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The Centenary Project

In 2011 we launched an £9.3m project to safeguard Charleston’s heritage. This programme of sensitive restoration, preservation and the creation of new contemporary spaces will protect Charleston for generations to come.

Key activities of the Centenary Project
Due for completion in late December 2017/early January 2018, our Centenary Project includes the following pieces of work:

  • Building of a new access road and car park
  • Structural and preservation works to our two Grade II listed barns.
  • Building a new Gallery – The Wolfson Gallery, Collections Store and Research Studio.
  • Building a new Auditorium.
  • Relocating and expanding our Café, including new additional courtyard areas.
  • Launching a new schools and community education programme.
  • Rebuilding a previously demolished granary as a Creative Learning Studio.

Environmental sustainability

Charleston’s heritage and the environment that surrounds it is of huge importance to us.

The Centenary Project will provide a sustainable future for redundant and at risk rural agricultural buildings and will protect a section of historic landscape in the South Downs National Park. It will encourage visitors to enjoy and respect the rural environment.

The restored Barn and reconstructed Granary will be designed to make good use of energy efficient technologies. This will minimise future running costs and ensure that the Centenary Project is in keeping with Charleston’s ethos of sustainable work practices. The Centenary Project will be guided by a desire to find environmentally-sound solutions that are sympathetic to the heritage of the site and will not alter the historic appearance of the barn or negatively impact on the surrounding countryside.

Energy efficient options recommended for the Project include:

  • Installing a ground-source heat pump.
  • Under floor heating (up to 25% more efficient than conventional radiators).
  • Energy efficient fittings and equipment to be used throughout the site including low flush toilets and aerating taps to reduce water consumption.
  • The buildings will be refurbished using traditional materials, such as green oak, and we will work with contractors to ensure that timber purchased is from a sustainable source. Where possible, building materials will be sourced locally and their embedded carbon will be considered.

Although the building works will generate a short-term increase in site waste and traffic, we will consider the BREEAM assessment criteria and adopt a site waste plan to minimise the negative impact of waste produced.

The rural environment of the Project will be taken into consideration to ensure minimum impact on the biodiversity of the area. We have consulted with Natural England and commissioned a bat survey of the barns as part of the development work. The newly refurbished barn provides for a bat loft.

Increased visitors to Charleston will, inevitably, increase the volume of traffic to the site. As part of the planned development work for the project, Charleston will continue to work in consultation with East Sussex County Council and the South Downs National Park Authority to promote ‘Tourism without Traffic’. Green routes to Charleston have already been developed.

Building for the future

Due to the fragile nature of the House, our conservation constraints mean we are only able to open from late March through to early November. We retain the limit of 25,000 visitors to the House per year, but the Centenary Project will introduce new facilities which allow us to open year round and to increase our income generating capacity. One of our top priorities is to improve our visitor facilities including improved access. This section of the Project involves the development of:

  • A new car park and access road
  • A new Shop
  • New office space for staff

The magnificent Grade II listed barns opposite the farmhouse are a central part of Charleston’s historic setting. However, in the last fifty years, they have suffered damaging neglect with the gradual disintegration of their structural fabric. We aim to sensitively restore the two main barns, making safe the existing structures, but also upgrade the infrastructure within the buildings to allow for flexible learning activities in a space that can be used all year-round. As part of this, a new auditorium will be created for an expanded program of talks, lectures and artistic performances with a new staging area.

In the early 1970s, the eighteenth century granary that adjoined the barn (and which featured in many of Duncan Grant’s paintings) was demolished and replaced with an open-sided tractor shed. A further component of the site’s restoration is the rebuilding of the granary. Using the original footprint and fabric of the old building, we will create an inspirational learning environment for children, adults, schools, artists, scholars and academics, researchers and community groups – Creative Learning Studio.

Charleston has over 9,000 items in its reserve collection, the largest and most important of Bloomsbury art in the world. This collection is not currently accessible to visitors. As part of the Project a Collections Store will be built to provide proper environmental storage and security and will be accessible to all- researchers, schools, and other relevant groups.

The collection includes 8,000 works from the Angelica Garnett gift, a generous collection of works by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, which, as part of the Centenary Project will be researched, conserved and catalogued.

Central to the Charleston Centenary Project is the creation of a dedicated and purpose-built Exhibition Gallery. The Gallery will have museum quality lighting, environmental management and security and has been designed to be suitable for the display of 2-dimensional art, sculpture, decorative arts and archive material. It will be built in the hidden courtyard between the Barn and Charleston’s office building.

Centenary Project Gallery cgi

Proposed Gallery space

About the Project Team

We are working with the following companies to deliver the Centenary Project:

The Architects

Jamie Fobert Architects are designing and overseeing the building of the gallery, collection store and visitor new facilities.

Julian Harrap Architects are managing the key restoration works in the barns and in the rebuilding of the granary.

Project Manager

With considerable knowledge of HLF funding and reporting requirements, Cragg Management are overseeing the delivery of the Centenary Project. They have previously project-managed a number of local capital projects including Towner in Eastbourne and the De la Warr Pavilion in Bexhill.

Building Committee

Comprising Charleston’s Director, Financial Controller, a selection of trustees and the architects, this committee meets regularly to discuss progress and take decisions and reports back quarterly to Charleston’s trustees.

Appeal Committee

Led by Nick Rose, Capital Appeals Manager, this committee is responsible for raising the £8.5m required for the Project. The committee comprises Charleston trustees and individual Charleston supporters.


All staff are involved with the Project and continue to be consulted at regular briefings. Key staff involved are:

  • Director is overseeing the Centenary Project.
  • Capital Appeals manager is responsible for fundraising.
  • Head of Public Programmes and Learning is responsible for developing and delivering the public programme aspect of the Activity Plan.
  • Head of Finance and Finance Manager work to ensure that financial management of the project is strong and manageable before and after the project is complete.
  • Head of Curatorial Services is responsible for researching and cataloguing the Angelica Garnett Gift.

Charleston’s Trustees have been heavily involved in the Centenary Project from the outset and are committed to its success. They bring an abundance of experience and knowledge in terms of art, design, literature, publishing, law and education and have made an important contribution to its overall vision and structure. Trustees meet quarterly to discuss Charleston’s business and significant time is given on the agenda of each meeting to review the Centenary Project. Trustees are also powerful and effective advocates for the Project to the outside world and act as a useful sounding board for the Director on a range of matters outside of trustee meetings.

Support the Centenary Project

Our ambitious £9.3m Centenary Project will help safeguard Charleston’s heritage, address its real needs as an organisation and museum and provide it with a sustainable and financially secure future.

We have successfully raised two thirds of our £9.3m target, but a further £2.8m is urgently needed to complete this project. Please support the Centenary Project.

Thank you to all our supporters to date, including:

  • Heritage Lottery Fund (£2.4m)
  • Arts Council, England
  • The Monument Trust
  • Laura Ashley Family Foundation
  • The Wolfson Foundation
  • South Downs National Park Authority
  • Sir Siegmund Warburg Voluntary Settlement
  • Michael Marks Charitable Trust
  • John Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust
  • Elizabeth Cayzer Charitable Trust
  • Robert Gavron Charitable Trust
  • Bernard Sunley Charitable Trust
  • Foyle Foundation
  • The Sackler Trust
  • Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
  • The Band Trust
  • The Ondaatje Foundaton
  • Ian Askew
  • Hilary Newiss
  • Virginia and William Nicholson
  • The Rausing Family
  • Philip and Psiche Hughes
  • Michael Chowen
  • And a number of generous donations from individuals and organisations who wish to remain anonymous

The Project in detail

Charleston has an innovative and exciting programme of creative workshops,  events, talks and education outreach programme but this is limited due to the facilities and resources that we currently have to hold them in.

The majority of events and schools visits are held in the only available spaces at Charleston, the studio café, which is a suite of small rooms. This is limiting as:

  • we have to programme events and offer schools visits when the café is closed (Mondays and Tuesdays from April to October) which means that we cannot offer weekend workshops limiting the types of audiences because of their availability
  • during the winter months (November- March) when the house and studio café are closed, the studio café becomes readily available but unsuitable heating in these spaces means that it is an uncomfortable working and learning environment.
  • we are limited to how many people we can offer a workshop to as the spaces can hold only small amounts of people, meaning that we often have waiting lists for events.
  • it is difficult to facilitate workshops for families where parents and carers are required to supervise their children due to lack of space.
  • there is a lack of suitable storage for workshop equipment
  • there are no suitable washing facilities for paint brushes, pots etc.

