It’s been a long road navigating a pandemic, Brexit and the subsequent difficulty in obtaining building materials, but finally the old Holy Trinity Church in the East End has been reborn as Seventeen Nineteen, a new events space for Sunderland.
Named after the year the port’s first parish church opened its doors, Seventeen Nineteen has witnessed the rise and fall of the shipyards, the outbreak of cholera, two World Wars and, more recently, the Covid pandemic.
It was once the heart of old Sunderland, housing the old town’s council chamber and its first library, making it one of the city’s most historically-significant buildings.
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Due to dwindling numbers, it closed as a church in 1988 when the Grade I-listed structure was vested into the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.
Over the decades it had fallen into disrepair and was in desperate need of major structural works, but thanks to £4.3million of funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Sunderland City Council, Benefact Trust and other donors, the Georgian building has been saved for future generations.
In 2019, ground was broken to start the major works, which have included removal of more than 600 tonnes of rubble from the floor void to allow airflow back into the building so it can breathe once again; replacing all windows with an original sash design; the removal, repair and re-installation of a stained glass window; replacing more than 16,000 handmade bricks and skilled stone masons repairing damaged stone work using traditional methods.
Due to delays caused by the pandemic and Brexit, the project received a further £800,000 of funding.
But, now, it’s finally preparing to open its doors to the public, with an official opening spring fayre on Saturday, April 16.
Tracey Mienie, centre manager, said they’re looking forward to welcoming the people of Sunderland back through the doors.
"We’ve lived and breathed this project for the past three years and every time we’ve had to remove something for restoration there’s been some nervousness about whether we could it back to the way it was,” she explained. “But bit by bit, more and more of its character has come back.
"The people who’ve seen it so far have been blown away. There’s been tears at the door, it’s really emotive to see it as it is now.”
Tracey added: “Ground was broke on the project on September 5, 2019 and it was only supposed to take a year, but we’ve had all the supply challenges of Brexit to deal with, Covid, and the fact that the building was in a worse state than we thought. It’s taken a lot of skilled people to get it to this stage and it hasn’t been easy.”
Seventeen Nineteen remains a consecrated space and it will host around six services a year. However, it will also serve as a multi-purpose space for events, performances, live music and wedding receptions.
It will be open to the public Monday to Friday from 10am to 4pm for coffees and for people to walk around the building, which tells the story of old Sunderland.