Chawton House, once owned by Jane Austen’s brother, has launched a £200,000 appeal to try to safeguard its future.
Officials say it faces a “perilous and uncertain future” without the cash injection and is “in jeopardy”.
They add the past 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,” they say.
It is hoped the fundraising appeal, if successful, will ensure its legacy continues for the next 20 years and beyond.
Chief executive Katie Childs said: “Since 2017, 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.
“This year marks 20 years since Chawton House opened to the public for the first time, and while 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 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.”
The chair of trustees, Louise Ansdell, said: “Building on the work of the past 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.”
Chawton House says 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 using kitchen garden produce and local suppliers.
“The small staff team are supported by 80 dedicated volunteers and 20,000 people visit every year, while 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.”
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.
Officials say supporting Chawton House’s anniversary appeal will ensure it remains a space at the core of the community, 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,” they say.
Everyone who makes a donation will receive the next issue of The Female Spectator, which is out in the summer.
Donors of £50 or more will be invited to an anniversary garden party on the Sunday of the anniversary weekend (July 14 to 16).
Donors of £100 or more will receive a Chawton House quill pin and people who donate £200 or more will also get a complimentary curator’s tour.
Chawton House and gardens are now open from Wednesday to Sunday, from 10am to 4.30pm. From May 15, the house and gardens will be open at the same time every day.
To donate and support Chawton House’s anniversary appeal log on to https://chawtonhouse.org/chawton-house-anniversary-appeal/