This is how Sunderland Council has transformed the Elephant Tearooms has been transformed into Sunderland's new history centre
From researching a family tree to rooting out information about the past of a building or big event – Sunderland’s curious will soon be able to find details at their finger tips.
The Local History Library @ ETR will open soon, with its launch day still under wraps as the final files and kit is set up in the former bank, tailors and Elephant Tearooms on the corner of High Street West and Fawcett Street.
Visitors will be welcomed with a timeline of the building’s rich and varied history with a reception desk to help direct people and also welcome tourists making inquiries.
A changing selection of photos and film clips will be beamed onto reception’s wall, with row after row of filing cabinets set up so people can find photos, information from the Echo and other newspapers, and access microfilm of articles.
Maps have been moved into the space, with books, census details, indexes and archives to be on hand, with staff to help direct people as they search for information about the past.
Heading upstairs – using a ‘hidden staircase’ revealed during the restoration of the 1872 building – people will be able to spot landmarks, buildings and landscapes from across Wearside thanks to a mural by Sunderland illustrator Kathryn Robertson, who has also worked in the corner window space on the ground floor, hiding 10 elephants for people to spot.
On the first floor guests will be able to access a performance area for talks from authors, historians and experts or join in courses such as floristry, silk work and other workshops, with a bank of computers up and running in one room to help people research, access education courses or to simply access the internet.
A conference room for up to 10 people can be hired, while quiet space is set aside for those who want to study.
Sunderland City Council’s library team will also be working alongside The Regional Oral History Centre: Living History North East and audio producer Jay Sykes to create podcasts, while artist Mark Burns Cassell has also been asked to link in with the centre.
Allison Clarke, librarian manager, said a huge amount of work is going into the centre to get it ready its launch.
“It’s going to be great for people, but also for our staff as well, as we’ll be able to expand the history books we have in stock here and show them how to use them.
“We don't expect everybody to be able to find what they need, so there’ll always be someone on hand to help them.
“Basically, anything people need to know about Sunderland, this will be their first step to finding that out, and if we don’t have it or know about it, we know somebody who will.
“We’ll be open six days a week, closed on Sunday, and we’ll have a late-night opening on Wednesday – we want people to come in and use us.
“We think it’s so important that we look at yesterday, today and tomorrow to appreciate it.”