Loyd Grossman is backing the campaign to transform one of Sunderland's most historic churches into a new cultural centre.
The TV presenter, journalist and chef is chairman of The Churches Conservation Trust and visited Sunderland today to learn more about the plans for Holy Trinity Church in the East End.
He was joined by Lord-Lieutenant of Tyne & Wear Susan Winfield and representatives of Historic England, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Sunderland City Council and local businesses to launch a campaign to raise the final £454,000 to save the Grade II-listed church, and transform it into the Canny Space, a new cultural, learning and heritage centre at the heart of Old Sunderland.
Built in 1719, Holy Trinity was once at the heart of Sunderland’s busy port, and housed the city's first public library and civic rooms and at one point even the fire engine.
But mounting repair bills saw the building placed on Historic England’s ‘Buildings at Risk Register’ in October 2014, and some parts of the building are already inaccessible due to safety concerns.
The church is at risk of being lost unless a long-term solution can be found, and in July, The Churches Conservation Trust was awarded a development grant from Heritage Lottery Fund to support the £3.6million project to save it.
The plans will create a new multi-purpose venue which engages people with the stories of the city through immersive displays, music, theatre, spoken word and storytelling. The project will also create new jobs, craft skills apprenticeships and volunteering opportunities.
"Holy Trinity is one of the finest churches in the North East of England, but in 2014 it was placed on the Heritage at Risk Register," said Loyd Grossman.
"Since then, The Churches Conservation Trust has been working on a project to save it, and with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund and others we hope to be able to undertake a £3.6m regeneration project to re-launch it as the Canny Space in time for its 300th birthday in 2019.
"Today, we are launching the campaign to raise the final £454,000 needed to allow works to begin."
Sunderland City Council Portfolio Holder for Public Health, Wellness and Culture, Councillor John Kelly said: "This latest cultural heritage project is really capturing people’s imagination , and I hope everyone gets behind the final stage in this fundraising campaign.
"The Church of Holy Trinity played a significant part in the history of our city, and can hopefully play an equally significant part in its future. Sunderland City Council has been delighted to support the campaign by local people to re-establish the church at the centre of life in the community, and grateful for financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop the project this far."
If the fundraising drive is successful, the project will be ready to open in 2019, celebrating the 300th anniversary of Holy Trinity with a spectacular Georgian Fayre.