Interview | Nicky Wynne on St Paul’s ‘Remember Me’ Project

(Left to right) Nicky Wynne, Director of Development, Sarah Brothers, 'Remember Me' Digital Officer and Project Manager, and Emma Tomlinson, Relationship Manager with letters of donation from Daily Mail readers. Credit: Rob Todd and the Daily Mail.

Lucy Morris

Nicky Wynne on St Paul’s ‘Remember Me’ Project

‘Remember Me’ was first set up by St Paul’s Cathedral in May 2020. The online memorial commemorates those who have lost their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic and was put in place to support the bereft. The online platform received such a positive response that it was decided there would be a physical memorial at the Cathedral, so that visitors from everywhere, of all faiths and none, could attend to reflect and mourn at a place dedicated to remembering. ‘Remember Me’ started a fundraising campaign to help with the cost of building the physical memorial, and with the help of the Daily Mail, they reached their initial target at the end of last month.

I sat down with Nicky Wynne, Director of Development for St Paul’s and leader of the ‘Remember Me’ project, who told me about the plans for the memorial, hopes for next year, and future Arts and Cultural events to be hosted at the Cathedral.  

Congratulations on raising your target of £2.3 million! Did you imagine it would receive this support when you set it up early last year?

I believed it would receive the support. The journey began last April when we really wanted to do something impactful for everyone in the UK, but I had no budget whatsoever, and still don’t due to cutbacks. I knew that ‘Remember Me’ was going to be a project that would grow exponentially and that it would be incredibly impactful, not just for those in the UK but also for the Cathedral itself, and to help the Cathedral be perceived in the way it was in the 1950s, post-war era, where people would come to seek solace and comfort. I had a gut feeling that this was something that needed to happen and by March we had raised £440,000. We had then reached a point where we didn’t know what else to do, which is when the Daily Mail came on board, as they really believed in the project. They got involved on May 1 2021 and by May 22 we had reached our target, so it is really thanks to the Daily Mail and its readers. We have over 10,000 donors, which is amazing!

What was the catalyst behind creating the campaign?

The journey began with Bishop Sarah saying to the Dean, ‘The Cathedral needs to do something for the people of the UK, and I think the best thing that you can do is to have a book of memorial.’  Within two months, we had 5,000 people wanting to put memorials on our dedicated site and it became apparent that we were fulfilling a need, the need to make people a part of our history. We decided to not just have something in the ether but to also bring it into the Cathedral, which is when we realised that we needed to have a physical memorial. We knew that we needed a new inner Portico, and as it currently stands, the main doors at the North Transept let air in when open which knocks the organ sound out, meaning someone has to constantly retune it. So, we thought that it was an opportunity to create a ‘Remember Me’ Inner Portico.

When people walk through that entrance they are walking directly into the physical memorial, which is so powerful. In doing this, we will have a beautiful, tranquil space that means people can go into this area for free. By raising more money, it means we can have specialist staff in there during its opening hours that deal with bereavement, grief, and mental health issues. Covid has impacted all of us, whether directly or indirectly, and everyone is aware of the rise in mental health issues due to lockdown.

How do people who are struggling with bereavement or their mental health contact these specialist staff members?

That space will be somewhere in which people can go to either remember someone they have lost or to sit there and have a moment of contemplation. We do already have this component in the Cathedral, and our Chaplains and Visitor Engagement Staff are all trained in being aware of helping people that need the help, as the Cathedral attracts that. So, we will have specific ‘Remember Me’ staff.

How do you plan to spend the money you have raised?

Oliver Caroe and his team, of Caroe Architecture, have designed the physical memorial. It will be made in English oak so that the colour is reminiscent of what Sir Christopher Wren would use. The concept is that as much as possible of the build is done in the UK, because the complexity of getting supplies from outside of the country is now challenging, but we also want the project to be given to British craftspeople to do their specialist work. It is an oval, wooden structure, the same height as our South Transept build, and ‘Remember Me’ will be carved into the oak around the top. We are currently having hoardings put up in the North Transept which will all be covered with ‘Remember Me’ information, along with a montage image of the victims of Covid arranged to shape the Cathedral, produced by the Daily Mail.

