Singer James Bay visits Sunderland to view new home for city culture hub

'This is the beginning of what dreams are made of,' said singer James Bay as he visited the city today to help an independent venture realise its cultural ambitions.

Monday, 4th June 2018, 4:03 pm
Updated Monday, 4th June 2018, 4:07 pm
Pop Recs patron James Bay at the new site on High Street West. Pop Recs owners Dave Harper (L) and Michael McKnight (R)

Last week the Echo revealed how the singer songwriter has become the patron of Pop Recs Ltd as the multi-purpose culture hub expands from its current base in Stockton Road to larger premises at High Street West.

The Hold Back the River singer took time out from touring with his second album, Electric Light, to take a tour of the Grade II-listed buildings which are undergoing major renovation works.

Pop Recs patron James Bay at the new site on High Street West. Pop Recs owners Dave Harper (L) and Michael McKnight (R)

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The plan is for Pop Recs to move into the first building, a former bank which dates back to 1800, in time for the Tall Ships Races in July to coincide with a cultural programme running alongside the races.

Once the renovations of all buildings are fully complete by 2021, the culture hub will move into the neighbouring building, the site of the original Binns store, providing them with a much larger space for gigs and other cultural activities.

James, who was last in the city in 2015 when he played at the original Pop Recs in Fawcett Street, said: “The potential in this place is insane. This, as everyone will see, is the beginning of what dreams are made when you’re trying, in many respects, to do it yourself. To have this kind of blueprint, this blank canvas, the possibilities are pretty much endless.

“It’s going to take a lot of work, and a lot more people knowing about it and understanding what it’s about, but when it comes together it’s going to be a wonderful, wonderful thing and an important thing for this pocket of the world.”

Pop Recs patron James Bay at the new site on High Street West with Pop Recs Dave Harper (L)

Speaking about why he supports the Pop Recs venture, which was set up by members of Frankie & the Heartstrings five years ago to boost cultural activity in their home city, he said: “I’m attracted by everything they stand for. They are trying to galvanise and inspire creative minds that want to work in all the corners of the music industry and other creative industries. They’re trying to shed light on all the different possibilities.”

Michael McKnight from Pop Recs, which will continue to operate in Stockton Road while work is completed, said: “James is very busy and doesn’t have to take time out to do this. But to have someone like him support what we do is amazing and can only highlight what we’re doing and encourage others to get involved.”

How the buildings are being brought back to life

The renovation of the buildings on the south east corner of High Street West, which will house the new Pop Recs, is possible thanks to a £15,000 Arts Council England (ACE) National Lottery project grant which, working in partnership with Sunderland Culture, Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust (TWBPT) and the Heritage Action Zone, will enable them to move into the building.

The upstairs floors at the site had been used as bed sits until a decade ago. They have since stood empty.

The buildings sit within the city’s Heritage Action Zone, and were gifted by Sunderland City Council to TWBPT who have begun the restoration thanks to a grant from Historic England. The development is an important part of Twenty Four Seven cultural vision for the city, which is borne out of Sunderland’s bid

for UK City of Culture 2021.

The site of the original Binns will eventually house the new Pop Recs
Pop Recs patron James Bay at the new site on High Street West.
James with members of Pop Recs, Sunderland Culture and Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust