A £250,000 donation from Virginia Woolf's great niece has put the wheels in motion for a Bloomsbury Group £8.5m "centenary project".
The project will benefit Charleston, a 17th century Sussex farmhouse, that was once a haven for the Bloomsbury Group artists.
Charleston (pictured) became the home and meeting place for the group, after post-impressionist artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant moved there a century ago. It has hosted influential thinkers from John Maynard Keynes to Virginia Woolf.
Charity The Charleston Trust, which formed in 1980, is responsible for the project, designed to "protect the past". It restored the house after Grant's death and in 1986 it opened its doors to the public, for whom it showcases its interiors and gardens and puts on regular literary gatherings.
The hope is that Charleston can be returned to "a living artistic environment". The "major" donation, supplied by Virginia Nicholson and her husband, writer William Nicholson, will kick-start the building of a new art gallery, an archive store, a creative learning studio and enable it to carry out much-needed preservation work on its Grade II listed barns.
With the support of several foundations and donating individuals, the Charleston Trust has already raised over £5m for the centenary project. The Nicholsons’ donation, with the addition of Gift Aid and a matching grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, marks "a tipping point", which will generate over £500,000.
Alistair Burtenshaw, Charleston’s director, said: “This is an extraordinarily generous gift from the Nicholsons and will play a huge part in helping Charleston see its vision become reality. The 'centenary project' is the boldest undertaking the charity has embarked on since Charleston was originally saved in the 1980s, and its completion will enable us to protect this vitally important cultural landmark.”
Nicholson, who is the paternal granddaughter of Vanessa and Clive Bell, said: “I see this donation as helping to ensure the future of the place I have always loved, and where I spent the happiest times of my childhood. Our capacity to give this level of contribution to Charleston is entirely owing to Bill’s creative talent, industriously applied over thirty years. But we both feel that benefiting our community and helping to preserve and revitalise the inspirational and creative environment that is Charleston is an appropriate way to celebrate a lifetime’s imaginative output.”
Her husband, who has worked on Hollywood films such as "Gladiator", added: “The friends of Charleston have become my friends: they’re people who love art and books, of course, but more than that, they’re people who want the world to be a kinder place. Knowing them has hugely enriched my life. I want Charleston to survive and prosper not only to honour its past, but to foster its spirit today and into the future.”
The Charleston Trust is in need of a further £2.8m to complete this phase of the project. Donations can be made here.