Now, the hidden stories of the old Holy Trinity Church in the East End, which reopened this year as Seventeen Nineteen, are being celebrated in a new exhibition by a host of community groups.
Named after the year it was built, Seventeen Nineteen has benefited from £5million of painstaking restoration and the Hidden Stories exhibition is inspired by objects discovered during the renovation, from an old Russian military button and an old bottle of whisky to a note by a Victorian orphan who was a choirboy at the church and left a letter behind urging people not to forget him.
Open to the public tonight, Thursday, June 30, and tomorrow, July 1, the free exhibition features community groups’ responses to the stories interwoven in the fabric of the church, including floral displays by Sunderland Floral Arts and Herrington Flower Club and a soundscape by Barbara Priestman Academy and Sunderland Mind Young People’s Group.
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Other displays include buttons made by Creative Age artists and a football ship made by Valley Road students inspired by Sunderland’s maritime history.
Pupils from Grangetown Primary School put together time capsules, while Sunderland College Digital Media students have compiled story boxes.
The exhibition is a partnership between Sunderland Music Hub, Seventeen Nineteen, MishMash Productions and communities across Sunderland and the East End.
Lizzie Nixon said it was great to see the old building come to life with the colourful displays.
"There were lots of interesting artefacts found during the renovation. Working with the community groups and artists, they used their curiosity and poetic license to make up stories around the objects,” she explained.
"The objects found told a bit of a story of this building and the people that lived alongside it, but not the full story. So for the past three months artists have gone along to 9 community groups to take the objects and explore the space. The exhibition is a creative response by the groups which was then curated by Verity Quinn.”
She added: “The building has been redeveloped for the community, so to see how colourful and bright it is with all the exhibits, flowers and artefacts is fantastic, as well as the soundscapes and compositions. It gives colour and sound to a building that had been in need of redevelopment and has been redeveloped back into this beautiful community space.”
The church 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.
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.
:: Hidden Stories is available to view from 3.30pm to 7.30pm on Thursday, June 30 and from 10am to 4pm on Friday, July 1. Free Entry