Influential Sunderland music venue to reopen its doors

Ben Wall and Paul Smiles

Ben Wall and Paul Smiles

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WEARSIDE’S most influential music venue has revealed it will re-open its doors later this month.

For the past five months Independent has remained closed after a demolition order was placed on it as part of the development of Holmeside.

But the venue, which has brought the likes of The Klaxons, Alt-J and Spector to the city while helping to foster the careers of local talent such as Frankie & the Heartstrings and The Lake Poets, will open once more on a new site.

Tens and thousands of pounds have been ploughed into transforming the former Van Mildert store, which has stood derelict since 2010, into a music venue which will officially open on May 16.

It’s set to be bigger and better than the original Independent with a larger capacity and more modern facilities.

But promotions manager Ben Wall says appearance is not Independent’s priority.

“We’re not one of those luxe bars,” he said. “We are entertainment led.

“People know what we do and I don’t think anyone else in Sunderland offers what we do.

“We’ve tried to keep costs down by using bricks and timber from the old Independent and using the shelving that was in Van Mildert to make our bars.

“We have been able to invest more in this venue though as the last one was on a one-year rolling lease so there was little point.” Downstairs will be a 500-capacity main room while upstairs, which used to house a hairdressers and vintage clothing business, will be a more intimate 110-capacity room and dressing rooms for the acts.

Ben added: “A lot of people have been saying that they’ve had to go to Newcastle since we closed and they can’t wait for us to re-open. We feel proud that there’s nothing that can replace us.”

Though carving your own niche in the night time economy is important, Ben says that new bars opening in the centre is good for everyone.

“We have never been scared of competition. People want to have a night out, they don’t want to be stuck in the one place. Pure re-opening has helped bring people in. Pure, Plugged Inn, 7even, Independent, we all have our own thing going on.”

Though Independent was forced to close its doors in January, the old site has still not been demolished.

“It’s annoying because the 20 people who worked there have had to go without payment until we re-open and there’s a knock on effect with the five months loss of trade for the brewery and the printers,” said Ben.

“If we hadn’t been forced to shut we could have run that business while we renovated the new site.”

Martin Wilks, development manager at the Homes and Communities Agency, which is responsible for the demolition, said: “The demolition will go ahead as soon as possible, but once we gained access to the building that had housed the Independent night club, it became apparent that there were additional complications.

“An internal survey, only possible once we had taken possession of the building, has shown that owing to structural reasons and the fact that services are shared with adjoining properties it is not cost effective to demolish the buildings one at a time.

“The demolition will go ahead as soon as possible, without incurring any unnecessary costs for taxpayers.

“We are working with other tenants, as we did with the operators of the Independent, to ensure that they have the time to find new premises before their leases are ended.”