A true friend of the Cathedral

By Simon Hart

Peter Woods is describing the details of a recent visit to London for a garden party at Buckingham Palace. "It was wonderful to see so many people being recognised for their work in the voluntary sector. It's a forty-acre garden with lots of places to sit and people-watch – and there was a delicious afternoon tea!" Peter was invited to the Palace in his capacity as Merseyside chair of the Art Fund, a national fundraising charity for art, though it is his similar role with another association – the Friends of the Metropolitan Cathedral – that he wishes to discuss with the Catholic Pic.

This is a group, he explains, which combines raising funds for the Cathedral with a range of fascinating talks and cultural activities for its 400 members. "Our aim is to keep interested people aware of what's going on at the Cathedral and how they may be able to help the Cathedral in a practical way," says Peter, who has held the post of chair since 2006. "We do that by arranging a lot of events – trips to other places of interest, such as cathedrals or buildings with some religious significance, and lectures and talks which we sponsor. In January we had Father Geoffrey Wheaton, who made a presentation on art and Scripture. We've also had Lord Alton of Liverpool talking about his work overseas."

The Friends' fundraising efforts are visible around the Cathedral, according to Peter, who proffers some notable examples: "We've sponsored medals for members of the choir and for altar servers, and we've paid for some of the glass altar pieces in the Blessed Sacrament chapel by German artist Raphael Seitz. We've bought crib figures and sponsored the Easter Garden this year. Another thing we donated was the Hillsborough memorial tribute with the names of all the people who died."

Peter, born and raised in Ireland, has vast experience of fundraising work with other charitable causes in his adopted city. Appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Merseyside in 2010, he is also a board member of the Merseyside Building Preservation Trust and was previously chair of the Friends of the Tate and also the Homebaked Community Land Trust in Anfield, a community bakery project originally set up by Liverpool Biennial. The son of Liverpool-born parents, Peter grew up in County Louth but, he reveals, "had grandparents here so it was very much like coming home when I came here in 1969".

With his partner Francis Ryan, he developed a successful antiques business in Liverpool, working as a director of Ryan Wood Antiques from 1972–2005, and he retains an involvement today. "We help people with acquiring or disposing of antiques and collectables and with valuations," he says, though much of his attention is now focused elsewhere. Retirement evidently has a different meaning for this engaging Irishman, who proceeds to divulge his fondness for his local parish church of St Vincent de Paul's on St James Street. "It's a beautiful Pugin church," he says. "I'd love to see it restored to the way it should be and already the parishioners are working toward that goal." It is the Cathedral, though, that we come back to as he outlines his wish to attract new members to the Friends group. "We'd like to have more representation from the parishes throughout the diocese," he says, and for more information, call 0151 709 9222 or email friends@metcathedral.org.uk.