Chawton, Hampshire, April 2023. 2023 is the 20th anniversary of Chawton House opening to the public. To mark this milestone, the heritage site once owned by Jane Austen’s brother is launching an urgent fundraising appeal to ensure its legacy continues for the next twenty years and beyond.
Chawton House has never had more visitors, earned more income from enterprise, or had such a lively and diverse public programme. It is now a place where everyone is welcome: a place for a stroll, tea and cake, a family day out, for celebration, research and quiet contemplation.
The gardens, for too long a well-kept secret, are now an attraction on their own, with year-round interest. Just a few years ago, the parkland and woodland were neglected to the extent they were unsafe, with ill-maintained paths and stiles, and parts declared a sterile wildlife environment. Now the whole 250 acres are improved, with a network of walks and accessible gates, restoration of Mingledown woods, and removing dangerous and dead trees. The Old Kitchen Tea Room has gone from a loss-making enterprise into a much-loved destination, offering seasonal homemade dishes and cakes using kitchen garden produce and local suppliers. The small staff team are supported by 80 dedicated volunteers who garden, steward, lead tours, and knit whole Christmas displays. 20,000 people visit every year, more than 60,000 have viewed online content since production started in 2020, and thousands more walk the parklands and woodlands for free every day. For the first time since the early 20th century, Chawton House is at the heart of local life
Yet Chawton House is in jeopardy. The tumultuous last three years have seen the charity survive Covid closures and restrictions, destructive storms, flooding, widespread ash die back and thousands of pounds worth of work to remove dangerous trees. Now, the cost-of-living crisis, historic levels of inflation and an exponential rise in the cost of heating – have left reserves exhausted and finances in a precarious state.
Chief Executive Katie Childs says:
“Since 2015, Chawton House has thrown open its doors to the public and transformed from a by-appointment academic library into an award-winning and much-loved historic estate with beautiful grounds and gardens. 2023 marks 20 years since Chawton House opened to the public for the first time, and whilst we want to celebrate what we have done and look forward to what we will do – especially running up to Jane Austen’s 250th birthday – we face a perilous and uncertain future, and need your help to realise our full potential.
Chawton House is special. It is a place you can visit on your own and not be lonely, where children are encouraged to explore, or where you can lose yourself in the stories of women’s writing. It is a space for community, where you can find inspiration, comfort or even cake! We would be missed now if we were gone.”
Chair of Trustees, Louise Ansdell says:
“Building on the work of the last two decades, we want Chawton House to forge ahead into a future that celebrates literature and the arts, continues to inspire writers, artists and creatives, as well as providing new opportunities for emerging talent. Although the most famous, Jane Austen is not the only person to be inspired by Chawton House, as proven by our successful Visiting Fellows programme, stunning artistic responses to the space and countless testimonials given by visitors of all ages over the years. 2023 will continue the work we have started but we can’t do this alone.”
Over the next 12 months Chawton House needs to raise £200,000 from grants, donations and support-in-kind to keep the doors open and realise its potential ahead of Jane Austen’s 250th birthday.
Supporting Chawton House’s anniversary appeal will ensure it remains a space at the core of the community, both locally and internationally. Chawton House will continue to enliven the nationally significant heritage in its care, and provide opportunities for the next generation of creatives, curators, and gardeners.