Royal fever grips Sunderland as William and Kate visit The Fire Station

Royal fever gripped Wearside as crowds turned out to see the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visit Sunderland’s new cultural quarter.

The couple officially opened The Fire Station, the city centre arts hub which houses a dance studio, drama studio, heritage centre and the Engine Room bistro after undergoing a £3.5milllion transformation.

During their visit, Prince William and Kate watched workshops and performances from some of the groups using the facility and were given a tour of the building by MAC Trust chairman Paul Callaghan, CBE, and Helen Green, director of The Fire Station.

On arrival, the pair were met with Lieutenant General Robin Brims, High Sheriff of Tyne and Wear and Julie Elliot, Sunderland Central MP.

Crowds waited for hours to catch a glimpse of the couple and greeted them with an enthusiastic display of flags and bunches of flowers.

Among those gathered outside were mum and daughter Christine Ramshaw and Alex Birrell, from Houghton, who spoke to the Duchess and said she looked ‘flawless.’

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to the former Sunderland Fire Station

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to the former Sunderland Fire Station

Read more: Watch Sunderland greet William and Kate

Alex said: “She was just asking where we were from and said she had been here before, but not on official business.

“I can’t believe she spoke to us! She looked flawless and was very relaxed.”

Inside the venue, the pair were treated to a Bollywood dance performance from ‘Bolly Dance’.

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to the former Sunderland Fire Station

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their visit to the former Sunderland Fire Station

Kam Chera, who runs the dance school, said: “They were asking where the children were all from.

“They were a lovely humble couple and very down to earth, it was it was an absolute honour and privilege to speak to them.”

The Royal couple then met youngsters from story writing workshop, Live Tales.

Christina Castling, creative assistant at Live Theatre, said: “The Duchess spoke to me about how important it was to get children excited about writing.

“The children have been so excited about meeting them and showing them their work.”

Prince William and Kate were then treated to a street dance performance from group Dance Jam and an eye-catching aerial performance by youngsters from Dance City.

Cheryl Day, from Dance City, said: “I was a bit nervous before but it seems to have gone really well.

“They were asking about the aerial routine and what the students had been doing and the strength needed for aerial.

“They really engaged with the children.”

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Dominic Wilcox, founder of ‘Little Inventors’ - a project that sees ideas from children come to life - also met the Royal couple and showed them some of the children’s inventions.

He said: “They were very nice and interested and you could tell that they were really listening.

“The children spoke really well and told them about the project.”

Prince William and Kate then took the time to speak to various groups in the city in the Engine Room.

William spoke to Cuckoo Young Writers and Pop Recs, while Kate spoke to Team 21 and Young Asian Voices.

Youngsters from Young Asian Voices were thrilled to meet the Duchess and even drew a henna design of a flower on her hand.

One youngster Sameera Aslam, 19, said: “She was really friendly and down to earth and took some bindi’s home for Charlotte.”

Mansoora Begum, 19, added: “She was flawless.”

Ram Ramanathas, project manager from Young Asian Voices, added: “We have 300 members so it was hard just choosing 10 to meet the couple.

“It is a once in a life time opportunity.”

To finish the visit Prince William and Kate unveiled a plaque marking the opening of The Fire Station and were given a gift of book ‘Alice in Sunderland’ by author Bryan Talbot.

They then left the venue to live music by band Picnic before heading to their second engagement in the city, a visit to inspect the new Northern Spire bridge that spans the Wear.

MAC Trust chairman Paul Callaghan told the couple: “It has been a privilege to have you here and I hope you will come back again as the development continues.”

Prior to its transformation, the Fire Station building stood empty for 22 years before becoming a core part of the Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust’s plans to create a £10m cultural quarter which will also feature an adjacent new £8m auditorium, where work will start soon.