The new Learning Studio is one of key features of the Centenary Project. The Grade II Listed Granary building which was demolished in the 1970s will be reconstructed into a purpose built Learning Studio. It is an element that, perhaps more than any other, will restore the appearance of the Charleston site to the way it looked historically.

The Learning Studio will allow Charleston to:

  • have a specifically designed working studio space which will naturally support more diverse types of creativity
  • utilise our collection as a source of inspiration
  • become a destination art studio
  • compete with other arts based providers including West Dean and the V&A offering short courses and more weekend activities.
  •  run a programme of workshops throughout the year even when the house and café are open to visitors, in turn improving the visitor offer and experience.

Gillian Wolfe CBE, Charleston Trustee and Director of Learning and Public Affairs, Dulwich Picture Gallery says;

“Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant were passionately creative people who inspired a new contemporary art scene using thrilling bold designs well ahead of their time. These artists devoted themselves to radical experimentation in the visual arts. We want to recapture and pass on this creative spirit to new generations. The Charleston Centenary Project includes the re-establishment of this tradition of practical art and craft making at Charleston. 

Our ambition is to build a new studio on the site of the old Granary, in the courtyard of the historic barns and overlooking the glorious South Downs, a truly inspiring situation.  This new multi-purpose studio will offer exciting opportunities for people of all ages to take classes and courses all year round in a wide range of media led by experienced artist tutors.Charleston will be a hub of artistic experimentation once again, this time offering taught sessions in art, design and crafts for the general public.

A beautiful purpose built Learning Studio in the spirit of both the Omega Workshops and the original studio within the house will reawaken the experimental visual arts scene that made Charleston’s artists famous.”

Centenary Project site plan

Project site plan proposed

Collections Store

Charleston has over 9,000 items in its reserve collection, the largest and most important of Bloomsbury art in the world. The Trust remains committed to developing knowledge and scholarship about its collection and the legacy of Bloomsbury. It provides research facilities for visiting students and academics and was one of the first museums in the UK to offer a collaborative D.Phil.

Currently not accessible to visitors, the collection includes an array of ceramics, sketches, paintings, drawings, photographs and textiles. Included in this is the 8,000 works that form part of the Angelica Garnett gift, a generous collection of works by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell which as part of the Centenary Project will be researched, conserved and catalogued.

The Collections Store will be built next to the Wolfson Gallery. It will provide proper environmental storage and security and will be accessible to all- researchers, schools, and other relevant groups. It will provide a dedicated appropriate space to undertake the research and cataloguing procedure of the Angelica Garnett Gift and for all of Charleston’s collection to be conserved properly and safely.


Charleston’s Grade II listed barns have been used for a considerable number of years as an additional temporary event space most notably for the Trust’s AGM and Small Wonder short story festival. Although beautiful, the barns are not ideal for these reasons:

Each year the Trust spends considerable time and expense turning the barns into a presentable space for our annual short story festival but despite these best efforts it still falls far short of audience expectations in terms of comfort (heating, sound-proofing etc) and is very limited in terms of the technical and catering facilities we can accommodate, due to the electrical capacity currently available. Structural issues (leaks in roof and walls) can result in flooding during bad weather which can place events in jeopardy and creates significant Health and Safety issues which prove time consuming and costly to mitigate. Due to the costs involved in maintaining the barns to an acceptable standard all year round we are unable to accommodate anything other than small events at Charleston, severely limiting our artistic and audience development aspirations. Uneven floor surfaces and distance from other facilities mean that those with mobility issues and other special needs face challenges.

