Critics of Sheffield Cathedral's decision to close 400-year-old choir consider legal action

The entire Sheffield Cathedral Choir is to be replaced by a new music team(Photo: Facebook/Sheffield Cathedral)

Critics of Sheffield Cathedral's decision to shut down its choir after 400 years in favour of a more inclusive music team are considering taking legal action.

Cathedral Dean the Very Rev Peter Bradley announced last week that the entire choir was being let go.  It is to be replaced by a new Canon Precentor and music team that will reflect "the mixed urban community in which we live and work".

"For some time, Chapter has been considering a new model for Anglican choral life here, with a renewed ambition for engagement and inclusion," he said. 

The decision will make three professional musicians - or 'lay clerks' - redundant, and threatens the scholarships of five choral scholars and the musical education of around 20 young choristers.

The Save Sheffield Cathedral Choir group is seeking independent legal advice over the decision, claiming unfair dismissal. 

The campaign group is made up of former members of the choir, who said in a statement: "The approach taken by the Dean and Chapter to close Sheffield Cathedral Choir has proven reckless, short-sighted and opportunistic.

"We are considering a legal challenge to the decision on the basis of unfair dismissal on three grounds: lack of clear reasons given; spurious claims around diversity and inclusion; and the cynical timing of their announcement, without sufficiently notifying employees, during the choir holidays, and in the middle of a global pandemic."

A petition to save the choir on has already amassed over 4,000 signatures. 

The petition welcomes the pursuit of inclusivity and diversity but questions why the choir had to be disbanded in order to achieve this. 

"We offer for their consideration successful schemes underway in other Yorkshire cathedrals (for example Leeds Cathedral Choir, which reformed successfully without disbanding its existing setup," it reads.

"A new Canon Precentor will be recruited by the Dean and Chapter to lead this work, though it is surely misguided to have removed all existing expertise within the Cathedral such that the new appointee's work to make the Cathedral a place for all people is made significantly harder.

"The task of rebuilding music at Sheffield Cathedral will require a commitment to inclusive dialogue which has been notably absent from recent events.

"The process must engage meaningfully with all people affected by this current decision, reaching out beyond the Dean and Chapter and the vested interests behind this short sighted decision. This process must include voices from past and current members of the Cathedral community." 

Former choir member Nick Cox said the cathedral had already run successful citywide outreach programmes for young singers involving thousands of school children from Sheffield primary schools.

"These included children of different faiths and no faith, mixed heritage, different disabilities, and socio-economic disadvantage. This programme was also highly collaborative with, and highly regarded by, other educational organisations across the city, and fed into the Cathedral Choir. It is our view that this program was left to die by Dean and Chapter," he said. 

On Sunday, the Dean replaced his sermon with an address on the closure of the choir in which he stood by his decision. 

"As 'a place for all people' we have been asking ourselves if our new choir can better reflect the diversity of our city," he said. 

"It has become impossible to go into a mixed sex school and only audition younger boys, or older girls. Schools rightly require parity of treatment, and so do the Cathedral's own values."

He went on to say that the decision to close the choir had been "unanimous". 

"It has become clear to Chapter that if we are to renew our choral life so fundamentally, an incremental approach is unlikely to be successful," he said.

"We came to the view that it would be best to close the Choir, reflect, recruit and plan, and then systematically build our choral worship in a new way. The decision by Chapter to close the Choir was unanimous."

He added: "It is our prayerful discernment that a new beginning is in the best interest of the Cathedral's mission. We fear that if we do not take this opportunity our choral life will simply decline."