Who we are

West Dean College is part of The Edward James Foundation, a registered charity which also comprises West Dean Gardens, West Dean Estate and West Dean Tapestry Studios.

Mission and Vision

The Foundation's mission is to provide, through West Dean College, the highest quality education in creative arts and conservation and be internationally recognised as a centre of excellence.

Through our work we aim:

To inspire creativity, champion traditional art & craft practices and advance the care of heritage objects.

Underpinning this is a commitment to:

  • Celebrate our heritage and Edward James' legacy to inspire and teach; using the house, archives & collection, gardens and estate.
  • Preserve an inspiring, creative and peaceful environment; for our students, visitors, guests and staff.
  • Be a great place to work where people share a common goal and feel respected and cared for; we listen, involve, communicate and develop.
  • Collaborate with partners who share our vision to enable each other to achieve our goals; including academic & cultural partners, donors, suppliers and corporate clients.
  • Be resourceful and efficient in all areas to secure a sustainable future for the College; through stewardship, innovation and commercial enterprise.
  • Be inclusive by ensuring we are welcoming to all; offering public access, bursaries and scholarships.

Board of Trustees

The Edward James Foundation which runs West Dean College and Gardens was established in 1964. It is a charitable company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales. Company no. 6689362 and Charity registration no. 1126084.

The members of the Board of Trustees are:

The Hon Peter Benson LVO MA FCA, Chairman

Peter Benson has been a Trustee of the Foundation since 2002, and Chairman since 2009. A Chartered Accountant, his career with Coopers & Lybrand, now PwC, spanned some forty years, thirty of these as a partner in London.

Since retirement from PwC he has acted as non-executive Chairman or Director for a number of commercial enterprises. He has also been substantially involved in the charitable sector, concentrating to a significant degree upon theatre and the arts. He was a Trustee of the Royal National Theatre, Chairman of the Royal National Theatre Foundation, Vice Chairman of the English National Ballet School, and has recently retired as a Trustee of Chichester Festival Theatre. He is currently on the Council of RADA, and a Trustee of the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton and Theatre 503 in Battersea.

Lady Caroline Egremont

Lady Egremont is a garden designer working in the UK and continental Europe. Married with four children, she lives at Petworth House where she is involved in the management of a large agricultural estate and the care and conservation of works of art.

She has been a Trustee of the Foundation since 1982 and is also on the board of the Garden Museum, and the Heritage of London Trust, chairman of the Cobbe Collection Trust and involved with the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens

Caroline Griffith

Caroline Griffith became a Trustee in April 2014.

Born in the country in Australia, Caroline moved to the UK when she married, and read for the Bar at the Inner Temple as a mature student. For many years she sat as a magistrate working in the adult and family courts. She has been a Governor for both secondary and tertiary education boards and has a lifelong interest in art and the creative crafts.

Professor Nigel Llewellyn PhD FSA

Nigel Llewellyn is an expert in Art History and taught at the University of Sussex for 25 years, during which time he also served as Dean and Pro-Vice-Chancellor. This was followed by time at the Tate as Head of Research, leading on research projects across all four Tate sites.

Nigel is a published author of several books, articles and scholarly essays. He is involved with several other organisations including the Association of Art Historians and the Arts and Humanities Research Council and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

Professor Paul O'Prey

Professor O'Prey joined the Board of Trustees in July 2015, bringing a wealth of experience after having held the post of Vice-Chancellor of Roehampton University for over 10 years. In his previous role as Director of Academic Affairs at the University of Bristol, Professor O'Prey played a major part in the development and implementation of academic strategy in both research and education.

Professor O'Prey read English Language and Literature at Keble College, Oxford and gained his PhD from Bristol. His publications include several books and articles on writers of the nineteenth and twentieth century, notably Graham Greene and Robert Graves and his circle, as well as translations of Spanish literature.

Francis Plowden FCA, Treasurer

Francis Plowden is a chartered accountant and was a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers until 2000. Since then he has been a Board member in the private, public and voluntary sectors, including eight years as Chairman of the Greenwich Foundation for the Old Royal Naval College. He is a Trustee of the Anna Plowden Trust, which promotes skills in and awareness of conservation of the moveable heritage. He has also been Chairman of the National Council for Palliative Care, a Commissioner of the Judicial Appointments Commission and a Board member of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, as well Boards in the private sector.