The Centenary Project will see the Hay barn refurbished as a flexible auditorium giving it a new life in a way which does not compromise its character as a historically important building. The auditorium will enable the Trust to:

  • focus budget and staff time on developing the artistic programme and audience development, rather than on temporary maintenance work that has no lasting legacy.
  • make us a more attractive proposition for high profile artists, with increased PR and ticket income potential.
    make us a more attractive venue for visiting performers and other promoters increasing potential venue hire and artistic partnership work
  • extend our artistic programme to include a wider range of art forms including music, film, dance etc and therefore engage with a much wider range of partner organisations and audience groups.
    be more accessible, particularly to audience members with mobility and access issues.
  • Larger school and community groups could be accommodated at Charleston, both to attend Charleston promoted events or to present their own work.
    Diana Reich, Artistic Director says;

Charleston holds two high profile Festivals: a general literature and arts Festival each May, and Small Wonder, our innovative short story Festival, in September. The in-built cultural resonance at Charleston adds a significant extra dimension to each Festival, both of which have more or less grown to their capacity within the limits of the current infrastructure. It would be a huge boon to have an extra, state-of-the-art auditorium available. The unique, atmospheric space, within a traditional Sussex barn, would allow us to host far more writers and performers, as well as a greater variety of events, both during the Festivals and throughout the year and also provide a welcoming and comfortable venue for audiences in all seasons. It would lend itself to commissioning more work and to experimenting with different art forms. The heritage of Charleston is intrinsically linked to modernism. Making it new always involves an element of risk and the restored barn would be the perfect setting for testing out exciting ideas, whether in literature, drama, film, dance or fine art. I can’t wait for it to happen.”

New Exhibition Gallery (The Wolfson Gallery)

Central to the Charleston Centenary Project is the creation of a dedicated and purpose built Exhibition Gallery.

Up until 2013, the Exhibition Gallery was situated in an area of the Charleston shop, with no environmental controls or adequate lighting. Although limited by what could be exhibited the programme was stimulating and appealing and included works by Paula Rego, Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith, Tom Phillips, Derek Jarman, Victor Pasmore, Mark Anstee, Peter de Francia, Robert Capa, Eric Ravilious and Paul Nash, Rob Ryan and Annie Leibovitz.

A new Exhibition Gallery presents a range of exciting opportunities for the Trust.

For the first time we will be able to mount a programme of exhibitions throughout the year that explore diverse aspects of Bloomsbury’s artistic and literary heritage.
Unseen treasures from our extensive reserve collection as well as major loans from public and private collections will offer an exciting mix of contemporary and historic exhibitions which will contribute hugely to the overall visitor experience.
Charleston will be able to build on existing links to work collaboratively with museums, universities and private collections across the UK and overseas.
The gallery will be an addition in a string of important and exciting exhibition spaces along the south coast, from Pallant House, Chichester, in the west of the county, through Brighton & Hove Museum and Art Gallery to the Towner in Eastbourne, the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill and the Jerwood in Hastings.
The Exhibition Gallery will be top lit with museum quality lighting, environmental management and security and has been designed to be suitable for the display of 2-dimensional art, sculpture, decorative arts and archive material. It will be built in the hidden courtyard between the Charleston Barn and Charleston’s office building.

Funding was successfully secured in 2012 from The Wolfson Foundation to which we will name the gallery The Wolfson Gallery.

Centenary Project Courtyard cgi

Proposed Courtyard between barn and gallery

The conservation and cataloguing of the Angelica Garnett Gift

Angelica Garnett, the daughter of Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, generously donated a collection of several thousand works on paper and canvases to The Charleston Trust in November 2008. The works are by her parents and had formerly filled the drawers, folios, and studio racks at Charleston. After Duncan Grant’s death in 1978 they were held in a London art storage facility for nearly thirty years.

This collection conveys the creative energy and the evolution of ideas through drawings and studies that distinguish the work of Bell and Grant. It describes and illuminates their artistic practice. The Angelica Garnett Gift will encourage new insights into Bloomsbury’s creative processes and engage graduate trainees and volunteers in the museum activities of cataloguing, digitization and conservation.

The Centenary Project will allow this collection to be available to online audiences throughout the world, to Charleston audiences through workshops, exhibitions and displays including the first exhibition in the new Wolfson Gallery and to Charleston’s formal education audiences.

As part of the project Charleston is running an internship programme over the next three years for recent art history graduates to spend 6 months cataloguing, photographing and publishing this important collection online. This project began in April 2014. Follow the interns’ blog

Dr Darren Clarke says;

With the generous donation of the 8,000 objects that make up the Angelica Garnett Gift the Charleston Trust became the custodian of the worlds largest collection of work by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. The scope of this collection is astounding. The sketches, sketch-books, designs and paintings that were removed from Charleston’s studios and storerooms in the late 1970s cover the whole of the artists’ professional careers. As a research student with the Trust I was given exclusive access to this material, an invaluable and inspirational part of my investigations. But there is so much more to be revealed, so many stories still to be told, so many connections to be made.

