The well-loved museum and visitor attraction recently warned it could face closure due to Coronavirus and launched a fundraising campaign. Now, Charles Hanson has stepped in to help, with a live online auction.
Creswell Crags is run by an independent charity, with no external funding since local council grants ended in early 2020. Entirely reliant on public income from tours, school visits, café and shop sales and museum entry, it is in a desperate financial situation due to the COVID-19 closure. A recent grant from Historic England has helped keep the organisation going through lockdown, but the bigger challenge is having the money to open the doors again. The site, famous for its limestone caves, is home to the only verified Ice Age rock art in the UK, extensive evidence of habitation by early humans and prehistoric creatures such as woolly mammoths, and also more early modern protective ‘Witch Mark’ engravings than anywhere else in the UK. It is a renowned beauty spot, known for its scenery and wildlife.
Hearing about the site’s plight, Charles, best known to the public as a regular on TV’s Bargain Hunt and Antiques Road Trip, has offered to run an online charity auction from his Derbyshire garden shed to help raise funds.
In April, Charles raised £38,000 for the NHS through a garden shed auction with lots donated by celebrities such as Drew Pritchard from TV’s Salvage Hunters and actor Neil Morrissey. In June, he will host an auction for London’s Florence Nightingale Museum, which is also in dire straits due to Coronavirus.
But Creswell Crags, which is located on the county border between Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, is particularly close to home for Derbyshire-based Charles, who toured the site when filming Antiques Road Trip.
He said: “Creswell Crags is a rich and crucial part of Derbyshire’s heritage and a place I very much enjoy visiting. When I heard about its plight, I simply had to do something to help secure its future at what is a tremendously difficult time for us all. I was overwhelmed by the support I received for my NHS charity auction, broadcast in lockdown from my garden shed, and I hope people will rally round to help save Creswell Crags. Please tune into the auction, donate lots, bid and help me ensure this wonderful tourist attraction is saved for future generations to enjoy.”
Paul Baker, Executive Director of Creswell Heritage Trust said “We’re very grateful to Charles and his team and very much hope people will get behind this auction to support us, both in terms of donating lots and bidding on the night. Since we launched our fundraising campaign in mid-March, people have been incredibly generous with their donations and their supportive words. We’ve been humbled by how much love there is for Creswell Crags, both in the local community, and beyond.
“With no visitors, we have no income but we do have ongoing costs in terms of maintaining our visitor centre and large outdoor site, and conserving our collection. Even with most of our staff furloughed, fundraising is still an essential part of ensuring our survival. We’ve been grateful to our landowner, the Welbeck Estate, for a rent holiday during lockdown, and have secured some emergency funding, but our future is still not secure as we look to the costs of reopening.
“In 2019, we made international news with the discovery of our Witch Marks in Robin Hood cave, and we were awarded the Large Visitor Attraction of the Year at the local tourism and hospitality awards. Our site is famous worldwide for its Ice Age rock art and archaeology. But we are a small charity and we very much needed to be self-sufficient to survive. We can’t be self-sufficient without visitors, and we’re not sure when and how we can welcome them back in significant numbers. Even if we can open later in the year, we’ll have missed our busiest trading season. We don’t know if social distancing will allow us to resume tours and school visits for some time to come. Until then, public kindness and generosity is one of the ways we’re staying afloat. To have Charles’s support, in hosting the auction, but also in sharing our story more widely, is absolutely fantastic and a real boost to everyone who loves Creswell Crags.”
Lots for the auction are now needed. Creswell Crags has been delighted with some initial generous support from donors such as the Welbeck Estate, experimental archaeologist James Dilley, and local sculptor Rachel Carter. Rachel said, “The landscape at the Crags is a source of great inspiration for artists throughout the ages, and I, like so many, have used its natural beauty to both showcase my sculptures and inspire new sculptures. If I can help secure this vital resource for future artists to enjoy then I know I’ve done my bit." It is now hoped that others will rally round to donate items or experiences to help secure the future of one of the most important heritage sites in the UK. The deadline for lots to be offered is Friday 19 June.
Donations can also be made to the Creswell Crags JustGiving Page.