Reflecting on 20 great years of the National Glass Centre in Sunderland

The National Glass Centre.
The National Glass Centre.

Time flies when you are having fun.

It’s hard to believe that 20 years have flown by since the National Glass Centre opened in Sunderland.

The Glass Centre under construction in 1996.

The Glass Centre under construction in 1996.

We thought we’d take a trip back to the month when it was first unveiled to the world - when it was described as the city’s “very own national treasure.”

The puns came rolling out at the time.

‘In a glass of its own’, said one headline.

But they were spot on and a £17million new attraction opened with locals and visitors from further afield all equally impressed.

Robert Lawson was only nine at the time but the Echo asked him which bit he liked the most, he replied: “I can’t pick out a part I like, I like it all. There’s lots to do and see and I am going to tell all my friends to come.”

Ina and Bill Carr from Roker came to take a look and brought their grandchildren with them. It was Ina who said: “They have had a fantastic time and so have I.”

She said she had wanted them to be a part of the opening of something marvellous for Sunderland.

Bill reckoned it was sure to “become a huge attraction.”

The Echo report at the time said: “People rushed to catch a glimpse of all the NGC’s attractions including the UK’s biggest ever exhibition of modern glass, three galleries, famous glass roof, workshops and shops.”

Another visitor was Anne Adamson from Tunstall who took her three daughters Hollie, Tanya and Carley with her.

She said at the time: “This is an occasion that the city should be proud of. I believe this centre will be one of the country’s biggest attractions and the kids can tell their children they were here when it opened - we all loved it.”

The Echo also reported on a “gleaming new feature” at the National Glass Centre.

It was a £35,000 disc of blue glass which was said to be the largest piece of glass art in the world. It weighed more than a tonne and it was being kept under wraps until the official opening.

Alan Sykes, a spokesman for the centre, said at the time: “We think everyone will be thrilled with the feature.

“It looks beautiful when the sunlight catches it and we are sure it will act as a wonderful welcoming beacon to the centre.”

The disc was created by Zora Palova, Professor of Glass at Sunderland University, and by glass artist Stepan Pala.

There were lots of stories on the glass centre including one on the number of people who were recruited to be the front-of-house staff. There were 22 of them and one of the first tasks they had was to welcome people to the opening exhibition called Glass UK.

It contained more than 130 works and many of them had never been seen in an exhibition before.

But what else was in the news at the time?

It was a World Cup year and England went out in the last 16 to Argentina – but not before rising star Michael Owen had scored a wonder goal.

It poured down at Ryhope Carnival that year but it didn’t stop the marching bands and tug-of-war competitors from having a great time. And what a weekend it was for 11-year-old Andrew Draper from Ryhope C of E primary School who won the competition for the best poster.

In County Durham, 1,000 youngsters were taking part in their own version of the Commonwealth Games at Maiden Castle.

There was talk of a brand new leisure and shopping complex costing £36million which was due to be built next to the A19 at Dalton Flatts. The talk was that it would include restaurants and family shopping.

Eddie Vardy, the then chairman of Murton Parish Council, said at the time: “I am highly delighted at the news.”

Back in Sunderland, Roker Park was pulling in the crowds – but this was houseseekers looking to buy properties on the site of the old football stadium.

What are your memories of life in Sunderland and County Durham in 1998? Get in touch and tell us more. Email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk