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Joseph Denby, Operations Manager

Written by Emily Essex, posted on Monday, January 28, 2019

Behind the scenes header image


Joseph Denby, Operations ManagerEmily: What is an 'Operations Manager'?

Joseph: An Operations Manager is basically in charge of the building. It’s a role concerned with the physical stuff we’ve got, how we’re looking after it, and how it interacts with other people.

My job is to create as good an environment as possible which is legal, safe, and compliant, but which also is appropriate to the needs of the people who are using it.

Emily: So you’re now just four months into the job and the way the building interacts with people has been completely changed by a massive lighting project. What difference has that made?

Joseph: The lighting project was actually a big draw for me when I spotted the job being advertised, so I knew this was coming. When I think about the day-to-day working life of a Cathedral it’s not really any more complicated than anything else: this building is never ending in terms of stuff, and we are always having to look to the future. This project interests me because it’s about stewardship for the future, not only in terms of Christ Church but looking out as well.

A major way to reduce our carbon footprint – and indeed our energy bills! – in a place like this is energy efficiency. We currently have a fairly inefficient system, which was fit for purpose when it was put in but which is already ageing.

Working closely with contractors during the Lighting ProjectWith this new system we won’t have to change lightbulbs [not a small feat in this building!], the building will be brighter and it will be much easier to read in here. The new system is much more energy efficient, and provides stewardship for the future in other ways: reducing the chances of burn out or other system problems, it’s safer, it will be easier to control.

Emily: So you’ve told me about your job but how about you, how have you ended up here?

Joseph: I suppose the short answer would be vocation.

When I left school I went to study theatre management at RADA in London, which taught me all the basic skills of how to effectively run a theatre building. And I spent a number of years working in those kind of venues and becoming more and more involved in the building management side of things.

Joseph working as a Stage Manager at the Hackney Empire, 2009

I’ve done various other roles in the time since: I’ve been a Lay Clerk, I worked briefly as a verger, I got very involved in some of the historic, dilapidated buildings in and around Norwich when we lived there: my husband is an architect so that was an area of shared interest for us. And I returned to live performing arts venues as an Operations Manager. Throughout all the jobs I’ve done, I was always lay clerking, always singing, maintaining that toe hold in the church side of my life which has always been important to me.

I knew I wanted to mix all these things together in some way but I didn’t quite know how to do it. And then this job came along and I thought it was perfect!

The singer vocation, the stage manager vocation, the theatre, the Church, the building vocations: all of those parts of me are encapsulated in what I’m doing now and in what we do here together.

Emily: You come in to work very early. Are there any upsides to that?

Lay Clerks at Gloucester Cathedral, 2015Joseph: The Cathedral at rest is just beautiful, and I get a lot done in those early mornings. I arrive each day around 7am and the first thing I do is I enter through the South Door and I walk through the whole Cathedral. I look for the headline issues of the day, whether that’s chairs that need moving or ropes that need putting out, so I am walking around the building with my eye out for Health and Safety, but also just to say ‘hello’ to the place. This isn’t just any other place to come and work, it is so, so special.

Emily: I’ve noticed you doing a walk around in the early mornings. It seems like a really good way to start the day.

Joseph: For me it’s a very important time to reflect, and I’ve found that especially true during the busy Christmas season when it would be easy to forget that I’m in a church and focus instead on the actions that would happen in any building with live events coming up. I sometimes talk about ‘capturing reverence’, which is a hard thing to do when we’re busy and when we have such a massive footfall as we do here. But doing this every day, capturing a sense of that reverence in the morning and trying to maintain it throughout the day, even just for myself, is really important.

The Cathedral team working amongst the Lighting Project scaffoldingEmily: Can you tell me what it is that makes Christ Church Cathedral so special to you?

Joseph: I knew of it by reputation before I arrived, but my knowledge of Christ Church was as a singer. This is a place of utter musical excellence, the stewardship of which is in such great hands with Steven Grahl. But I’m lucky to have now got to see some of the other things that make this place special.

What makes Christ Church great? It’s the people. It’s a clichéd answer but it’s true. There is a common sense of purpose and collegiality which not everywhere has.

Emily: Is there anything that you think people don’t know about your job that you would like them to?

Joseph: My job has sort of always existed, but it’s been called different things and in the past it has involved different skill sets and different knowledge bases. The things that I do are appropriate to the compliance that we have to achieve for today, but the day-to-day stewardship of this building has always existed.

Emily: I suppose it’s obvious in a way: this stuff wouldn’t be still standing if people didn’t look after it, but it’s easy to forget that.
Finally, what are you most looking forward to?

Joseph: I’m looking forward to completing a full year and seeing the full life of the Cathedral.

And finding more ways of holding hands operationally with the college part of Christ Church. I’m looking forward to building those relationships as well as getting to know more people in the Cathedral community as well.

Emily: We look forward to getting to know you better!


Next month I will be interviewing Janet Proudman, Cathedral LLM (Licensed Lay Minister).