World’s oldest masonic temple to get new lease of life in Sunderland

The interior of Queen Street Masonic Hall in Sunderland's East End.
The interior of Queen Street Masonic Hall in Sunderland's East End.
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THE WORLD’s oldest purpose-built masonic temple in Sunderland could be given a new lease of life.

Students at Sunderland College will take on other colleges in the region in a competition to design a revival and extension scheme for Hendon’s Phoenix Hall, a Grade I Listed building.

The Heritage Skills Initiative has set the challenge for the students and the winning project will hopefully be carried out with funding from Heritage Lottery grants and offer the students professional experience in sympathetically restoring an historic structure with stringent building restrictions.

Based in Sunderland’s Queen Street East, Phoenix Hall was the first to be purpose built by the Freemasons to hold their meetings in 1783. It is still in use today, but in need of an update.

The students, who will work on their proposals as part of the Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Construction Design and Management, will not only submit their plans, but will present their work to a panel of judges, which will hopefully include Sunderland-born TV architect, writer and presenter George Clarke.

Gerry Ruffles, construction lecturer at Sunderland College, said: “The students have been visiting the building to begin planning and design work. This project provides hands-on professional experience in areas of architecture, construction, costing and planning that they need to pursue in their chosen careers.”

The Masonic Hall houses many original features, including a pipe organ built by John Donaldson and an eighteenth century organ, which sits in its own purpose-built gallery in the hall.

Part of the judging process will look at how sympathetic the students are to ensure they consider the historic artefacts contained within the walls of the building, as well as the feasibility of their ideas.

The project has already been given a significant boost with the help of Sunderland-based firm Precision Geometrics Ltd, which has carried out a laser scan of the lodge providing intricate details of the structure itself.

Mr Ruffles, who is supporting the Wearside team of students, who are all employed in the construction industry, said: “This project is such an exciting, challenging one, particularly given the building’s history, but I’m sure they will do a brilliant job.”

The students are expected to have completed the project by the end of this academic year.