Sunderland's Pop Recs to open coffee shop with Midnight Pizza Crü as work forges ahead in memory of Dave Harper

Work is forging ahead on the new Pop Recs community hub in memory of its co-founder Dave Harper.

Friday, 1st October 2021, 6:22 pm

Dave, who passed away last month aged just 43, was a driving force and a passionate ambassador for the multi-purpose arts and culture hub, which has transformed once dilapidated buildings at the far end of High Street West.

Even in his final weeks Dave was leading the plans for the site’s long-awaited opening – now it will open its doors in his memory.

As well as bringing a host of acts to the city to perform in its stage area, in the former Binns building, Pop Recs will host community groups and provide training opportunities for young people.

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Pop Recs will open as part of Dave Harper's legacy

The Echo can also reveal that the hub has teamed up with the hugely-successful Midnight Pizza Crü venture which will run the coffee shop side of the business.

Now it will have a permanent base in Sunderland at Pop Recs when it opens next month.

Dan, who’s previously managed Holmeside Coffee, will run the coffee shop during the day for quality brews, light bites, lunches, baked goods and more. But at least once a month it will host a Midnight Pizza Crü pop up and will be the only place in the city you’ll be able to tuck into the deep pan delicacies.

Works continue at Pop Recs ahead of opening with a new cafe and home to the pop-up Midnight Pizza Cru. From left Pop Recs Jo Gordon and Michael McKnight with Midnight Pizza Cru owner Dan Shannon.

"It’s vital that Pop Recs succeeds, and not just to survive but to thrive,” said Dan. “Not only in Dave’s name, but for what the people of Sunderland have put into it.”

Speaking about what people can expect from the new Pop Recs’ hospitality offering, he said: “The support for Midnight Pizza Crü has been incredible, and we’ll be bringing that excitement to High Street West.”

Pop Recs started life in June 2013, to coincide with the release of Frankie & the Heartstring’s second album, The Days Run Away, in the old Tourist Information shop in Fawcett Street.

The band intended to run the pop-up record shop for a fortnight but it soon snowballed into a gallery, gig space and independent coffee shop that would host gigs from the likes of The Charlatans, Badly Drawn Boy, Franz Ferdinand, James Bay, The Vaccines and Edwyn Collins.

Midnight Pizza Crü has been a huge lockdown success story

Bandmates Dave and Michael McKnight went on to open a second Pop Recs in Stockton Road before working alongside the Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust to launch the third incarnation in 170-173 High Street West.

Dan said: “The coffee shop will run in a similar way to how it did in Stockton Road, but with a better quality coffee and food offering.”

Michael said: “It made perfect sense to have Dan involved, he’s always supported Pop Recs. We’ve had the idea for a while to offer amazing coffee, amazing pizza and great bands.

"Dan also has a background in education and music which ties in perfectly with our apprenticeship schemes which we’ll be running to give people a leg up on the ladder to employment.”

Inside the new gigs area at the site

He added: "Midnight Pizza Crü is one of the most exciting food ventures that Sunderland has seen and I don’t think there’s been a better food scene in Sunderland than there is now.

"Dan is also an amazing person which ties in with what we do at Pop Recs.

"This is a not-for-profit organisation and the money spent here goes back into Pop Recs to benefit the community and to change people’s lives, and that’s something unique.”

Pop Recs itself will open on October 22 with a soft launch art event which will be invite only. The coffee shop will open in November.

Meanwhile, there’s ongoing talks with acts who’ll be performing on the new stage, as well as a memorial night for Dave which will be announced soon.

Made up of three units, the third unit in the transformation is the new home for the Sunshine Co-operative which has moved from its base at the Eagle Buildings.

Dan Shannon and Pop Recs' Michael McKnight in the area which will house the coffee shop

It’s been a long road to opening the buildings, where work began back in 2018 to transform the site. But Dave and the rest of the team always saw the potential for the historic structure which was once the home of the very first Binns store in the 1840s, going on to spawn a household name chain.

Part of the city’s Historic High Streets Heritage Action Zone, the buildings have needed years of painstaking restoration work. Delays were also caused by the pandemic and the passing of Dave, who was very much the face of Pop Recs.

The Grade II-listed main building was little more than a shell when work began, but it now boasts a fully-equipped stage and bar, made from reclaimed materials from the former Dat Bar in Newcastle and Ashington High School.

"I think when people first looked at the buildings they thought there’d be no way we could transform them, so it’s a miracle that we’re stood here now,” said Michael.

“These are buildings of historical importance, so it’s great to see them come to life, as well as all the other regeneration ongoing in the area.”

Michael says people’s outpouring of affection for Dave after his death has helped provide some comfort for his friends and family.

"The people of Sunderland have shaped Pop Recs into what it’s become today,” he said. “It was only ever intended as a pop up, but it organically became so much more.”

One of Dave’s biggest passions was for giving young people a helping hand in life and his Pop Project will begin from mid-November, equipping young people with the skills needed for a career in hospitality.

The site will also run a Crew School giving disadvantaged young people the chance to learn about sound, lighting and audio as Dave’s visions for the site become a reality.

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James Bay with Dave and Michael in 2018 when the buildings were just a shell
Talks are ongoing with some top acts to grace the stage
Dave Harper showing Pop Recs patron James Bay around the site in 2018
Pop Recs will start staging events in the coming weeks
From left Pop Recs training and development manager Jo Gordon, Midnight Pizza Cru owner Dan Shannon and Pop Recs co-founder Michael McKnight.
A new sound system has been installed
Reclaimed materials have been used to make the bar