How Charleston has survived the pandemic – as it prepares to reopen gardens for free visits

Charleston is preparing to welcome visitors back to its gardens this weekend.

Wednesday, 31st March 2021, 3:17 pm
Updated Thursday, 1st April 2021, 1:08 pm
Maria Caulfield chats with Charleston Director and Chief Executive Nathaniel Hepburn in Charleston's walled garden. Photo James Bellorini
Maria Caulfield chats with Charleston Director and Chief Executive Nathaniel Hepburn in Charleston's walled garden. Photo James Bellorini

The gardens will reopen on Friday for free visits – though people will have to book a time-slot in advance.

Director Nathaniel Hepburn said: “We are aware of how important Charleston is for people from the local community, and to ensure that there are outdoor spaces where people can go for free feels very important to us.”

Maria Caulfield MP paid a visit to the site on Monday to learn more about the improvements that have been taking place at Charleston during the last year.

Maria Caulfield chats with Charleston Director and Chief Executive Nathaniel Hepburn (L) and painter John Parnell. Photo James Bellorini

The site is gearing up to reopen fully on May 19, subject to Government restrictions.

There will be two new exhibitions to see – a major collection of works by artist Nina Hamnett and a new series of work by painter Lisa Brice.

Mr Hepburn said the team was looking forward to welcoming back visitors.

It has been a challenging year for Charleston.

Maria Caulfield chats with Conservation Cleaner Kathy Crisp in the studio at Charleston. Photo James Bellorni

Like cultural venues across the country, the site was forced to close its doors just over a year ago in March and cancel its flagship festival.

With the house relying solely on income from ticket sales, the team was left wondering how it would be able to survive the pandemic.

Mr Hepburn said: “Looking back at last year, it was a very challenging time to even consider fundraising.

“People understandably needed to prioritise public services that were providing immediate frontline care for people.”

Maria Caulfield chats with Charleston Director and Chief Executive Nathaniel Hepburn in Charleston's walled garden. Photo James Bellorini

Nevertheless, they launched an emergency appeal, which led to donations from charities and more than 2,000 donations from individuals around the world, helping to keep it afloat.

When the Government announced its Culture Recovery Fund later in the year, Charleston was one of the first sites to receive funding, having been put on a heritage at risk list.

Closing the doors to the house for a year presented an opportunity to carry out improvements at the site without disruption to visitors – an opportunity the team was keen to seize.

This was made possible after funds were secured from the Government’s Getting Building Fund.

Maria Caulfield chats with Charleston Director and Chief Executive Nathaniel Hepburn (R) and painter John Parnell. Photo James Bellorini

The money is being used to rebuild the collapsed farm track from the A27 up to the House – which over the past decade has almost disintegrated.

Mr Hepburn said this would make it much easier for visitors to access the building.

At the end of last year, Charleston also received a £10,000 legacy payment from Jean Mossop, a long-standing visitor who was known to many people at the venue, which has allowed work to restore the exterior woodwork at the building to go ahead.

Mr Hepburn said: “It’s been an exciting period of preparing for visitors to come back.”

Maria Caulfield talked to staff about the farm track plans and the restoration work taking place during her visit this week.

Mr Hepburn said: “It was amazing to be able to thank Maria in person on behalf of the government because without the furlough scheme and the Culture Recovery Fund, and without the support for culture that the Government has given, Charleston would be in a very different situation now.

Maria Caulfield in the studio at Charleston. Photo James Bellorni

“As it is, with the support of the Getting Building Fund, it’s exciting that Charleston can once again be at the front of driving Sussex’s visitor economy and helping local businesses recover after a long winter.”