Sunderland’s Cultural Quarter: next stage revealed

Paul Callaghan and John Mowbray outside the old Fire Station in Dun Cow Street, off High Street West

Paul Callaghan and John Mowbray outside the old Fire Station in Dun Cow Street, off High Street West

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Plans to build a new £7.85m auditorium as part of a cultural quarter for the city have taken a step forward.

The Mac Trust, which is aiming to create the quarter around the Old Fire Station in High Street West, has been awarded a development grant of £250,000 by Arts Council England (ACE).

Initial plans showing the location of the auditorium

Initial plans showing the location of the auditorium

The auditorium, which would be built beside the fire station, would be a new 420-seat venue for music, drama and dance where local performers can develop their talent. It would also bring more national and international talent to the city.

Quarter of a million pounds has been awarded to develop the project, phase three of the Music, Arts and Culture Quarter (MACQ) plans, with the potential for a further £6.25m grant.

The first phase of the Mac Trust’s plans was the restoration of the historic Dun Cow pub in 2014, with phase two being the transformation of the fire station into dance and drama studios, a heritage centre and bar and restaurant.

It’s hoped that phase will be granted final planning in the coming weeks, with a final sign-off on the £2.4m grant which has previously been awarded by the Heritage Lottery fund (HLF). If the green light is given to the fire station plans, restoration work would begin in spring.

Paul Callaghan, of the Sunderland MAC Trust, said he was delighted at the news: “It’s another big step forward for Wearside’s growing cultural sector.

“Our ambitious plan is to transform one of the most historic parts of the city into an exciting and vibrant area where people will want to spend time, and the auditorium is the third stage in this project.

“We are working closely with Sunderland City Council, Arts Council England, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and other partners to make this a reality.”

Speaking about the auditorium, Paul added: “It will be a landmark venue of which the city can be proud, attracting audiences from throughout the north east. “It will sit next to – and very much complement – the hugely successful Sunderland Empire.

“While the award of this initial development grant of £250,000 does not guarantee that we’ll get the further £6.25m that we need to build the auditorium, we are confident that our team of development professionals led by Buckley Burnett Ltd, our project managers for the MACQ project, will produce an outstanding final proposal that ACE will support.

“This team has already led on the redevelopment of The Dun Cow, secured Phase One funding from HLF for the Fire Station with the Phase Two decision due later this month and has now secured Phase Three funding from ACE for the auditorium, another significant step in the development of the MACQ.”

Jane Tarr, director north at Arts Council England said: “There’s a lot of creative talent in Sunderland and it’s an ambitious city.  We’re really delighted to support these exciting plans for a new auditorium in the city centre as a home for local, national and international artists and performers.”

John Mowbray, chairman of the MAC Trust, said: “It’s a vote of confidence in us and the project. However, we wouldn’t have got this far without the drive

and inspiration of Paul Callaghan, without whom none of this would have happened. He had a vision for this area of his home city and has put so time, effort and resource in making the dream a reality.

“I’d also like to thank the MACQ project managers Buckley Burnett Ltd, who have done a magnificent job on our MAC Trust projects to date.”

Richard Buckley, managing director of Buckley Burnett, said: “This development funding from ACE enables us to appoint a design team to take the next phase of the MAC Quarter forward. We are aiming to present detailed designs to the public and ACE by autumn 2016.

“The funding is a significant boost to the MACQ’s momentum to deliver for Sunderland.”

The next application to the Arts Council’s Large Capital Grants programme will be submitted within the next 18 months with a decision made in 2017 and a potential opening scheduled for the auditorium in 2018.