SUNDERLAND’S National Glass Centre will reopen this weekend after work was completed on a £2.3million refit.
Bosses today revealed the venue would remain free of charge to visitors and promised a whole host of new exhibitions and workshops.
The aim of the revamp was to create a cultural centre on par with the likes of the Sage and Baltic in Gateshead, as well as attracting works from some of the world’s most renowned glass artists.
New gallery spaces have been created, as well as a special permanent exhibition charting the story of glass making in the city, running alongside the personal experiences of Wearsiders.
James Bustard, director of the centre, said: “There will be no entrance admission once we reopen on Saturday and our car park will remain free of charge too.
“We have doubled our exhibition capacity and we have doubled the space in our learning studios.
“Glass is the invisible history of Sunderland that is all too often forgotten about and we consider our job here is to tell that story.
“And we are telling it through the voices of the people who were there, their own stories. We want to give Wearsiders a sense of ownership of the project we have here.”
As well as the new gallery spaces, the money has helped buy new electric furnaces in the centre’s Hot Glass Studio, which it is hoped will improve its environmental sustainability and reduce its carbon footprint.
A new brasserie, overseen by head chef Patrick Lesca, will open offering traditional regional food – with a modern twist.
Gary Hutchinson, from 1879 Events Management, which is running the restaurant, said: “The centre is an iconic visitor attraction and offers a unique events space for businesses in the region and across the UK.
“We are very proud to be able to showcase a fine dining option with our new evening concept in the brasserie.”
The main gallery space will open on Saturday with an exhibition by Erwin Eisch, one of the founders of studio glass in Europe.
Centre bosses say they hope the venue will become a “must see” destination for those looking to sample the best of North-East culture.
Councillor Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “The reopening of National Glass Centre after such an ambitious refurbishment programme represents investment in our arts, investment in our heritage and continued investment in our city as an international cultural venue for world-class exhibitions and events.
“It also provides the people of Sunderland with a valuable educational and community asset for everyone to enjoy, and which helps future generations remember and celebrate the traditional skills which helped establish this city as an international centre for artistic learning and development.”
Mr Bustard, director for the past two and a half years, added: “People might have been disappointed with their experience here in the past but I don’t think that will happen in the future.”
l National Glass Centre opens to the public this Saturday.
l Don’t miss tomorrow’s Echo for an exclusive peek inside the revamped venue.