WORK will begin to transform the Old Fire Station after a cultural project has secured a multi-million pound grant.
After standing empty for 22 years, the landmark city centre building will house a restaurant, dance studio and heritage centre, thanks to £2.4million of Heritage Lottery Funding (HLF).
The MAC Trust has won its funding bid as part of its drive to create a cultural quarter centred around the Old Fire Station, in High Street West.
The trust has also raised the remaining amount of the £3million needed to breathe new life into the Edwardian building.
Chairman of the MAC Trust, John Mowbray, said: “It’s fabulous news. Work will begin on the roof almost immediately so people will start to see the place taking shape.
“If all goes to plan, we hope to be up and running by 2016. This area is really starting to take shape and the whole idea behind the Fire Station is to make this an attractive area with a range of activities for a range of age groups.”
Today’s announcement marks the start of phase two in the MAC Trust’s plans to create a £10million cultural quarter in this area of the city centre.
Phase one was the acquisition of the Dun Cow pub, which has opened to much fanfare.
The final, and third, phase involves building a 400-seater auditorium between the Dun Cow and the Old Fire Station, which was built in 1907.
John added: “We’ve had a great response to the Dun Cow, it started off the plans brilliantly, the Fire Station is continuing that work and the auditorium would be the icing on the cake.”
Paul Callaghan, of the MAC Trust, added: “The pub has been magnificently restored and the Fire Station will be treated in a similar way, respecting its iconic architecture and bringing back it back to a sustainable use.”
Ivor Crowther, head of HLF North East, said: “It’s our historic buildings that give our towns and cities distinctiveness, and the Old Fire Station is central to the identity of Sunderland.
“This HLF grant will not only help secure its future but will give the building a new lease of life and provide the area with a much-needed economic boost.”
Sunderland City Council has thrown its support behind the cultural quarter, which would be called the MACQ, as part of ongoing regeneration of this corner of the city centre.
Coun Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “The city council and many others are investing in our city centre and this is another vote of confidence in its future.
“This successful bid showcased the strengths of being so close to the Empire Theatre and all opportunities that are coming on stream in and around the new Keel Square, and across the city centre.”
Development organisation Buckley Burnett will lead the project, which will see a restaurant and bar open on the ground floor then open out onto the square outside.
The first floor will house a sprung-floored dance studio run in conjunction with the people behind the successful Dance City studios in Newcastle.
Meanwhile, Live Theatre will create theatre space in the first floor’s back room, which once housed the firemen’s dormitories.
As part of the plans, a third floor will house a digital heritage centre, using 21st century technology to remember past centuries.