Saving Sunderland’s historic Donnison School

Donnison School

Donnison School

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WEARSIDERS are being urged to step back in time to help preserve a historic building for the future.

The Friends of the Donnison School – a former 18th century East End charity school turned heritage and education centre – will host a fund-raising fair this Sunday.

Nostalgia exhibitions, entertainers, craft activities and traditional food are all planned for the event, which will be held at the Quayside Exchange from 12noon until 4pm.

A photographic exhibition featuring rare views of the creation of Roker Pier – which is soon to be closed for resurfacing work – will also be on display.

“The annual summer fair is one of our main fund-raisers, with proceeds allowing us to keep the Donnison School open to the public,” said spokeswoman Janette Hilton.

“It is a very important event for us, and we’ve chosen one of the most important historic buildings in Sunderland – the Quayside Exchange – to host the fair with us.

“The Exchange is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year and, as Sunderland’s first purpose-built town hall, we believe it is the perfect place to hold our fund-raiser.”

Vintage stalls, arts and crafts fun, children’s games, a plant sale and photo booth are also planned for the fair, together with refreshments, cup cakes and homemade goods.

Admission is £1 for adults and free for under 16s. The fair will be opened by Frankie, from Frankie and the Heartstrings, and feature performances from local teenagers.

“We hope to see as many people as possible enjoying all the fun of the fair. Every penny raised goes to preserving a part of Sunderland’s rich heritage,” said Janette.

Donnison facts

•The Church Walk school was established in 1777, after Elizabeth Donnison – wife of church warden James – left money for the venture in her will.

•In 1827 a house for the teaching mistress was built adjacent to the school, and is today one of very few to survive.

•The school offered a free education to 36 poor girls between the ages of seven and 16, with classes including reading, writing and arithmetic.

•All pupils were provided with clothing and shoes. A full suite of clothing was handed out at Christmas, with a part-suite following in midsummer.

•The Donnison is a rare mix of Georgian architecture and includes the original schoolroom – which was built in 1798.

•The building was bought by the charity Living History North East in 2001, with the aim of bringing it back into community use.

•It finally opened to the public in December 2007 and today operates as a visitor/heritage and educational centre.