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House of Illustration, Clerkenwell, London
House of Illustration, Clerkenwell, London

Bridging Art and Architecture: AHF invests in new future for the House of Illustration

28 July 2020

AHF invests £1m to revitalise historic industrial New River Head site in Islington into the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration.

Those who grew up with Quentin Blake's illustrations know them as a source of inspiration and joy. The Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, set in a series of significant industrial buildings, including London's only surviving windmill, will help his works to continue to do just that.

In its new incarnation as the world's largest public art space dedicated to illustration and graphic design, the New River Head site in Clerkenwell, Islington, will be a new cultural landmark for London and the UK. This project will provide a home for Sir Quentin’s archive of 40,000 pieces and a striking venue for the much-loved exhibitions, events and educational programmes that have drawn more than a quarter of a million visitors to the House of Illustration's current King's Cross location since 2014. Community engagement remains a core tenet of the new site and centre. Accessibility for a wide variety of groups is prioritised throughout the initiative, and local schools, education providers and community organisations will help shape the offerings.

Through the Heritage Impact Fund, the AHF has awarded £1 million of social investment to cover working capital costs in the project's first development phase. Over £3 million of the £8 million target has been raised to date; the balance is to be realised through foundations, individual donations, grants from trusts and a public fundraising campaign. This transformational project further highlights the vital role that loan finance can play in securing the development of the early stages of capital project development. The partnership between the AHF and the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration continues the Heritage Impact Fund's important work in creating new futures for historic buildings through community-based initiatives.

Due to open in autumn 2022, the cultural hub will occupy a group of historically important industrial buildings, including two Grade II listed 18th and 19th-century structures. New River Head represents a feat of civil engineering as it was instrumental to the creation of London's clean water supply during the 17th century. The iconic site owes its name to a reservoir at the mouth of the New River fashioned to satisfy London's water needs. 

In celebration of the project's launch, Sir Quentin said:

“I am enormously proud to have my name associated with this international home for an art which I know and love, and for artists who speak in a myriad of visual languages, but are understood by all. It is going to be amazing.”
— Sir Quentin Blake

Matthew Mckeague, CEO of the AHF, says: "We are very pleased to finance the initial stages of the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, through the Heritage Impact Fund. The AHF has long experience in financing the early stages of heritage asset projects, and this is an exciting vision for this Grade II site. As well as providing a new home for the House of Illustration and the Quentin Blake archive, we were impressed by the ambition of the organisation in engaging a range of people, including the local community, in the project. We look forward to seeing the wide-ranging impact that will be delivered through the new spaces and activities."

Olivia Ahmad, the Artistic Director of House of Illustration, says "The Architectural Heritage Fund has enabled the realisation of many vital heritage projects that have had real impact on communities across the UK. We are delighted that the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration will now be one of them. With the AHF's financing and support for our initial stages, we will be creating a much-needed public centre for illustration, while at the same time opening a hugely significant historic site to the public for the first time".

For further information, visit or follow them on twitter and instagram @illustrationHQ

Photo Credit

House of Illustration

Editor's notes

1)         The Architectural Heritage Fund is a registered charity, working since 1976 to promote the conservation and sustainable re-use of historic buildings for the benefit of communities across the UK, particularly in economically disadvantaged areas. We are the only specialist heritage social investor in the UK. We provide advice, development grants and loans.

2)         The Heritage Impact Fund offers tailored finance for charities, social enterprises, and community businesses across the UK to give a new future to iconic or historical buildings at the very heart of local economies. It is a joint initiative made possible by contributions from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland, Cadw, Department for Communities Northern Ireland and the Architectural Heritage Fund itself.

3)         For enquiries, please contact Madeleine Blyth on 07378 180909 /

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