Historic Sunderland site opens doors to wheelchair users

Ryhope Engines Museum.

Ryhope Engines Museum.

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One of Sunderland’s most important industrial monuments has opened its doors to visitors in wheelchairs for the first time in almost 150 years.

Ryhope Engines Museum, built in 1868, had previously been difficult to access for wheelchair users, people with mobility problems and parents with pushchairs.

Ellie-Jane OWare, centre, was among the first to use the improved access  at Ryhope Engines Museum.

Ellie-Jane OWare, centre, was among the first to use the improved access at Ryhope Engines Museum.

However, a £30,000 grant from Northumbrian Water’s Green Scheme at the Community Foundation has made it easier to visit the Grade 2-listed building.

A platform wheelchair lift has been installed, enabling disabled visitors to enter the engine house, where two, 100 horsepower steam-powered beam engines are kept in working order by volunteer members of the Ryhope Engines Trust.

Ellie-Jane O’Ware, from South Hylton, was among the first to enjoy the improved access.

The 18-year-old uses a wheelchair after contracting meningococcal septicaemia when she was nine months old.

Ryhope Engines Museum.

Ryhope Engines Museum.

Ellie-Jane, a member of 2nd South Hylton Guides, had been unable to join the rest of her group in exploring the museum when they visited to complete their Blacksmith Badge.

She said: “I was a bit disappointed because I had to wait downstairs while everyone else was upstairs.

“So I’m really excited to finally see inside Ryhope Pumping Station.”

A special Disabled Access Day was held at the museum on Saturday.

Keith Bell, chairman of Ryhope Engines Trust, said: “The Trust and volunteers have operated the former Ryhope Pumping Station as a successful museum since 1971.

“During this time we have had many hundreds of thousands of visitors to the museum. 

“This has been a milestone moment in our preservation aims for the site, as, after many years of planning and preparation at the museum, we are now able to accommodate both wheelchair and non-ambulant visitors for the very first time.

“This has been achieved in no small part due to the tremendous support of Northumbrian Water, who have been instrumental in assisting the Trust in the preservation of an important part of the region’s industrial Heritage.”

Ryhope Pumping Station once provided clean water to the people of Sunderland, but ceased operations in 1967.