Durham Cathedral in LEGO: innovative buy-a-brick fundraising

Exhibited by
Sue Kershaw
January 05, 2017
Medium of Communication
Social media, press, advertising
Target Audience
Individuals, corporations, granting organisations
Type of Charity
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance
11th July 2013

SOFII’s view

SOFII considers this innovative version of the traditional buy-a-brick fundraising to be a winner in more ways than one. The LEGO scale model was a spectacular totaliser and visual representation of the appeal and is easily replicable as a fundraising mechanic. 

Summary / objectives

The project was started in order to raise funds for a new £10.9m permanent exhibition of cathedral artefacts called Open Treasure, which is expected to attract 120,000 people a year. This complex campaign was planned with great professionalism and maximised the use of space within the cathedral and the huge pool of prospects from the many visitors. 


Brick fundraising has always been a popular method for charities that can establish an actual wall or walkway with engraved bricks in honour of donations. This fundraising method has seen a new resurgence in popularity and this particular project demonstrates great creativity and innovation. 

Durham Cathedral in LEGO was devised as a fundraising project to raise money for Open Treasure, Durham Cathedral's world-class exhibition experience that cost £10.9m. Members of the public were asked to donate £1 for every brick added to a scale model of the cathedral built in LEGO. Since the first brick was laid by television presenter and historian Jonathan Foyle on 11 July 2013, the model has attracted interest from visitors across the world, as well as inspiring local community groups and businesses to support the Cathedral by building sections of the model. The final brick was laid by 7 year old Pearl Richardson who won a prize draw for the honour and whose father is a stonemason on the cathedral’s work yards team.

On top of the more familiar marketing methods, such as posters, flyers and adverts, the use of social media and innovative product design helped Durham Cathedral in LEGO to become an even greater success. T-shirts, mugs and even limited edition mini-models were sold far and wide. Over 40,000 people tuned in to watch the last brick being added through a live Facebook stream.

A series of five LEGO films were also created that tell the story of Durham Cathedral in LEGO from the life of St Cuthbert to Cathedral life today. The LEGO films were viewed over 50,000 times in just 5 weeks, engaging new audiences and promoting the opening of Open Treasure.

People from 182 countries around the world have got behind the project with residents of Alaska, the Seychelles, the Solomon Islands and the Cook Islands all donating to place a brick on the model. A world map was on display that recorded the diverse nationalities that contributed. In addition there was the opportunity to donate online and via text/sms.

The fact that visitors personally place their own bricks on the model increases levels of engagement, establishing a tangible connection between the visitor and the Cathedral’s fundraising efforts. A team of sixty LEGO volunteers was amassed, with help from TV architect George Clark, to help visitors place their bricks, ensuring the LEGO table could remain open seven days a week.

The completed model provides a valuable resource for interpreting the Cathedral to visitors and continues to be photographed and shared on social media reaching new audiences. 


The LEGO build took three years and raised £300,000 at £1 per brick. That's nearly a third of the total £1m that was needed to complete the Open Treasure project.


The UK Institute of Fundraising's National Fundraising Awards showcases the most remarkable fundraising achievements of the past 12 months and recognises the very best in fundraising excellence. This year SOFII sponsored the Most Innovative Fundraising Campaign for the campaign which demonstrates significant innovation on fundraising. 

What the judges said:

This campaign brought a smile to our faces! It was an extremely clever way to engage people and bring the appeal to life. The model was an innovative totaliser for the campaign and use of the model is an ongoing attraction. They created an incredibly different image of an appeal by a Cathedral and have demonstrated a willingness to share learnings with other organisations.

Gaye Kirby, Head of Development at Durham Cathedral, said: 

We had no idea at the outset how far-reaching the scope would be with donations coming in from visitors, people celebrating birthdays and weddings, school groups as part of educational sessions, workplaces as part of team building activities, and companies who wanted to sponsor sections of the model.

Other relevant information

The Lego cathedral currently holds the record for the largest Lego model built by ordinary people. With 300,000 bricks and 1,450 individual modules, it is 5ft 6in (1.7m) high, is 12ft 6in (3.84m) long and 5ft (1.53m) wide. An accurate scale model of the real building, it includes altars, crosses, arched windows, gargoyles and stained glass.

The model has been designed by Bright Bricks, a UK-based company licensed by LEGO to design large-scale LEGO models, who have also worked with museums on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.

Influence / impact

The fact that Durham Cathedral in LEGO has inspired similar projects at Chester Cathedral, amongst others, demonstrates the legacy and enduring significance of this innovative fundraising campaign.