Derelict Southwick building transformed into buzzing carnival-themed cafe and arts space for Sunderland

A derelict former parish centre in Southwick has been completely transformed into a carnival-themed arts space and cafe.

Thursday, 30th July 2020, 10:50 am

After 18 months of renovation works and an investment of £200,000, Carnival House will open its doors to the public for the first time on Saturday, August 1.

Derelict for 17 years, the former St Hilda’s Parish Centre in The King’s Road is now a colourful multi-purpose site, which will host arts workshops for all ages, performances, food and alcohol served at the Carnival Kitchen as well as function room hire.

It’s been brought to the city by community interest company Creative Seed who also operate a centre in South Tyneside where they are well known for their work on events such as the annual Festival Summer Parade.

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Carnival House in Southwick

Owners, husband and wife team Garner and Sandy Harris, who organised the community parade for Sunderland’s Halloween Lights Out Festival last year, were looking for premises in the city and saw the potential in St Hilda’s, despite it being in major need of repair.

Speaking about the old labour exchange, costume designer Sandy said: “We needed a beautiful building and fell in love with the high ceilings and gorgeous windows here. We needed a large space for all the activities and this fitted the bill perfectly.

"When we first saw it there were piles of rubble, no glass in the windows, holes in the roof and pigeons in the rafters, but we could see the potential.”

She added: “Looking around it doesn’t seem real, I didn’t think we’d ever get to this point.”

The Creative Seed part founder Sandy Harris at the new Carnival House, Southwick

Creative Seed have been working closely with the Southwick community and they say there’s been a lot of interest in the redevelopment of the building.

“People have been peering through the windows to see what we’re up to and we’ve been doing tours of the place,” she explained. “There’s been a lot of excitement and the feedback has been great.

The plan was to open the site with a Great North Carnival in the streets of Southwick, which can’t take place because of social distancing. Instead, there will be an online carnival.

Sandy and Garner, who received some funding from the Arts Council, Big Issue Invest, Sport England and National Lottery, have an 11 year lease on the building and have big plans for the site.

Inside The Creative Seed Carnival House, Southwick

The programme of workshops begins with daily kids activities, ranging from carnival drumming to carnival costume making, and you can book ahead at

Meanwhile, the Carnival Kitchen menu features options such as carnival tagine, katsu chicken curry, buddha bowls, vegan options and more. You can book a table at

As well as a stage for performances, Carnival House can be hired for meetings and functions and there’s plans to apply for a wedding licence.

Sandy and Garner have also taken on the Southwick Library building over the road with plans to be unveiled at a later stage.

Inside The Creative Seed Carnival House, Southwick

Carnival House will be open from 10am to 6pm Monday to Saturday at first, with a view to extending the closing time in the future.

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Inside The Creative Seed Carnival House, Southwick