Multi-million pound project gets under way at Charleston

Virginia Nicholson with Charleston Trust director Alistair Burtenshaw
Virginia Nicholson with Charleston Trust director Alistair Burtenshaw

The granddaughter of a leading Bloomsbury Group artist took up a sledgehammer last week to launch the Charleston Centenary Project.

Virginia Nicholson, granddaughter of celebrated painter Vanessa Bell, joined Charleston Trust director  Alistair Burtenshaw as major work began on the famous artists’ enclave near Firle, which was once home to an influential set of writers, artists and intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group.

More than £7million has already been raised towards the cost of the project, which is expected to see a contemporary exhibition gallery, collection store, research studio and visitor facilities built on the site.

The Trust says the work will allow it to develop its outreach work with schools, colleges and the local community as well as to expand its workshop programme.

Mr Burtenshaw, said the trust would work to ensure Charleston’s rural tranquillity and sense of place is preserved throughout the work. He said: “It is important that we retain that. Although this will be a significant project, it is in scale with the house itself and its place in the landscape.”

Designed by internationally renowned architect Jamie Fobert - best known for his work on the extension to the Tate St Ives and Kettles Yard in Cambridge - the project comes alongside a major restoration of Charleston’s Grade 2 listed hay and threshing barns.

Once completed, the hay barn will provide a new 200-seat auditorium which can be used all the year round for events and can also be hired out. The trust says there will also be a new cafe in the threshing barn.

The trust says the Charleston project could see visitor numbers increase by 43 per cent to at least 50,000 a year.

Earlier this year, the Charleston Centenary Project was selected by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership as one of 41 projects to receive a combined investment package totalling £229m.

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