Old Sunderland fire station set to become theatre, dance and heritage centre under £10million project

Paul Callaghan and John Mowbray outside the old Fire Station in Dun Cow Street.

Paul Callaghan and John Mowbray outside the old Fire Station in Dun Cow Street.

A FUNDING bid is being submitted today to transform Sunderland city centre’s first dedicated fire station as part of a £10million project.

The Echo has been given a look around the 106-year-old Edwardian building, which could hold the key to the city’s cultural future

Today, a bid for £2.1m will be placed with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to transform the Old Fire Station, off High Street West, into a hive of activity once more – but this time as a hub for performing arts.

The station, which has stood empty for two decades, was built as part of a flurry of architectural activity by the Milburn brothers, who were also responsible for the nearby Sunderland Empire and Magistrates’ Court.

But while the Empire has thrived, the fire station, which housed five engines and its band of firefighters, has been forgotten.

Sunderland entrepreneur Paul Callaghan, Sunderland University deputy chairman John Mowbray, and the rest of the Mac Trust (Sunderland Music Arts and Culture) members hope to change that.

Today’s bid is part of the charity’s £10million large-scale project to create a cultural quarter in this part of the city.

It’s a plan that’s already got off to a flying start with the acquisition of the Dun Cow pub by the trust, which is being renovated and restored as a traditional pub and music venue with a view to opening in the autumn.

Attention now turns to the fire station which would be the focal point of the new quarter.

Inside the station, which was closed in 1992, many of the period features remain. Original tile work adorns the walls, as do the firemen’s pegs, complete with names.

However, the building is now home to pigeons and rot and has suffered from decades of weathering.

Paul said: “These buildings are the closest there is to a signature architecture for Sunderland, this Edwardian baroque style.

“The fire station was the plainest of the three buildings designed by the Milburn brothers, but it has a grandeur and stature of its own.”

The remaining original features will be incorporated into the new venue, especially on the ground floor.

If funding from HLF and other sources is secured, the ground floor will be transformed into a restaurant which would open out on to the square outside.

Upstairs is already split into two large rooms which span the length of the main building,

The front room, once home to billiard, reading and smoking rooms, would house a sprung-floored dance studio run in conjunction with the people behind the successful Dance City studios and venue in Newcastle.

Meanwhile, Mac Trust has linked up with Live Theatre in Newcastle to create theatre space in the back room, which once housed the dormitories.

As part of the plans, a third floor would house a digital heritage centre, using 21st century technology to remember past centuries,

A new pitched roof is also in the pipeline.

Paul added: “There have been proposals for the building here and there over the years but because of the state of the building and neglect, it requires massive renovation, which is why we hope HLF will help us.

“Because of the close location of the city centre to the shipyards, Sunderland lost many of its great buildings during the war, there was a lot of collateral damage.

“But we need to reclaim what we do have left. If something isn’t done with this building soon it will just fall down.”

The Dun Cow and Old Fire Station are the first two phases of the trust’s ambitions for the area.

Ultimately, it’s hoped the project will incorporate buildings around the fire station to create the MacQ, Music, Arts and Cultural Quarter.

The proposal also seeks to include the area between the fire station, Gilbridge House tax office and Magistrates’ Court, currently car parks, and turn it into a piazza, city park and performance area.




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