Sunderland’s magnificent Dun Cow is the blueprint for breathing new life into city centre pubs nationwide, says a leading academic.
Oxford University’s Prof Steven Parissien was speaking as he presented the venue with two awards in the National Pub Design Awards, run by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) in association with Historic England and the Victorian Society.
Sunderland’s Music Arts and Culture (Mac) Trust has spent more than £400,000 to acquire and refurbish the pub as a key part of its plans for a new cultural quarter in the city centre.
It scooped two of Camra’s five national awards, claiming both the Refurbishment and Conservation categories.
Prof Parissien said the trust’s plans were a shining example of how to regenerate Britain’s city centres.
“This is the template for what should be done elsewhere, for so many towns and cities across Britain,” he said.
“Where traditional industries have gone, this type of project can revitalise the architecture and bring people back into the city centre in a way that is appropriate for the city.”
The Dun Cow’s success since its transformation was evidence that there was market for quality pubs playing a role in their local community.
“They are making money,” said Prof Parissien. “It proves that this is the sort of thing that people want to come to.
“The burgeoning of Britain’s craft beer industry and the success of places like this shows that small is sometimes better.
“Too often, places like this have been seen as just real estate, but the owners here want to do the best by Sunderland and its community.
“This is how we are going to reverse the trend of pub closures, by making pubs relevant again and making them major players in their local communities.”
Paul Callaghan oversaw the renovation of The Dun Cow for the Mac Trust and said securing the pub had been a key element of ensuring the trust’s plans were a success: “The purchase and restoration cost around £430,000,” he said.
“We invested the money as part of the bigger project. This is such an important part of the plan so it has been great to see so much interest.”
The trust brought in art restoration expert Rory Johnson to oversee the restoration of the pub’s glorious wooden bar back.
“He’s normally working on portraits at the Laing Gallery but we brought him in to bring the barback back to life,” said Paul.
“Then we had a team of three French polishers who brought it all back to its pristine condition – they worked for about three or four weeks.
“It cost a lot of money but at the end of the day, the value is in the building, the bar and its heritage.
“People want to come back because of the three ‘B’S – the building, the barback and the beer.”