Minister for Sports, Heritage and Tourism Nigel Huddleston visits Charleston as charity plans for the future

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Minister for Sports, Heritage and Tourism Nigel Huddleston visits Charleston as charity plans for the future
Heritage Minister Nigel Huddleston and Charleston’s Director and Chief Executive, Nathaniel Hepburn, in the garden room at Charleston. Photograph © James Bellorini.

FIRLE.- On Friday 31 July 2020 Minister for Sports Heritage and Tourism, Nigel Huddleston, visited artists’ home and cultural centre Charleston which has been saved from insolvency and is now making the most of an extended closure period to build a bolder, stronger, and more sustainable organisation for the future.

The charity, which receives no regular public funding and had no reserves or endowments to fall back on during the Covid-19 pandemic, has lost over £600,000 in commercial revenue since it closed in March 2020. Thanks to donations from around the world and major grants from Historic England and National Lottery Heritage Fund, the unprecedented risk of insolvency has passed and the charity is now looking towards the future and a spring 2021 reopening.

While its walled garden has opened for pre-booked visits this summer, the charity has made the difficult but financially prudent decision to keep the rest of Charleston closed until next year. The intimate experience of exploring the house’s interiors is something visitors normally cherish; but small, heavily furnished rooms make it impossible to create a socially distanced experience that would be safe and enjoyable for its staff, volunteers, and visitors. And without visitors to the house, the charity cannot afford to reopen its galleries, café or shop this year.

During the extended closure period the charity is investing in conservation work and better digital infrastructure and systems to ensure it opens with more resilience next year. Through the Government’s Getting Building Fund, it is also hoped the rural access road leading to Charleston will be rebuilt to enable more visitors to experience the home of artists Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and country meeting place of the Bloomsbury group.

The charity is making full use of the furlough grant which has contributed significantly to saving Charleston from insolvency, with total grants of up to £220,000 expected to the end of the scheme. Charleston’s barns and galleries which opened in 2018 following a major capital project will enable the charity to pivot its business model when it reopens, building on its exhibitions and events programme which saw visitor numbers double in 2019.

Charleston is at the heart of Sussex's national and international tourism as part of a string of museums, galleries and artists’ homes from Chichester to Hastings. It has an international reputation including a strong North American and Northern European visitor base, and lends its collections around the world with exhibitions in Italy, France and Sweden in recent years.

Charleston is also one of the founding partners of Sussex Modern; a public-private tourism initiative which celebrates the best of modern culture, landscapes and experiences in Sussex, and is working across the region to rejuvenate the tourism offer.

Heritage Minister, Nigel Huddleston, said: "It was brilliant to take a tour of Charleston Farmhouse today and learn more about the fascinating history of the house and the artists and writers who called it home, and to hear about their plans and aspirations for the future. It's one of the many remarkable places I've been lucky enough to visit in Sussex today and I want to encourage everyone to enjoy heritage sites safely this summer."

Nathaniel Hepburn, Director and Chief Executive, The Charleston Trust, said: “It's great that the Heritage Minister chose Sussex for a few days of his holiday. It was an honour to show him around Charleston and explain why it is still not possible to open the intimate and fragile rooms of our artists’ home and studios to the public. We were pleased to be joined by representatives from South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), South Downs National Park and East Sussex County Council to talk about some of the projects we hope to complete during this extended closure period in order to reopen next spring more resilient and more sustainable. Despite the setbacks of 2020, we were excited to share with the Minister how Sussex's extraordinary wine and cultural tourism could help revive the county in the coming years through the Sussex Modern marketing campaign.”

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