Council Chair champions ‘national treasure on our doorstep’

The newly elected chair of Lewes District Council has described Charleston as a ‘jewel in the crown of Lewes district’ and an ‘international treasure on our doorstep’.

Councillor Adrian Ross was elected Chair of the Council in July and visited Charleston to find out more about how it is responding to the Covid-19 crisis.

Charleston is totally reliant on revenue from visitors, so its closure in March due to the pandemic left the charity extremely vulnerable and facing an uncertain future.

Nathaniel Hepburn, the Director and Chief Executive of Charleston, quickly launched an emergency appeal to raise desperately needed funds –

Councillor Adrian Ross said:

“Charleston is without doubt a national treasure on our doorstep and one that we must ensure can be enjoyed for generations to come.

“With Charleston closed and their world-famous literary festival cancelled, the impact on their finances has been considerable, and similarly negative for the direct and indirect employment that the venue creates.

“However, Nathaniel and his team are doing a fantastic job in difficult circumstances and during my term as Chair of the Council I will be doing what I can to help this jewel in the crown of the district.”

It costs over £1 million a year to conserve and preserve the house’s hand-painted interiors, unique collections and garden, to stage a diverse, year-round programme of festivals, events and exhibitions, and to open Charleston to visitors.

Nathaniel Hepburn, Chief Executive of Charleston, said:

“Charleston has been saved from imminent insolvency thanks to generous donations from our creative communities and visitors from around the world; as well as grants from Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. However, there is still a long way to go, and significant funds still to raise, before we can reopen.

“We are using the opportunities this rare period of closure offers to build a stronger, more resilient and more sustainable organisation as we continue to seek funding to open Charleston to visitors again in spring 2021.”

This summer Charleston opened its beautiful gardens for the local community to use for free as a place of wellbeing and creativity. Alongside the gardens and house — home to artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and regular meeting place of the Bloomsbury group — the grounds of Charleston also includes three state-of the-art exhibition galleries, a café/restaurant and event space which opened in autumn 2018 following a major restoration and redevelopment project.

Councillor James MacCleary, Leader of Lewes District Council, said:

“In a post-pandemic world it is my belief that Charleston can be one of the many catalysts for recovery in the district. 

“It is essential that they get the support they need to emerge from this crisis and play the fullest possible role in drawing in visitors to the district from the UK and overseas.”