Plans unveiled to transform former Sunderland institution Elizabeth's
New life is being breathed into former city centre institution Elizabeth’s.
The former restaurant in Bridge Street served up Sunday dinners and comfort food for decades, before diminishing trade saw the landmark put up for sale in 2017.
It was bought by city businessman Steven Lynn a year ago and he’s now started work on transforming the site into a counselling cafe where people can access vital counselling services while also enjoying a cuppa and a light bite.
Steven is hoping the cafe, a first for the city, will encourage more people, in particular men, to access mental health support.
Counselling helped Steven through unimaginable tragedy when, in 2018 his son Steve died after contracting flu. The popular 25-year-old‘s death came not long after his grandparents’ death and counselling helped Steve Snr through an incredibly difficult chapter in his life.
"It helped me face the future at a time when I didn’t think I could,” he explained. “There’s such a stigma around men seeking mental health support and there shouldn’t be. It’s a vital service in this day and age.
"There was already a problem with mental health before the pandemic, and that has only made it worse. I would really recommend counselling to anyone. Instead of bottling things up and suffering, I’d urge people to speak to someone. It helped me in so many ways.”
The memory of Steve Jnr and his grandparents, Jean and Kenny, will live on in the name of the new cafe, which will be called Betsy Jenny. Betsy was Steve’s nickname and Jenny is an amalgamation of Jean and Kenny’s names.
"The female name is also a reminder of Elizabeth’s,” explained Steven. “It’s a building which holds so many memories for people and lots of people have been passing and saying how they remembered working here or coming in for lunch.
“We found one of the old Elizabeth’s menus and it had a steak mains for 7p and a brown ale for 4p.” said Steve, an entrepreneur who runs a number of property and construction businesses in the city.
“I want this to be a mental health community hub for all,” he added. “I didn’t want this building to become another vape shop in the city centre, I want it to be a place for the people of Sunderland.”
The large site will house a cafe at the front while the back will have counselling rooms, as well as a meeting room which can be used for meetings for people with addiction problems.
Steve said: “The idea is that anyone can walk in off the street and meet with a counsellor, even if it’s for 10 minutes. Then after that they can arrange between themselves for proper counselling.
"The cafe, meanwhile, will be a relaxed place selling sandwiches, cakes, ice creams and coffees.”
Building work is forging ahead on the site and it’s hoped it will be able to open once Lockdown restrictions are eased.