Selby Abbey looms large as a feature of the town’s skyline, but it also makes an equal – if less visible – impact on the welfare of the community it serves.
The Abbey’s primary function is to provide a place of worship and has done that, through a chequered and sometimes challenging history, for approaching 1,000 years.
But it provides much more than that and continues to reflect the values of community and hospitality of the Benedictine monks who established the Abbey in 1069.
That means that while the Abbey’s primary function is one of faith, it also acts as a hub in the community, which is particularly relevant in Selby where some of the infrastructure like museums present in other towns is absent.
A result of that is that the Abbey plays host to many events, such as college exhibitions and graduation celebrations.
Development officer Dr Grace Chapman said: “We do lots of work with schools and have them in for their harvest festivals and things like history workshops.”
Many other groups are also focused on the Abbey, including knitters and youth clubs, but its doors are also open to those who simply want to meet someone to share a conversation: “There are people who just want to come in and talk to someone; we are open and here.”
The Abbey’s history is complex and through the centuries it has survived fires, dereliction and many other challenges, creating a rich heritage.
That is celebrated and preserved today through a heritage programme that attracts many volunteers from the community, with many of those who choose to get involved maintaining long-standing relationships.
One unusual feature of the Abbey at present is having an artist-in-residence, textiles expert Serena Partridge.
She was brought in under Selby’s High Street Heritage Action Zone project, funded by Historic England and Selby District Council, which covers the town centre and produces tiny but impressive textile designs that decorate the interior of the Abbey.
People’s stories form the starting point for much of that work and the results add another dimension to the experience of visitors, regular or otherwise.
“What is really interesting is that it makes you stop, or slow down,” said Dr Chapman. “Quite often, people who live here and know the Abbey will walk past, it is part of the furniture, but this artwork makes people slow down and spot things.”
Perhaps the biggest compliment for the Abbey is an informal one, bestowed by the public.
“The Abbey is very dominant in the town and it is known as the ‘people’s monument’,” she said. “The public are very supportive and they help to make sure we can continue to do what we do.”