Things are hotting up at The Fire Station as it prepares to open its doors as the city’s new culture hub.
Although The Engine Room bar and bistro has already pulled its first pint, the rest of the £3.5m development of the once-derelict Fire Station in High Street West remains under wraps until the official opening.
However, The Echo has been given a sneak peek of the dance studio, drama studio and heritage centre ahead of the launch night on November 23.
Speaking about the response so far, Helen Green, The Fire Station director, said: “The positivity has been amazing. This is a building people know and they were upset that it had just been left to rack and ruin. Sunderland doesn’t have many old buildings, but for one to be saved and given new life is something people have really got behind.”
Eventually, The Fire Station will share its main entrance with the as-yet-unnamed auditorium which will be built on the car park next door. Work will begin on the mid-size venue next summer, with it due to open in autumn 2019.
It’s hoped the auditorium will work with major music and theatre providers to bring a new element to the city’s cultural landscape.
“This will bring a whole new range of arts to the city,” said Helen. “Previously, Sunderland has been missed off the touring schedule for certain productions because they may be too big for Arts Centre Washington but too small for the Empire. Once the auditorium is built we’ll have that mid-scale venue.
“A lot of people still think The Fire Station is going to be a venue but that will be the next phase with the auditorium. The Fire Station is very much about participatory arts.”
Dance City, the North East’s leading dance organisation, will operate out of the new state-of-the-art dance studios, in the former firefighters mess, and have already launched a series of taster dance sessions.
A full programme will begin next year, offering public dance classes, as well as hire availability for community, private groups and children’s dance parties.
Across the corridor, Live Theatre, which has proved successful in Newcastle, will use the space for drama studios and possibly small-scale studio productions.
Meanwhile, upstairs houses a heritage centre where the first exhibition celebrates the history of the fire service in Sunderland.
Helen said: “Dance City will complement what is already available in the city. They have a regional remit so already had a lot of knowledge of the area and have done a lot of research. There will be a wide variation of dance classes on offer, from street dance through to aerial.”
Should Sunderland be successful in its bid to be named City of Culture 2021, The Fire Station would be one of the venues which would stage the year of events.
Having an infrastructure to support events is a vital part of the bid and Helen said the judges seemed interested in the developments being made on a recent visit to the city.
“They were noncommittal, as they have to be,” explained Helen. “But they seemed interested and engaging and they had some good round the table discussions with people that were here.
“The momentum is really starting to build now and Sunderland is in a much different place culturally than it was 10 years ago.”