Francis Plowden became a Trustee in December 2014.

David Seddon

David is from an Anglo American family and trained as an Occupational Psychologist, spending much of his career working in New York, San Francisco and Tampa.

With a keen interest in hand tools and building David has in recent years built a barn from green oak and a clapboard deck house. He also restored a medieval house in Chichester, a project which was filmed by The Discovery Channel and won a Heritage Award from the City Council.

David who is a fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants, joined the Board as Trustee in March 2013. He is also a Trustee of Chichester Festival Theatre.


The Foundation is run by a senior management team led by the Chief Executive. Together they take personal responsibility for every aspect of the smooth day-to-day running of the organisation. This includes teaching and research, student and staff welfare, financial management, hospitality, marketing and fundraising.

Alexander Barron ACA, Chief Executive

Alex was appointed Chief Executive in July 2015, having worked with or for the Foundation for over 10 years, most recently as Director of Finance & Enterprise. He is a Chartered Accountant.

Francine Norris BA (Hons) MA, Director of Education

Francine is a designer and academic with extensive experience of higher education both as a teacher and at senior management level. She is responsible for the College including all programmes of study, short courses, research, library and collections, student support and academic quality assurance.

Rachel Billsberry-Grass, Director of Marketing and Development

Rachel is responsible for all fundraising, marketing and external communication activities of the Foundation.

Ian Graham, Director of Hospitality

Ian ensures all our visitors are well cared for in every aspect of their visit and is responsible for the care and upkeep of our historic buildings.

Rebecca Labram, Director of Human Resources

Rebecca is responsible for all employee matters, including performance management, learning and development, recruitment, employee welfare, pay and benefits and internal communications.


Edward James and the Foundation

Edward James (1907 - 1984), a poet and a lifelong collector of art, is particularly remembered for his patronage of painters, notably the Surrealists, Dali, Margritte, Tchelitchew, Fini and Carrington.

He provided space for his artist friends to develop their creative practice. Dali, Tchelitchew, Magritte and others were given studio space during extended stays in Edward's homes at West Dean and in London. He supported them further through commissions and collaborations, building one of the finest collections of Surrealist art in the world.

Edward's own work spans writing, painting, sculpture, design and architecture. During the 1960's he spent the majority of his time in Mexico, working on an extensive building project high in the jungle at a natural beauty spot, Las Pozas. It's widely held that this was Edward at his most creative and fulfilled, actively involved in working with materials, crafting the structures intuitively as a response to the place, while drawing on references and motifs from his childhood, poetry and travels.

In 1964 he established the Edward James Foundation a charitable educational trust, to fulfil his desire to nurture music, traditional crafts and the visual arts. West Dean College was opened in 1971 as a centre for education and training in conservation and in the visual and applied arts.

"I want to establish an educational foundation where creative talents can be discovered and developed, and where one can spread culture through the teaching of crafts and the preservation of knowledge that might otherwise be destroyed or forgotten." Edward James.

Edward died in 1984 and is buried in St. Roche's Arboretum.


Across both the School of Creative Arts and School of Conservation, the role of research is essential in underpinning the college's academic ambitions, helping West Dean to be at the forefront of the specialisms it supports, positively impacting it as a teaching and learning environment. Research projects are key to establishing new and innovative practices, emphasising the importance of skills-based making and conservation, as well as demonstrating the value and scope of interdisciplinary collaboration. Research at West Dean College not only benefits students, staff and specialist audiences but also wider academic communities and the public.

The College is privileged to be on a site of historic significance, both in relation to the heritage of the West Dean Estate and its more recent associations with the life and work of its founder Edward James.

You can find out about the specific research groups here.

Support West Dean College

West Dean is part of a registered charity and relies on the support of generous donors, friends, legacies to help us deliver world-class education in conservation and the creative arts and maintain our award-winning gardens.

Find out how you can help support us