Autistic students help map history of Sunderland church

Students from ESPA College in Sunderland visit Holy Trinity Church in the city's East End as part of a history project
Students from ESPA College in Sunderland visit Holy Trinity Church in the city's East End as part of a history project
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YOUNG people with autism are taking charge of an innovative project to create an electronic archive.

Students from specialist college Education and Services for People with Autism (Espa) in Sunderland are capturing the history of one of the city’s oldest buildings.

Holy Trinity Church in the East End, known as Sunderland Old Parish Church, was once the hub of life in the city, housing its first library, court and council chamber.

Although no longer a working church, the Grade I-listed building boasts some unique architectural features and opens several times a year for tours.

Now the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded £25,440 to a project to record its history, which dates back to the 1700s.

The college, which has a base in nearby Ashbrooke, will work with students and community volunteers to create an audio and video archive of the historical site.

It is hoped the project – An Interpretation and Educational Project in Sunderland’s Old Parish Church (1719) – will create a treasure trove of information for other young people and help the students develop valuable skills.

Doreen Hardy, project worker from Espa, said: “We are thrilled and excited to have received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund. We are confident the project will support young people with autism to become more actively involved in the development and promotion of this city’s fine heritage.”

The scheme will end in February 2014, when the students’ work will go on show at a celebration in the church. People will also have a chance to volunteer and take part in heritage workshops and visit archives.

Ivor Crowther, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in the North East, said: “Through this project, these young people will have the chance to learn new skills, make new friends and develop their confidence whilst also helping Sunderland’s Old Parish Church to better connect and work with the local community.”

This is not the first time that Espa’s 83 students have turned historians. Last year they took part in a 1960s-themed project at the church, which ended in a colourful fashion show.

Twitter: @janethejourno