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Art meets education at new culture centre in Lewes

The partners behind plans to turn former council offices in Lewes into a new public cultural centre visited the building this week to see how work is progressing.

Left to right – Rebecca Conroy, Zoe Nicholson and Nathaniel Hepburn

Left to right – Rebecca Conroy, Zoe Nicholson and Nathaniel Hepburn
 FAQs on the new cultural hub for Lewes

Scheduled to open in mid-September, the old open plan office areas are being transformed into stunning new gallery and learning spaces fit to exhibit significant works of art, including from national collections at the Tate and National Portrait Gallery.

Nathaniel Hepburn, Director of Charleston, showed Councillor Zoe Nicholson, Leader of Lewes District Council and Rebecca Conroy, Principal and CEO of East Sussex College (all pictured), around the former council building to see how the real beauty of the original architecture is being revealed.

Nathaniel said: "As we removed some of the adaptations that have been made to the building over the last 80 years, we were delighted to find many of the original features beneath them. When visitors come into the entrance lobby they will see beautiful brick arches, some 1930s glass brick light wells and the original lino chequerboard flooring. We have opened all this up and the building will soon be ready to welcome visitors into what has always been a community owned building."

The initial phase of the redevelopment will see a programme of exhibitions opening this September during which time visitors will be asked to share how they think a new cultural centre can support the town. It is estimated that the new space will generate £4.2m of new visitor spend in the town and extensive educational opportunities.

Rebecca said: "East Sussex College is so excited to be involved in the new centre and partnership with Charleston and Lewes District Council.  The space really is inspiring - we can't wait to start delivering courses and developing the skills to enhance the lives of our students - both in terms of adult education and for young people.  The new partnerships will add huge value to our community which is so exciting."   

One of the main objectives for the new centre is to be at the heart of the town and within walking distance from schools and colleges.  Meetings are being held with community groups, education providers and residents' groups to learn about how the building can be used by the town.

Councillor Nicholson said: "I'm absolutely thrilled that education is a core part of our partnership with Charleston and the East Sussex College and looking forward to seeing students absorbing and being inspired by the learning on offer in the new cultural centre. And at a time when our shops and businesses need increased footfall in the town, the prospect of many more visitors coming to Lewes is very exciting."

Charleston has been providing cultural programmes for the district since it was founded in the 1980s.

Nathaniel added: "We are delighted to have already secured some donations towards our learning programme so we can start work this September and to ensure that the building will be entirely free for all young people and students. In fact, the first group of visitors into the building before it opens to the public will be art students from Priory School and fashion students from the college."

The new cultural centre will open to the public on 13th September, featuring two exhibitions around which the learning programme will be designed. 'Bring No Clothes: Bloomsbury and Fashion' will be a ticketed exhibition exploring the clothing of the Bloomsbury Group and its influence on 21st century fashion. Alongside this, 'Jonathan Baldock: through the joy of the senses', is the first museum survey show for this leading contemporary artist and will be free to enter.

Published on August 30, 2023.

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