Lottery grant to make Quentin Blake Centre dream a reality

Friday 17th May 2024

The Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration is excited to announce that it has been awarded a £3.75 million grant by The National Lottery Heritage Fund to restore the derelict New River Head buildings at the Centre's proposed site. 

The heritage site in Clerkenwell will be opened up as a permanent public space, offering new galleries, learning areas and gardens. The grant brings the total funding secured to acquire and develop the site to £11.5 million, with work due to begin this autumn.  Pictured above is an illustrator's impression (by and (c) Nora Walter) of how the new Centre will appear.

Made possible by National Lottery players, philanthropists, charitable foundations and local partners, the project will create four galleries, a project base, a learning studio, gardens and play space, a café and a shop. It realises Quentin Blake’s long-held vision for a permanent national centre for illustration: exploring the heritage of art that is used every day, all over the world, to tell stories, capture discoveries, inform and persuade. 

The project will enable the Centre to host exhibitions, tours and events, shining a light on illustrators and their impact on our lives through time;  to lead creative projects, empowering people to share their own stories, heritage and ideas, expanding the charity’s work with schools, families, community centres and practicing illustrators; and to support employment, volunteering and local partnerships, opening up new possibilities in an area that has long-standing challenges in relation to employment, wellbeing and access to green space. 

The project will also secure a permanent home for display of Quentin's archive of over 40,000 works, created over seven decades. The archive offers unique insights into 20th and 21st-century illustration, storytelling and publishing. 

The location for the Centre, the New River Head heritage site in Clerkenwell (London Borough of Islington), played an essential role in supplying Londoners with clean water from the early 1600s onwards. The atmospheric Grade II listed engine house, windmill base (the oldest remaining example in London) and cobbled courtyards are currently derelict, locked behind iron gates. The works to sensitively restore and repurpose them will begin later this year, led by Tim Ronald Architects, a Clerkenwell-based practice that has won awards for projects including Wilton’s Music Hall, Ironmonger Row Baths, The Landmark Ilfracombe and Hackney Empire. 

In the meantime, Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration has been working with illustrators, researchers and community groups to explore New River Head’s fascinating history ahead of opening. Installations and information panels around the Centre will use illustration to tell the stories of New River Head and its connections to more than 400 years of urban development and social change. 

The Quentin Blake Centre is asking heritage, illustration and Quentin Blake fans to ‘mark their mark’ with a donation. With less than 15% of their campaign target to go they aim to raise £1m by the end of 2024. 

Lindsey Glen, Director of Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, said: “We’re overjoyed to be bringing the national centre for illustration to Clerkenwell, restoring and opening up hidden heritage with help from The Heritage Fund. The Quentin Blake Centre will breathe new life into New River Head’s atmospheric engine house, windmill base and stores, offering exhibitions, creative projects, gardens and play. It will be a welcoming, vibrant place where everyone’s stories and ideas matter, and every visitor leaves looking differently at the world around them.” 

Eilish McGuinness, chief executive of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, commented: “We believe in the power of heritage to ignite the imagination, offer joy and inspiration, and to build pride in place and connection with the past. This project does all of this by rescuing a hidden architectural gem and creating a new future as the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration. The renovation of the historic engine house and surrounding buildings will ensure that the story of the New River, opened in 1613 to supply London with fresh drinking water, continues to be told but now becomes a dynamic and creative permanent home for Quentin Blake’s archive of over 40,000 works, created over seven decades, continuing to share the story of illustration, storytelling and publishing.  This project will support our vision for heritage to be valued, cared for, and sustained for everyone, now and in the future, and create a unique resource in the UK for local, national and international visitors.”

To find out more, or to support the Centre's fund-raising campaign visit the Centre's website or follow on social media:  @qbcentre on Instagram, X, LinkedIn and @QuentinBlakeCentre on Facebook