Port launches Sunderland city centre expansion plans - here's how to help

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It's one of Sunderland's creative independents.

What started life as a clothes shop has grown into a coffee and lifestyle store, selling everything from bagels to local artwork, a venue for murder mystery and nights and more, and a space for creatives to work.

Port is hoping to boost its offeringPort is hoping to boost its offering
Port is hoping to boost its offering | Sunderland Echo

Now, Port has announced expansion plans to boost its offering to the community.

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It's been 10 years since Port set up shop in St Thomas Street, with director Gerard Purvis taking over the reins five years ago.

Since then it's grown into much more than a retail unit and has become an important part of the fabric of independents in the city centre.

Port director Gerard PurvisPort director Gerard Purvis
Port director Gerard Purvis | sn

Now, Gerard has announced plans for an outdoor area at the store and a new kitchen, which would increase its food offering for daytime custom, as well as events.

Encouraged by customers to do so, he launched a Go Fund Me for the £2,500 needed for the improvements, with regulars donating £500 to the cause in the first weekend of the campaign.

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While it still has a retail offering, Port has grown to become a coffee shop and arts spaceWhile it still has a retail offering, Port has grown to become a coffee shop and arts space
While it still has a retail offering, Port has grown to become a coffee shop and arts space | sn

The Sunderland business owner says he's been touched by the support.

"We have a really core crowd now. Remote workers who come in to work in the space, creatives who come here to draw and I really want to give something back by providing more here," he said.

"I was going to hold off and try and save, but the way things are at the moment being so unpredictable I felt like it would take forever. I'd mentioned to a couple of lovely regulars what my plans were and they suggested doing it as a Go Fund Me.

"Obviously it's a business, and I wouldn't expect people to donate. But the support has been amazing and so kind. I'm so appreciative of our regulars who come every day, I know their names, their orders, it's a real community."

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Plans include improving the kitchen offeringPlans include improving the kitchen offering
Plans include improving the kitchen offering | sn

Port already runs a number of evening events, such as a drink and draw night, monthly quiz , true crime talks and murder mystery nights and Gerard is hoping to increase these with bringing back music nights, young mums' clubs and book clubs.

"The improvements would be in two parts," explained Gerard. "The first would be to bring back seating outside, which feels more part of the shop, which requires a permit and an increase in insurance, as well as the cost of really good quality seating.

Many remote workers and creatives use the spaceMany remote workers and creatives use the space
Many remote workers and creatives use the space | sn

"The second would be to redo the kitchen area. Currently, it's a makeshift space and we're limited to sandwiches and tray bakes. But we'd like to have a bespoke fully-equipped kitchen in the space which would allow us to offer a wider range of food."

He added: "The improvements mean I would be able to make the out of hours programs I run more feasible, including artist hang outs, community groups and other fun events. I will also be able to improve our audiovisual capabilities for events, meaning we have the capability to support more dynamic types of events.

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"We want to offer a diverse range of programming that caters to all interests and encourages meaningful connections."

Port is one of the city centre's independents Port is one of the city centre's independents
Port is one of the city centre's independents | sn

Gerard says it's great to see more and more people supporting independents at a time when the city centre has lost many of the national retailers, including the planned closure of Marks & Spencer.

"People in Sunderland want interesting independent businesses to support and the more places that crop up, the more it encourages Sunderland people to spend their money in Sunderland," he said.

Port is on the corner of St Thomas Street and John StreetPort is on the corner of St Thomas Street and John Street
Port is on the corner of St Thomas Street and John Street | sn

"There's a lot of investment in the city at the minute and there's nothing to stop this end of the city centre becoming like the Northern Quarter in Manchester.

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"You have places like Sheepfolds Stables and the new bridge which will create a whole new district for the city and it's so important people support these ventures."

All going to plan, Gerard is hoping to have the new developments open at Port in time for the summer.

*Port, St Thomas Street is open Monday to Friday 8am-4pm and Saturday 10am to 5pm. You can donate to the campaign at https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-port-grow

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