New comedy venue and 'cultural function space' to open at Sunderland's historic Dun Cow pub

Plans for a new ‘cultural function space’ and comedy venue at a historic city pub have been approved.

The Grade II-listed Dun Cow, near the Empire Theatre was originally built as a gin palace in 1901, and is known for its iconic exterior and Edwardian features.

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The Dun Cow just after scaffolding was removed in summer 2020

Despite its current closure due to Covid-19 restrictions, new plans have been revealed to expand the site’s cultural offer.

This includes changing the use of the first floor from a restaurant to a function room and 40-seat comedy venue – with access taken from a new ground floor entrance to the rear.

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As part of the works, the upper level of existing external fire escape stairs will also be removed and internalised to create a route to the comedy club.

The changes, which were approved by Sunderland City Council’s planning department on Tuesday (February 16), aim to boost footfall and complement the new auditorium for the city which is being built nearby.

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The historic wooden bar features of The Dun Cow

According to planning documents, the first floor space at the Dun Cow would be used as a comedy venue on Friday and Saturday evenings and for other events and functions on other days as required.

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The space would also be used by writing and poetry groups and other small scale arts and cultural events.

A design and access statement goes on to say: “This application proposes minimal external alterations in order to create a more fitting neighbour to the new auditorium opposite.

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“The works to this northern elevation complement the recently completed restoration works to the building, whilst improving the outlook onto this pedestrian access through this corner of the Cultural Quarter.

“By utilising the existing staircase, the impact to the listed building fabric is minimal and the re-roofing of the existing flat roof area alongside the internalisation of the staircase creates a tidy and cohesive roofscape as viewed from the auditorium, whilst also offering opportunity to renew and upgrade the flat roof element of the building which was not possible during the recent external works.

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“The change of use to allow a cultural function space to reside on the first floor brings the currently vacant floor back into active reuse and complements the other venues in the vicinity.”

Applicant Leighton Management lodged the change of use bid with city planners in December 2020.

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A heritage statement, included with the application, said the proposal had given “great weight to the importance of the listed building in considering the alterations.”

It also outlined the “twin aims” of the development which include “creating a new small performance space on the first floor to encourage greater levels of use of the building [and] attracting greater footfall from both the auditorium and the Empire before and after performances.”

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The heritage statement adds: “The proposal will enhance the townscape and conservation area by making improvements to the rear of the building and removing or reducing clutter to ensure the new use and access points to the building are successful in using and maintaining this building in the long term.”

More information can be found by visiting and search planning reference: 20/02426/FUL

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