The Angelica Garnett Gift is big enough to give generations of researchers the raw ingredients for their work. But the collection is fragile, stored for decades in cardboard boxes. Remedial conservation has taken place but the collection needs a new home, one that will protect and preserve it. The Centenary Project will facilitate this. Not only will it allow the collection to be digitised, making it, along with the original collection at Charleston, available to be seen by all on the internet, it will also provide the necessary conservation and storage facilities. It will give a much-needed space for examining the work face to face, to experience Bell and Grant’s creative process up close.

This work is supported by Heritage Lottery Fund, The Paul Mellon Centre for British Studies, The Elizabeth Cayzer Charitable Trust and The Michael Marks Charitable Trust.

New Car Park and Access Road

With over 35,000 visitors to Charleston per year, access to Charleston has become difficult. The road that leads off the A27 is heavily used by other Charleston neighbours and farm traffic as well as all those visiting Charleston. It is in a very poor state of repair and there are insufficient passing places.

The road is costly to repair and during peak times such as during the Charleston Festival where we have around 10,000 people attending Festival events, the Trust has to spend additional money to employ traffic controllers and car parkers to ensure the safety of our visitors because of the insufficient passing places and deep ditches either side of the road.

The Charleston Centenary Project will resurface part of the main approach road leading off the A27, put in more passing places and will create an entirely new access route across the fields to join up with the new car park, meaning that traffic is taken away from the heart of the site and is hidden behind the house. Access to Charleston will be easier and safer, parking will be less obtrusive. Visitors will gain hugely from arriving in front of the house on foot, in keeping with the historical experience as it was in the 1950s and before.

Charleston has a very successful shop. It’s unique mix of local crafts and ceramics, light furnishings, fabrics, books, jewellery and other unique items relating to Charleston and Bloomsbury bring customers back looking for that ‘one-off’ that they can’t find on the high street. Charleston’s shop was voted ‘number six in the 100 best shops outside of London’ by British Vogue and was also selected by the British Craft Council for the high quality and breadth of its range.

As part of the Centenary Project, the shop will be expanded and will include:

  • a separate box office space for tour tickets to the house to be brought separately.
  • a larger stock room, which will also be big enough to unpack orders, merchandise and deal with packing of online orders.
  • adequate heating and lighting systems conducive to a more comfortable shopping experience

New Offices

The Charleston Trust has a small but fantastic team of dedicated staff including permanent, casual, seasonal and volunteers, who work hard on all aspects of Charleston’s activities; the house, collection, visitors, garden, café, shop, events, Charleston Festival and Small Wonder Festival, press and marketing, photoshoots and filming, Friends and Omega membership schemes, and fundraising.

Staff currently work to full capacity in a series of separate rooms with limited desk and storage space, inadequate lighting, heating and soundproofing. Spaces work very hard often doubling up for storage, meeting rooms and break out spaces. In 2012, the Trust invested in two portacabins as additional office and meeting ‘rooms’ to accommodate an increase in staff numbers and to provide a dedicated meeting space for staff to meet privately and professionally on site for Charleston related business.

The current logistics and lack of dedicated office and storage space and limited ICT infrastructure (slow broadband, no WIFI, poor mobile phone reception) mean that staff are:

  • prevented from collaborative working
  • facing communication challenges because of office logistics and ICT limitations
  • struggling to be as efficient as possible due to slow computers
  • uncomfortable during the winter months as heating is not efficient and during the summer months when ventilation is not adequate.

As Charleston continues to grow, staffing, facilities and resources will naturally increase too. As part of the Centenary Project, a new open plan Office with a private meeting space will be created, enabling:

  • more opportunities for volunteers to engage more fully with Charleston.
  • proper archive facilities; in particular for the picture library, which will enable staff as well as other organisations access to Charleston’s archive of images and enable Charleston to publicise and market itself more effectively.
  • better communication and sharing of information between staff
  • space and environment more conducive to the tasks undertaken.
  • more efficient use of resources
  • minimise wastage of materials and supplies
  • a more pleasant working environment for staff

To find out more about supporting the Centenary Project contact Nathaniel Hepburn, or 01323 811626

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