Sunderland's Ashburne House, historic residence of the Backhouses, to become family home once more
Former art school buildings in a Sunderland park are set for a new lease of life as family homes.
Almost a decade ago, the University of Sunderland revealed plans to vacate Ashburne House in Ashbrooke.
The historic building had been a base for education since the 1930s and housed an arts and design library and a raft of resources.
However, the Grade II-listed local treasure has sat vacant since bosses relocated the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media to elsewhere on the university estate.
After winning approval from Sunderland City Council last month, new owners hope to return the building to its family roots.
Plans include converting Ashburne House into three private homes as well as restoration works and demolishing the 1960s outbuilding to the west of the site.
The scheme is being progressed by city developer Henry Kirtley and his family, who are also overseeing proposals for a business hub at Sunderland’s iconic Mackie’s Corner.
Daughter Alex Kirtley said the Ashburne House plan would help safeguard the building’s future.
“We want to keep the house as it was and save it, it has been empty for several years since the university left,” she said.
“It has been unkempt with quite a lot of damage and we want it to be a liveable home and sustain it for the future.
“We’re hoping doing that will have a positive impact on the park and the area as there’s no longer a big monster of a derelict building there.
“It was originally the home of the Backhouse family and that’s what we want to create again.”
From home to place of learning
Thomas William Backhouse originally gifted the building to the Corporation of Sunderland in 1922 – asking that it be used as a teaching college or hostel – along with the surrounding Ashburne Park, now Backhouse Park.
In 1931, consent was given by representatives of Mr Backhouse for the house to be used as an art college, which opened in 1934.
According to planning papers, the site was taken on by the University of Sunderland in 1996 with the faculty later relocated in 2012.
Under new plans for the site, three homes will sit within the existing Ashburne House building sharing a central courtyard.
A new boundary wall will also be built marking the divide between private and park land.
In a decision report, city council planners praised the scheme for securing the future of the listed building.
The report reads: “The proposed scheme will importantly secure the re-development of a previously at risk listed building for a sustainable residential use which is comparable to the original use of Ashburne House.”
It goes on to say: “The development would provide appropriate living conditions for future occupants of dwellings without adversely impacting on the amenity of nearby occupiers.
“The visual amenity of the site and setting of the listed building will be significantly improved through the demolition of the modern office block to the west and the renovation of the building itself.”
As developers press ahead with demolition and restoration works, they have also confirmed plans for the wider site.
This includes six executive homes on the site of demolished buildings and converting the historic gatehouse, known as ‘The Lodge’, into a home.
Both of these proposals are subject to planning permission from the city council.