See inside old Chambers nightclub as work begins on phase 2 of Mackie's Corner transformation
It’s been standing guard over a gateway to the city centre since the mid-nineteenth century.
From its glory days as home to Sunderland’s first fashion stores, including hatter Robert Mackie who proved so popular he would lend it his name, to housing city clubbing institution Chambers, the Hutchinson’s Buildings, known as Mackie’s Corner, have had a colourful past to say the least.
But in the past four years they’ve undergone their biggest renaissance yet.
City property developers, the Kirtley family, bought the row of interlinked buildings in 2017 and through the dated shop fronts and boarded up period features could see the landmark site’s potential.
Their vision was bold: to transform it into a hub of creative, independent businesses that would help breathe new life into this corner of the city. And it’s one that’s come to fruition spectacularly.
The ground floor transformation of Mackie’s Corner is now complete, housing some fantastic additions to the city: Master Debonair, Fat Unicorn deli, The Sweet Petite cake shop, Cafe 1851, Black Door Hairdressing and Bou-Chique womenswear.
In the coming weeks, work will begin on transforming the upper floors in the same fashion, with potential tenants already in the offing.
Alex Kirtley says seeing their plans on the first floor come to life has been a real labour of love.
"People thought we were mad when we bought the building in 2017 and were showing potential tenants around and describing how it would look,” explained the businesswoman. “It’s been a real labour of love and an endless money pit, but we’re delighted with how it’s come together.
"We really do have a dream team on the bottom floor, they’re exactly the kind of businesses we pictured. Any new tenants will have to fit the bill too, we want to create an experience in the building.
"The ground floor really showcases what can be achieved and it can only get better with the upper floors.”
She added: "We’ve had such great feedback. Last weekend alone we were chatting to a couple who were visiting Fat Unicorn from Durham and another family who were staying at the Seaburn Inn and were shopping in Sunderland, it’s already attracting people from outside of the area and giving them a reason to visit.
"The High Street has shifted and the offering is changing. It’s not so much about big chain retail now, it’s about places to eat, places to socialise and independent businesses. People appreciate what’s on their doorstep more now, they think more about where they’re spending their money and spending it locally.”
Over the past four years, the major works such as a new roof, repairing the historic clock, replacing windows and other structural work has been completed. Attention will now turn to renovating the upper floors into individual units in accordance with the tenants’ requirements.
Alex explained: "The beauty of these rooms is that they are really adjustable and can be tailored to that tenant, whether that’s an individual or a team of 60 people."
As much of the history of the building will be restored and maintained as possible.
"There’s so much interest in the history of the buildings and we really want to tell the story of Mackie’s Corner in the renovation,” explained Alex.
One of the fondest memories of the end of the last century was when the buildings housed Gossips and Chambers.
While the former Gossips unit is now Black Door Hairdressing, the old Chambers site is like the Mary Celeste of nightclubs. The retro mirrored DJ booth is still in place, gig posters are plastered on the walls promoting everything from Hacienda nights and the Stone Roses to the music of Nirvana and even a phone in a back room – complete with the number for the old Gilbridge Police Station sellotaped next to it – is still there.
Like the rest of the site, work will begin to renovate the much-loved club, but its original fittings will be kept in storage where possible.
The old staircase from Gossips to Chambers, the location of many a drunken stumble, will form the main entrance to the buildings eventually and, remarkably, still retains a number of Victorian features, including glazed tiles which were painted red and purple by the Chambers owners.
"My dad doesn’t throw anything away,” said Alex. “And we’ll be keeping as much as possible. People have so many fond memories from the various eras of the buildings.”
The success of the Mackie’s Corner project is one in a number of major investments taking place in the city centre.
Across the road, on the former Vaux site, work is forging ahead on the Riverside development. Already home to The Beam and the soon-to-open City Hall, the £500m development will also feature new housing, offices, a new Eye Infirmary, library and a new footbridge linking the old Vaux site with Sheepfolds.
Other new additions transforming the face of the city centre include the £18million Auditorium at the Fire Station which this week announced it will be opening its doors on December 10, with a programme of home-grown talent as well as Grammy Award nominees.
Meanwhile, work is also nearing completion at the new Pop Recs which has transformed the once dilapidated buildings at the end of High Street West.