With a programme of works underway to ensure many of the city’s gems endure, Wear Business hears from Sunderland City Council leader Graeme Miller about the stunning old buildings that are either being brought back into use or earmarked for future projects.
As new Sunderland icons rise from the ground, the city skyline is transforming.
The Northern Spire, piercing Sunderland skies was the start of a programme of change, with The Beam quickly following it – part of the Riverside Sunderland urban quarter – and work on a new City Hall set to resume after lock-down measures are lifted.
Over the road, a new auditorium is also set to emerge and a new hotel will stand overlooking Keel Square.
It’s a city reinventing itself, but for every new building Sunderland will gain, there is an old one that stands in its shadow.
“The last few years have seen sweeping changes to the Sunderland skyline, and more is to come,” says Graeme.
“It’s exciting, and the vision we have for the area – that is backed by significant private sector investment – means much of the city centre will be reimagined over the coming years. But there are buildings that we want to see endure – old city icons that we must preserve and protect.
“Where we can, it is up to us as a council to make sure that the old city icons that we still have are looked after, well-used and remain as fit for purpose now as they were when they were built.
“The scale of new development springing up across the city will complement what we currently have.
“Everything we’re doing is about protecting our much-loved city icons and bringing them back into use as we regenerate a city that is focused on becoming fit for the future.
“Just look at the Elephant Tea Rooms, which we bought and are restoring to its former glory as a new asset – a Local Studies Library – that our residents will be able to enjoy.
“Just a stone’s throw away is the River Wear Commissioners Building with its beautiful oak paneling, wood carvings, granite, marble, and sandstone features.
“This amazing site is part of a multi-million-pound city investment programme designed to attract businesses to Sunderland, having been taken over by a private developer that is expert in restoring old buildings and creating unusual business hubs.
“Likewise, Simpson Street School, which we were lucky not to lose in a fire a few months ago.
“We are working with developers as they develop a vision to transform this into stunning New York loft-style apartments and an office space that will bring new jobs to Sunderland.
“It’s exciting to see these beautiful old buildings coming back to life.”
The council also recently bought the Norfolk Hotel in Sunniside – famous for housing the meeting that formed SAFC – an area earmarked for large-scale regeneration in the near future, as the local authority looks to create more homes, more business space and more opportunity to bring people into the city centre.
“Walk around our city when we’re not abiding by quarantine regulations, and you’ll see The Dun Cow bustling with regulars, the Old Fire Station attracting scores of dancers to its studio, or diners popping to be serving up top quality food at the Engine Room, and the vibrant Minster Quarter surrounded by independent traders, restaurants and bars,” added Graeme.
“The historic heart of Sunderland still beats strongly.”
And it’s not just in the city centre that the council is focusing efforts on preserving and promoting its historic buildings.
Ryhope Pumping Station played host to the launch of Sunderland’s City of Culture bid, shining a light on one of the city’s hidden gems.
Hylton Castle has been stunningly restored and is now cared for and promoted as one of Sunderland’s most important historical monuments and Washington Old Hall continues to attract families throughout the year.
Executive director of city development, Peter McIntyre, said: “Having seen so much of its built history wiped out by conflict, Sunderland rightly treasures the historic buildings it still has.
“Our aim is to make sure these real city icons are around forever and housing the people and businesses that will drive forward our economy.
“With exciting projects happening across the city, such as the large-scale Riverside Sunderland development and never-before seen attractions like Seaburn STACK, we’re bringing people into the city, to live here, to work here and to have fun here, but we would never do this at the expense of one of our much-loved historical buildings.
“All of the incredible regeneration you’re seeing happening across Sunderland will not be at the expense of bringing our city icons back to life – if anything, it can only aid their rebirth as something new.”