Speakers: Katie Childs, Chief Executive, Dr. Kim Simpson, Deputy Director and Dr Clio O’Sullivan, Head of Public Engagement and Communications, Chawton House  

The session is an honest look at how, in five years, we re-imagined Chawton House to be the award-winning and much-loved place it is today. Chawton House Library opened in 2003 as an academic library for the study of women’s writing. It was formed by a great act of late 20th century philanthropy, which had seen the restoration of the country manor house, gardens and estate that had once been owned by Jane Austen’s brother Edward, and was a significant influence on the writer (who lived in a nearby estate cottage from 1809 – 1817). It also saw the acquisition of an extraordinary collection of early women’s writing (1600 – 1860) bring 10,000+ works into public access for the first time. Until 2017, Chawton House was primarily focused on research and up to 70% of income came from the founder via the Bosack Kruger Foundation. Then, in late 2016, the Bosack Kruger Foundation gave notice that the next revenue grant would be the last. Chawton House Library, a teenaged organisation, suddenly had to grow up and head out into the world to survive, and keep this internationally significant collection and place for the public.  

At the start of 2017, there was no viable business plan, no future plans for collections or the gardens, and only 35% of income was self-generated. Chawton House was also losing a lot more money than it earned, and was heavily reliant on donations. We threw open the gates to the public, set about reducing and removing the dependency on donations and replacing it with enterprise income, and rooting everything in the inspiring estate history and the women’s writing collection.    

Chawton House is now a place where everyone is welcome. A place for a stroll, tea and cake, a family day out, for celebration and quiet contemplation. It is a place you can visit on your own and not be lonely, where children are encouraged to explore, or to lose yourself in the stories of women’s writing. Just as Chawton House inspired Jane Austen, we now use our collection and our place to support new research and creative practice. We have 20,000 paying visitors every year, thousands more for events, 60,000+ have joined online since 2020, and thousands more walk the parklands and woodlands for free every day. We now earn 65% of our income through enterprise, and done this while overhauling collections management, revitalising the gardens, opening up the estate for the first time and winning awards for our public engagement.  

May 11 @ 14:00
14:00 — 14:40 (40′)

Theatre 1


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