Agony aunt Denise Robertson’s legacy of love for her home city lives on in a new creative space which will open its doors this weekend.
Eighteen months ago, the late This Morning presenter contacted the Echo after reading about Theatre Space North East’s ambitions to turn a derelict building in Sunniside into a hive of creative activity.
Not seeking publicity, Denise, who passed away in March last year, asked for a contact number for the group so she could donate to their cause - one of many secret acts of benevolence she carried out over the years.
Now Denise’s name joins around 200 others on the wall at new venue, Collective Space, after the crowd-funders helped raise more than £3,000 to transform the building, which has stood empty on the corner of Borough Road and Nile Street for eight years.
As well as being a home for theatre group Theatre Space North East, who stage the successful Plays in the Parks series each summer, it can be used as a space for visiting groups, storytellers, theatre makers and musicians.
Theatre Space artistic director Corinne Kilvington said: “I remember walking my dog in Backhouse Park on a rainy night, feeling miserable because we’d ran out of money, when I got a phone call from what sounded like an elderly lady. She asked me a series of questions about our campaign and where the donation would go and, once she’d carried out her checks, she broke into her normal voice which I instantly recognised, introduced herself as Denise Robertson, and said she’d like to donate £500.
“She also gave us tips on a number of funding pots we could apply for. Her donation was a great help because it paid for major jobs like plumbing to be done.”
As well as Denise and other financial backers’ donations, around £5,000 was donated in kind, by the likes of Wear Builders and KB Electrical Services who donated their time and labour.
It means Corinne can finally move all the props and costumes stored under her stairs into a proper wardrobe room in the building, which also features a rehearsal room with sprung floor, green room and office.
Corinne said: “It’s amazing for us to finally have our own rehearsal space, as previously we’ve had to use the university and the Royalty Theatre. But because of the donations made by the crowd-funding campaign, and the fact we have a very philanthropic landlord in Peter Smith Antiques, which is next door, we want as many people as possible to be able to use the space, whether that be book groups, cheerleading groups or mother and toddler groups.”
Creative Space will be running a membership scheme of £75 a year, whereby members can hire the space for £10 an hour, or £15 an hour for non-members.
Corinne says it’s also great to see new life being breathed into the old building.
“This is a gateway building to the city, but it’s stood empty for a long time,” she said. “It’s been everything over the years from a Jewish school to a corner shop to a factory furniture shop.
“Although we’ve made a lot of changes we’ve tried to be sympathetic to the history of the building and have kept a lot of the old features.”
•Collective Space will open to view, use and hire from this weekend. Anyone interested can email firstname.lastname@example.org