ROBERT WESTALL'S CONNECTION TO SEVEN STORIES, THE CENTRE FOR CHILDREN'S BOOKS
The connection between the late Robert Westall and Seven Stories lies in the actions taken by Lindy McKinnel, his friend and partner, after Robert's death in 1993. She decided to set up The Robert Westall Trust with £100,000 of money from his estate for two reasons. Firstly, to ensure that his name be remembered in some way connected with children's books and, secondly, that some of the money that he worked so hard to earn during his lifetime be ploughed back into a project of which he would undoubtedly have approved.
When Lindy set up the Robert Westall Trust in 1995 she did not know what the outcome of this action would be. However, she did not have long to wait before she discovered, through one of Robert's editors, the late Miriam Hodgson, that Elizabeth Hammill, working in Waterstone's bookshop in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, had the idea of setting up a centre devoted entirely to children's books, their authors and illustrators, the archives of whom did not appear to be particularly valued anywhere in the United Kingdom and that, indeed, many of these were being sold abroad. Lindy felt strongly that this was completely reprehensible. Elizabeth had this wonderful idea but she had no money to start her project so Lindy told Elizabeth that she would back her with the money in the Trust. On the strength of this Elizabeth Hammill and Mary Briggs set to work to try to raise nearly £7 million, the sum that would be needed to found the Centre of their dreams. The Robert Westall Trust money kick-started this action and a search was started for a suitable building in the Newcastle area, followed by ten years of hard work and struggle, and a great many ups and downs before this magnificent project could come to fruition.
Seven Stories, the Centre for Children's Books, opened its doors in August 2005 and inside one of the two exhibition galleries is called The Robert Westall Gallery. Robert had been born in 1929 a few miles down the road in North Shields and this was felt by Lindy McKinnel to be eminently suitable: despite the fact that he had spent most of his working life in London, Birmingham, Yorkshire and Cheshire, the local lad was coming home to the north-east that had figured so largely in his books and he would be commemorated in the place he loved best for something he would have supported with all his being. The following year, 2006, an exhibition entirely devoted to Robert and his work was mounted in The Robert Westall Gallery. Seven Stories celebrated it's 5th birthday in 2010 and Lindy then gave Robert's archive, which had previously been on permanent loan, to the Centre to join its growing archive collection, currently numbered at 80. In November 2010 Seven Stories was presented with The Eleanor Farjeon Award, the highest accolade possible for services to children's literature in Britain. It relies entirely on grants and donations for its work.