£6m for new Sunderland venue

Peter Lathan

Arts Council England has awarded £6m through the National Lottery towards the creation of a new £8.2m 450-seater venue in Sunderland. The grant has been given to the Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust which is developing a Music, Arts and Culture Quarter in the city, based around the old Fire Station, currently being redeveloped as a £3.6m arts and culture centre, with financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and next to Sunderland Empire Theatre.

The venue, at Garden Place and Dun Cow Street, will have retractable seating for 450 and will also be able to host 700 people standing. There will also be an outdoor stage and open area music and performance space to the rear of the Fire Station which, along with the Fire Station itself and the newly redeveloped Dun Cow pub, now hosting small scale arts events, will provide an integrated centre for the performing arts for the city.

The MAC Quarter is being developed in three stages. The first was the Dun Cow renovation, now complete; the second is the Fire Station project which will see the building transformed into a restaurant, cafe, heritage centre and dance and drama studios, and the new venue, which is intended to open in 2019, will be the final part.

Already Newcastle's Dance City and Live Theatre have committed to working in the Fire Station.

John Mowbray, Chair of the MAC Trust, said, “we’re obviously thrilled that Arts Council has chosen to support Sunderland with the new auditorium and believe it will have a transformational effect on the city’s arts and culture sector. It will be a game-changer in terms of the cultural offer the city will be able to deliver.

“We’re extremely grateful to Arts Council for this very generous capital grant particularly considering the competition there is from other parts of the country for their limited budget. It shows they recognise the significant changes in arts and culture that are happening in the city and shares our ambition for Sunderland. We would also particularly like to thank Sunderland Council who have offered tremendous support during the development stage for this superb new cultural asset for the city.”

Helen Green, Director of the Fire Station, added, “this will be a landmark building at the heart of our ambition to transform one of Sunderland’s most historic areas into an exciting and vibrant part of the city. It will be a venue of which the city can be proud, presenting local, regional, national and international artists to local audiences and giving new and emerging artistic talent a platform on which to shine. It will attract audiences from both inside and outside the city and is a statement of intent and evidence that Sunderland is serious about arts and culture.”