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Published: 08 Mar 2016

The OuseLife artists have been given unprecedented access to Ely Cathedral. For over a year they have been meeting the people who make the Cathedral what it is today, and discovering concealed gems and secret places.

Tom Jones, one of the OuseLife artists, tells his story:

For my contribution to the Secret Life of Ely Cathedral exhibition, I was really interested in the Boy Choristers as a subject matter. Having seen them at rehearsals and performing at the Cathedral, I was struck by how mature and professional they were for their age. I was keen to see more of them outside of Cathedral hours to see how they behaved in a more relaxed environment. After meeting all of the extremely rigorous safety requirements with the school, I was lucky enough to be allowed onsite at the Choir House to spend some time with them.

The house itself dates from the 14th century and doesn't disappoint in its grandeur. What is more noticeable though, is how lived in and welcoming it feels. That in part, is definitely down to how at ease the boys are in their surroundings. When they're not practising(which they do a lot, even back at the house) the boys are doing whatever any 7 to -12 year olds do, be it watching television or playing video games. The obvious advantage of boarding is that there are always several other boys to play with. This also makes for a fairly awe inspiring collection of Nerf Guns.

I didn't paint on-site, but I had my camera with me for reference shots. I fully expected to be on the fringes taking the odd shot here or there but the boys were so unphased by the camera, that I was able to follow them all around the house. They were all exceptionally friendly and polite. I don't think I've been called Mr Jones so much in such a short space of time! In fact, some of them even started taking photos for me whilst I was treated to a game of pool. Later they took me into the garden to watch them play rugby and have a bit of a kick about, all under the watchful gaze of the Cathedral.

A fine setting for such a likeable and remarkably talented group of boys.

"The Secret Life of Ely Cathedral", an OuseLife exhibition, runs from 6 April to 2 May inclusive, in the South West Transept and with site specific pieces throughout the Cathedral. contact

For further information including images of works and for interviews, contact Caroline Forward, OuseLife Group coordinator on 01353676227 or


1. The exhibition, which runs until 2 May, inclusive, will be opened by The Rt Revd Stephen Conway, The Bishop of Ely, at a Private View on 8 April 6.30pm to 8.30pm. Richard Cork, art critic and historian will be a speaker at the event.

2. Art works making up the 'Secret Life of Ely Cathedral' will be available to purchase until the exhibitions closes, with a commission on sales going to the Cathedral.

3. The OuseLife drawing group began on a cold February evening in 1997. Five determined artists braved the icy weather and lonely roads to meet in a furniture workshop in the tiny hamlet of Little Ouse. There, amongst the woodworking machinery and sawdust, they spent a happy two hours drawing from a life model. The group continues to meet weekly, and has held a number of successful exhibitions, and published two books. The group is a not for profit organisation. The philosophy of the group is to provide a space and a model from which the artist can work in whichever way they choose. This provides essential practice, discipline and observation for the group's artists, who include painters, sculptors, ceramicists, printmakers, illustrators, photographers, jewellers, textile and environmental artists. It lays the draughtsmanship groundwork to take on the wider challenges the artists set themselves.

"Life drawing practice is to me like the scales are to the piano player."