Order in the cathedral

When Tanya Wright applied for an anonymous personnel and payroll manager’s job in January 2005, she had no idea that it would eventually mean working for some of the highest-ranking clergy in the country.

“It sounded interesting so I applied and was surprised, when asked to attend the interview, to be told where it was,” she says. The ‘where’ turned out to be Canterbury Cathedral, the headquarters of the Anglican Communion and seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Ten months into the job, Wright says no day is ever quite the same.

“Recruitment can be quite difficult,” she says. “Take replacing the less common personnel, such as the head of stained glass or the vesturer and vergers (they manage the interior of the cathedral and provide support for worship services and events that take place). You can’t just put an ad in the paper for those posts.”

Wright was originally a finance manager, but in previous jobs had been responsible for the personnel function as well – between 1994 and 2000 she was finance manager with personnel responsibilities at the International Study Centre at Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex, which is part of Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada. From there she moved on to a similar position at Jempsons Haulage in Rye on the south coast.

“I decided that the personnel side gave me more of a challenge than accountancy,” explains the 37-year-old. “But accountancy has given me a good standing. I think any manager needs accountancy training of some kind. In HR you have salary analysis and a lot of number work. I have a departmental budget, oversee the payroll and payroll systems and prepare statistical reports.”

Canterbury Cathedral employs 220 paid full- and part-time people and has a bank of 400 volunteers. Staff on the payroll range from stonemasons, choristers and chefs while volunteers include holy dusters (cleaners), bell ringers and guides.

Although the Church of England doesn’t directly play a part in running the HR department, what can be described as the cathedral’s operational activities are carried out in line with the church’s ‘customary practices’ – how it goes about conducting its church services and its mission ‘to help hold people together in unity and point them to god’. Inevitably this has a bearing on Wright’s role in terms of HR policies and procedures and in drawing up job descriptions.

She admits getting her head around how the different departments link together represented a steep learning curve.

“One day the jigsaw simply linked together,” she says. “It makes life a great deal easier once you understand who does what, where, why and how, especially as generally the job titles are not comparable to commercial organisations.”

Complex structure

Theological terminology presented another challenge, along with familiarisation of the massive cathedral building itself and the various protocols of the church.

“You have quirky little things, like security [staff] aren’t allowed to go into the cathedral unless they have been asked by the vesturer or member of chapter.”

Wright’s office is in the 16th century Cathedral House, which is the main administrative building. “It’s quite a maze and I presume my office was once part of a bedroom,” she says.

Wright answers to the receiver general (the cathedral’s equivalent of an operations director) who has overall responsibility for the finance and fabric of the cathedral – the stained glass windows and flying buttresses – and who is the line manager for the majority of senior managers.

The receiver general is a member of the cathedral’s chapter, which is similar to a board of directors. This is made up of the dean, two archdeacons, three canons and three lay men and women. These clergy, along with the precentor (the person who is responsible for the organisation of services) make up the full-time clergy within the cathedral. The dean and chapter were constituted in 1541 by Royal Charter, but there have been clergy at Canterbury Cathedral since 597 when St Augustine arrived from Rome to convert the Anglo Saxons.

Priorities for Wright have been to computerise the HR function and update the payroll system. She says the church’s customary practice can make implementing recent legislation unnecessarily time-consuming.

Formalising change

“A great deal of legislative changes are involved with equal opportunities and diversity. You have to formalise it and put something in the handbook to cover everybody, but you find that you can’t because all the departments are so different,” she says.

Next on her agenda is the appraisal scheme which, like some of the cathedral’s HR policies and procedures, needs to be updated.
The nature of the cathedral’s work – and the fact that it is a charity – means the appraisal scheme would be difficult to link to financial performance, so Wright sees her role as giving line managers infrastructure and systems.

“You can’t define productivity and output as you would in a profit-making organisation,” she says. “You have nothing to link to and analyse. Line managers are responsible for their staff and have their own ways of controlling performance. All I am concerned about is the overall appraisal [scheme design, implementation management] and the training and development needs of staff.”

Although her role has thrown up some unorthodox challenges along the way, it is one she clearly relishes and, for now, Wright is happy to stay put and has no plans to return to the commercial sector.

“Certainly there are peculiarities that are not normal to any other job,” she says. “But there aren’t any dislikes – it’s a nice job.” 

Tanya Wright’s CV

  • February 2005 to date: personnel manager, Dean and Chapter of Canterbury, Kent

  • October 2001-October 2004: finance manager, John Jempson and Son, East Sussex

  • February 1994-October 2000: finance manager, International Study Centre, Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex

  • December 1989-February 1994: accountant, English and Co-Chartered Accountants

Order of service

Ever since the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in the cathedral in 1170, Canterbury has attracted thousands of pilgrims. Below are a few key dates in its history:

  • 597:St Augustine arrived in Kent and soon established the first cathedral.

  • 1070-1077: Cathedral rebuilt by Archbishop Lanfranc.

  • 1170: Thomas Becket murdered in the cathedral.

  • 1220: Becket’s body placed in shrine in Trinity Chapel.

  • 1498: Construction of the Bell Harry Tower completed the cathedral.

  • 1538: Becket’s shrine destroyed by Henry VIII.

  • 1540: Monastery dissolved by royal command.

  • 1541: New foundation of dean and chapter established.

  • 1660-1704: Repair and refurbishment after damage by puritans .

  • 1954: Library rebuilt, repairing war damage.

  • 1988: Compass Rose placed in the nave.

  • 2000: International study centre completed.

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