Work starting on new £11m auditorium in Sunderland city centre

Years in the planning, work is set to begin on Sunderland’s new Auditorium at the Fire Station in the coming days.

Thursday, 26th September 2019, 9:01 am

Builders from Sunderland-based Brims Construction will break ground on October 7 at the car park next to the Fire Station in High Street West as work starts to build an £11million multi-purpose music, comedy, arts and theatre space for the city.

With a capacity of 450 people seated or 800 standing, The Auditorium lies between the size of the neighbouring 2,000-seater Empire and smaller music venues such as Independent and is a mid-size venue that should stamp Sunderland on the touring circuit route for a host of gigs and other performances.

The Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust is behind the development and secured a £6.25m award from Arts Council England‘s Capital: Large Grants programme, funded by the National lottery, to build the venue, which marks the final phase of the regeneration of this corner of the city into a culture quarter.

Paul Callaghan and John Mowbray at the site for the new auditorium to be built onto the Fire Station

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Following the success of the first phase to renovate the historic Dun Cow and Peacock pubs and the second phase to transform the once-derelict Fire Station into a bar, dance and theatre studios, The Auditorium is due to open its doors in spring, 2021.

Paul Callaghan, chairman of the MAC Trust, said: “Now stage one and two are complete, it’s very exciting to begin the next phase of the MAC Quarter. This venue will not detract from the shows at the Empire, which brings fantastic West End shows to the city. It will be the kind of shows and events that currently go to Newcastle Academy, Gala Durham or the Customs House, South Shields, because we didn’t have a mid-size venue here, meaning Sunderland missed out.

“It’s going to be a very flexible space, with retractable seating, meaning we could have the seats in place for a community lecture in the afternoon and move them out in the evening for a rock band.”

The award-winning architect behind the design of The Auditorium is Jason Flanagan, who was project director for the iconic Sage building in Gateshead, and his design features terracotta, to match the colour and tone of the red-brick Fire Station which it will be built onto.

How The Auditorium will look next to the Fire Station

John Mowbray, trustee of MAC Trust, said: “The Auditorium will open in 2021, the year we were hoping to be City of Culture and, although we didn’t win that title, the plans that were put in place for that bid are still going ahead. The cultural landscape in Sunderland is so different to what it was 10 years ago, we now have major events such as the Da Vinci exhibition and Pages of the Sea and The Auditorium will boost that offering further.

“We have an empty Fire Station which has been turned into a restaurant and arts space, two historic pubs that have been renovated and now an under-used car park will be turned into a new venue. This whole area is an example of how you can use culture for regeneration.”

Following completion of The Auditorium, the MAC Trust will pass programming, operation and management of the auditorium to Sunderland Culture, of which MAC Trust was a founding partner.

Sunderland musician, Ross Millard, of the Futureheads and Frankie and the Heartstrings, and a MAC Trustee, says it will help to boost the music offering in Sunderland which, although a great breeding ground for talent, often doesn’t have a suitable venue to host gigs.

Officials at the Fire Station were a new auditorium is to be built

“The music scene has always been really healthy in this city and a brand new venue of this size will be a great way to support our local musicians and performers,” he said. “It will also allow Sunderland to regularly attract top touring musicians, too, which is a massive boost.”

Coun John Kelly, Cabinet Member for Communities and Culture, Sunderland City Council, said: “We’re delighted to have been able to support this latest stage of the development, bringing the City Council’s total grant funding in the project to £690,000. The Auditorium will be a very welcome addition to the city’s cultural offer, complementing Sunderland Empire and the adjacent Fire Station.

“It is one of a number of significant projects in this part of the city which started with the council’s development of Keel Square, which are part of a wider £1.5bn programme of investment underway in Sunderland and include £0.5bn billion for the city centre.”

Inside The Auditorium which will hold 450 seated or 800 standing
Paul Callaghan and John Mowbray at the site for the new auditorium to be built onto the Fire Station
Officials at the Fire Station were a new auditorium is to be built
The Auditorium marks the final phase of the MAC Quarter