Inside the striking Commissioners Building after £3million restoration of historic Sunderland HQ
One of the city centre’s most spectacular period buildings has been given new life thanks to a £3million restoration project.
Built in 1907, the former Wear Commissioners Building was the headquarters for the people responsible for the management and improvement of the river and harbour, once a bustling waterway and major source of business in the then town.
Testament to the wealth of Sunderland at the time, which was mostly thanks to the river, no expense was spared in the creation of the Commissioners Building, and its oak panelling, domed roof, intricate wooden carving, granite, marble and sandstone features, which was used by the Wear Commissioners until 1973.
Most of the original features, despite a few dents from wartime shrapnel, remain and have been given new life by new owners Adavo Workspace.
Specialists in sympathetically converting old buildings into office space, they bought the building from the council in 2019 who had also been using it for offices. Now, after two years of navigating lockdown delays and painstaking specialist craftsmanship, they’ve launched the site as The Commissioners Building.
Comprising 51 office suites, of various sizes, as well as the grand Commissioners Chamber and Boardroom facilities, the new office space is an important part of the major regeneration of the city centre, aimed at attracting business to Sunderland as well as fostering homegrown ventures.
There will eventually be around 250 jobs housed within the building, whilst also creating more.
Adavo CEO Mark Black said: “We’re really celebrating getting this project over the line during a pandemic, which wasn’t the easiest, and we feel really proud of the contribution we’re making to the regeneration of this city.
"This project has been a real labour of love, blending a classic design with a contemporary twist. We’re celebrating the history of the building, whilst also creating the success stories of the future. It’s a really special place, and one of the few old buildings Sunderland has left. The restoration of buildings like this is fundamentally a good thing.
"Sunderland lost its glass works, it lost its shipyards and it lost Vaux, which was a big part of the heartbeat of the city centre. But change is now happening and the former Vaux site is being put into functional use. From here, Sunderland once did business all over the world, and it can do that again.”
The business centre already has 50% of its space let, and this week hosted an official launch to show off its striking features to potential new tenants.
It’s a multi-purpose space, aimed at everyone from established finance and legal services to new start ups looking to grow.
"We are an incubator hub for business, but incubators don’t usually look like this. If you’re competing with the likes of London and closing that gap you have to have a similar standard,” explained Mark.
Adavo, who have already had success success with refurbishments at the Town Hall in Wallsend and The Clervaux Exchange in Jarrow, have also worked within the constraints of a Grade II-listed building to create accessible office space.
Sustainability and energy efficiency has also been a key part of the project.