard that some people say that Liverpool can feel a bit cliquey, but I’ve certainly not found that to be the case at all. On the contrary, I’ve met many helpful and very generous people who have given me their time and welcomed me to the city”.
Where are you or your family’s favourite places to go in Liverpool?
“I know it sounds like a real cliché but my wife and children love coming to the cathedral – we’re here this weekend again for the Winter Arts Market – which I’m really looking forward to. We love going to galleries too, especially the Walker Art Gallery and the Tate Liverpool.
“For places to eat my kids, when they’re not eating at one of our two great café/restaurants here, love the vibrancy and individuality of Bold Street and the many places to eat there. I’m a big music fan too, so I love to go and buy my vinyl from Probe Records whenever I can.
How would you describe the city and its people?
“Liverpool is breath-taking and absolutely beautiful. As for the people, there is a great spirit of generosity and good humour in Liverpool which you don’t find in many other places in Britain. People talk to you on the streets – something which I’ve only ever encountered on a regular basis in one other place in the UK – my wife’s home city of Glasgow. Liverpool’s natural warmth and welcoming nature makes me love the city even more than I did before”.
Sound like Paul is heaven-sent and the perfect man to ensure Liverpool Anglican Cathedral retains its eminent position in our city. If you’re looking for a classy venue, one with guaranteed wow factor, your prayers have just been answered by one of the great building of the world.