Lotto windfall will fund final Roker Pier restoration

LIGHT FANTASTIC: Jodi Larder, of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Coun Barry Curran and Coun Mel Speding at the top of the lighthouse.
LIGHT FANTASTIC: Jodi Larder, of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Coun Barry Curran and Coun Mel Speding at the top of the lighthouse.
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A CASH windfall has helped light the way in the final stretch of a pier revamp project.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has awarded £545,000 to Sunderland City Council to help it return Roker Pier to its original glory.

The lotto cash will join £136,000 of match funding from the authority, with the restoration of the lighthouse and tunnel top of the agenda.

Another £300,000 has also been allocated by the authority to restore and replace the railings along the pier to complete the restoration work.

It is all part of the £1.35million programme of restoration of the 112-year-old Grade II-listed structure which began two years ago.

Work to restore the lantern house at the top of the lighthouse was completed in November 2013, and the full length of the pier was resurfaced for the first time in its history last year.

LIGHT FANTASTIC: Jodi Larder, of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Coun Barry Curran and Coun Mel Speding at the lighthouse door.

LIGHT FANTASTIC: Jodi Larder, of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Coun Barry Curran and Coun Mel Speding at the lighthouse door.

The latest grant award from the HLF follows an earlier development grant of £53,200 to develop a detailed funding bid, activity plan and conservation plan as well as further design and interpretation work and a management and maintenance plan.

Once complete, the work will allow visitors access to the tunnel which runs the length of the pier as part of public tours.

Guests would pay to take a trip down the tunnel and would guided by a newly formed volunteer team, Roker Heritage Group.

The HLF has said the work will help put the pier back at the heart of the community and offer the area much-needed opportunities for social and economic regeneration.

As part of the project, the council is also seeking to establish a volunteer group to deliver various events and activities involving schools, higher education establishments and community groups.

Councillor Mel Speding

The Cabinet secretary, Councillor Mel Speding, said: “As part of the project, the council is also seeking to establish a volunteer group to deliver various events and activities involving schools, higher education establishments and community groups.

“These are being supported by SAFC’s 1879 Events and will see a new exhibition space installed within the nearby Beach House Café which will display archive material and video tours.

“There are also plans to catalogue and digitise part of the River Wear Commissioners archive so it can be viewed by people in Sunderland without the need to go to Newcastle.

“Construction work is expected to begin in early summer and to be completed by the winter.
“The pier will remain open during the majority of the work, although access to the area around the lighthouse itself will be restricted to allow work to go ahead.”

Built between 1885 and 1903, Roker Pier and lighthouse was hailed as a true “triumph of engineering” when it first opened in the wake of a Victorian era which also saw the construction of such masterpieces as Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge and Paxton’s Crystal Palace.

The original lantern was gas powered, emitting a 45,000-candlepower reflected beam reputedly visible over 15miles out to sea and once completed, the pier extended 2,000ft (609.60m) out to sea.

The structure was the brainchild of Henry Hay Wake, chief engineer of the River Wear Commissioners, and it was built using granite-faced blocks, each weighing up to 45 tons, constructed on shore in an area known to this day as the blockyard.

Concrete was poured into huge wooden moulds, which were then manoeuvred into place by a vast crane called the Goliath.

This was driven by gas engines, supplied by gas pipes running along a specially designed tunnel which ran the entire length of the pier.

This was later used by the keeper to reach the lighthouse in bad weather, when the waves would have been crashing over the deck.