The Fire Station has a new Director

Published: 19 January 2021
Reporter: Peter Lathan

Tamsin Austin
An artist's impression of the auditorium at The Fire Station

Sunderland’s newest arts venue, the 460-seater £11m Fire Station auditorium which is still under construction, has appointed its first Director, Tamsin Austin, who is currently Head of Contemporary Music at Sage in Gateshead.

The new venue, delivered by Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust and run by Sunderland Culture, will present a wide range of music, theatre, comedy and dance. It will seat 460 and have capacity for 800 people standing, as well as an outdoor performance space that will allow socially distanced events.

Tamsin Austin was a founding member of the senior management team at Sage Gateshead, where she has led on contemporary music for 17 years, making a significant contribution to the creation of the signature musical programme that established Sage as an internationally recognised music venue.

“I am delighted to have been invited to lead the team at the Fire Station at such an exciting time for culture in Sunderland,” she said. “I have watched the cultural landscape unfold in Sunderland over the past few years and there is a huge amount of energy, will and purpose there.

“It is an ambitious city with deep musical roots and a rich family of musicians, cultural leaders, entrepreneurs, and audiences who are hugely invested in the new venue, which will become a new home and community hub for live music and arts in the heart of the city.

“The Fire Station is a beautifully designed auditorium and its flexibility will give great scope for a diverse and exciting programme of live concerts, festivals, theatre, dance and comedy, and will delight local people as well as put Sunderland on the map nationally and internationally. I’m so excited to be joining the team.”

“I’m already thinking about the opening programme, which will be challenging because of COVID. We’ll need flexible plans because of the uncertainty over when we’re going to be able to welcome audiences. But we will be creative and find ways to welcome artists and audiences, whatever restrictions are in place.”

Tamsin Austin moved to the North East in 1991 to study performing arts, with a focus on music, at the University of Northumbria. She worked as an artists’ agent and a freelance music programmer before spending five years programming the Glaswegian venue The Arches. She joined Sage from there in 2004.

The auditorium is part of the wider Fire Station development, supported by Sunderland City Council, Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which has transformed an Edwardian fire station in High Street West into an artistic and cultural hub, housing The Engine Room bar and bistro, drama studio, dance studio and a heritage exhibition space. Last month, it was announced the venue had been granted £1.38m from the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund to help reduce the impact of COVID.

It was also confirmed that the National Lottery through Arts Council England had given MAC Trust, in partnership with Sunderland Culture, a grant of £149,368 towards Fire Starters, a pre-opening programme for The Fire Station. Austin’s appointment has also been supported via this grant, which will fund performances across Wearside to mark the venue’s opening.