How long will the memorial take to build and where will its home be?

Right now, they are putting in the foundations, and off-site will be the construction itself takes place. Specialist craftspeople in wood carving and wood making are currently being sought and they will then bring it into the Cathedral. The memorial will be levered up and put in place, and we hope to hit our deadline to have it installed by February/March 2022, with its grand opening being 23 March 2022, symbolising the Covid Memorial Day.

Where are people able to view the virtual book of remembrance?

The idea is that we have at least two to four beautifully carved podiums in and around the area, currently The Middlesex Chapel, which will become the space where people can go and sit, contemplate, and light a candle. If we raise more money, which we are on track to do, then we will also put these in other parts of the Cathedral, so that it is isolated to this area.

Is there any way loved ones can include names of friends and family they have lost in this?

The online book will stay open for as long as required and it is open to anyone who wants to leave a memorial, so please go ahead and use this facility. It is a beautiful memorial service that we provide because it is not just analytical, we personally speak to those that want to leave messages. We initially have communication with them via email and with this contact, they can begin to have a level of comfort that they may not have previously found.

You have extended the campaign to March 23, 2022. Where are you hoping it will go next?

The next phase, from a fundraising perspective, is about both assistant businesses whilst businesses are supporting us. It is about trying to bring businesses back into the city and enable people to see that the city is lively and thriving again, and St Paul’s have a fantastic role to play in that because of who we are and what we offer, from a spiritual perspective to a cultural and educational one.

We plan to engage with corporate companies and businesses that want to donate something back to ‘Remember Me’ and through that, we hope that they will then benefit because they will become public once more. It’s about changing the habits that people have had; people are extremely reluctant to come back into the city, it is empty, and we want those people back. We adhere to government legislation, to social distancing and mask-wearing, so it’s about making the next phase of ‘Remember Me’ something more than the size of the project itself.

Is there a second target for the next nine months that you are hoping to reach?

We did not expect to reach our initial target so quickly, so what we have now is a sliding target. If we reach three million, we can really invest in the ‘Remember Me’ staff and in making the digital component bigger, so that it has more space in the Cathedral. Then if more money is raised beyond this, we can think about things such as investing in our gardens, so that we have something physical relating to ‘Remember Me’ there, which could help those who feel slightly uncomfortable in coming directly into the Cathedral. It is all about the legacy for ‘Remember Me’, and it will be strict funding for this but it will allow us able to do more expansive work.

What events will St. Paul’s host to celebrate the legacies of those no longer with us?

Right now these are currently evolving but the focus will be around March 23 2022. If you asked me in a months’ time, I would know more, but it seems to be that we are all working at such an accelerated pace, and we did not expect to be in lockdown for so long, so there is nothing concrete yet. There are some really exciting ideas bubbling, which I am unable to share at this moment in time, but hopefully the great unveil will be soon!

I understand, alongside the work you are doing for ‘Remember Me’, there will be Arts and Culture events held at the Cathedral. Could you talk me through these?

We have the most amazing visual art committee, which I sit on, and really wonderful curators and advisors, so we are currently looking at the programme of activities. Some of these will be related to ‘Remember Me’ and others will have other components to them, such as how we assist diversity in the Cathedral and what sort of arts and cultural events we can host around this. It is also the anniversary of Grinling Gibbons, the amazing carver, next year and we want to do something framing this. It is also public knowledge now that we have been selected for the Queen’s Jubilee in June 2022 and we want to have an exhibition connected to this. The fact that the Queen is coming to the Cathedral for her Jubilee service is a moment in history, so we are delighted to have been selected.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

One of the things we really want to ensure is that people know the Cathedral is a truly diverse, multi-faceted place, and it is open to ideas and concepts. Particularly for the city, it is a place where you can have a conversation and is a conduit for ideas and thoughts.

I also want to give a special mention to Sir Lloyd Dorfman, as without his driving force and vision, the project could not have been realized. It has been an honour to work alongside him as I lead on ‘Remember Me’. 

For more information and to visit the online book of memorial, visit the ‘Remember Me’ website.

To donate to the ‘Remember Me’ campaign, please do so here.

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