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Charles Dickens and Southwark: Lottery cash for bicentenary projects

Two projects that recall Charles Dickens' formative years in Southwark are to share almost £86,000 in grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, it was announced last week.

Southwark Council and CoolTan Arts will be running the projects that present aspects of Dickens' early life, the local places that featured in several of his books, and the experiences that helped create some of his best-loved characters.

The results will include an exhibition at Cuming Museum and a special edition of a newspaper, inspired by The Pickwick Papers, charting the novelist's life and times in and around the borough.

Born in Portsmouth on 7 February 1812, by the age of 12 the young Dickens was living with his sister Fanny in Lant Street, Southwark, while his father John was imprisoned in Marshalsea debtor's prison. Dickens would later use the prison for the opening sequence of Little Dorrit.

His experience of having to fend for himself and his feeling of abandonment comes through in a number of his stories, not least David Copperfield. Other Southwark references, including the Mint Street workhouse, crop up in Oliver Twist.

"Many parts of Southwark, such as Borough High Street and Walworth, evoke the early 19th century London immortalised in Dickens' novels," says Sue Bowers, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in London.

"These two projects will enable locals and visitors alike to enjoy his bicentenary in imaginative and truly memorable ways."

The grant of 48,300 to the Cuming Museum in Walworth will be used to create an exhibition, opening in May, that looks at Southwark in the time of Dickens' childhood, explores social issues of the early 1800s, and how the novelist's experiences of poverty and social injustice shaped his work.

The museum, working in partnership with the council's arts and archive teams, will use its collection of illustrations and historic artifacts to bring the exhibition to life, alongside a programme of events and activities for all ages.

Objects on show will include the original Marshalsea prison pump which will also receive some conservation work. In addition, a heritage trail will be created opening in August this year.

"I am delighted that we have been awarded this money from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help celebrate the work of one the country's greatest novelists and literary figures," says Cllr Veronica Ward, Southwark's cabinet member for culture.

"Charles Dickens has a long and deep association with Southwark and the exhibition at the Cuming Museum is a great way to celebrate his bicentenary and to introduce more people to his work and the history of the borough."

Meanwhile CoolTan Arts will use its 37,400 grant to create The Dickens News, an original publication inspired by Dickens' first novel The Pickwick Papers.

The Walworth-based organisation specialises in working with people suffering from mental health issues, and its project will train participants and volunteers in the legacy of Charles Dickens, his mental health and his road to fame. The finished product will be distributed locally and an exhibition will be held at Southwark Cathedral later this year.

"This is a fantastic opportunity for our participants and volunteers to work together with the local community, learning about the history and life of Dickens in Southwark while gaining valuable and transferable skills – developing their knowledge and understanding of heritage and its relevance to society today," says CoolTan Arts chief executive Michelle Baharier.

• On Tuesday 7 February Southwark Cathedral will be hosting an exhibition of Dickens' letters and first editions lent by Lord Harris of Peckham. The programme of bicentenary celebrations includes a peal of bells and a free talk by Dickens biographer Claire Tomalin.

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