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Building skills on display at the fire station

Traditional building skills used in the redevelopment of Sunderland’s newest cultural venue have been on display.

Two sessions have been hosted at The Fire Station in High Street West, which is currently being converted into a £3.6m arts and culture centre, with financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The 110-year-old building is being revamped into a restaurant, cafe, heritage centre and dance and drama studios.

Ian Smithwhite, Senior Conservation Officer at Sunderland City Council, has been working with Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust, the organisation behind the transformation and contractor, Keepmoat Regeneration, part of the ENGIE group to deliver the sessions.

“We wanted to give anyone interested the opportunity to see the skills involved in the transformation of The Fire Station, and the level of detail needed to make sure the job is done properly. “We organised four sessions covering the work and skills of a stone mason, lead work, traditional slate roofing and traditional window glazing, all of which are being employed at The Fire Station.”

Keepmoat Regeneration Site Managers James McCourt and Stewart Barraclough oversaw the sessions, which were led by Ian and subcontractors Classic Masonry, Springs Roofing and North Eastern Glass.

“We had about ten people at each session, which included students from Houghton Kepier School and Newcastle and Sunderland Colleges, and after I’d given an introduction about the project and the history of the fire station, we had a talk from one of the companies about the techniques, materials and methods being used on the site. We then had a walking tour of the site, followed by an opportunity for people to have a go at one of the disciplines on a sample table– fully supervised of course,” explained Ian.

Helen Green, Director of the Fire Station, added: “It was great to be able to show the traditional skills involved and those who attended enjoyed having a go at chiseling a shape into the stone, cutting roof slates to fit and watching the glazers at work. The redevelopment respects the iconic architecture of the original Edwardian building and so we had to use specialist skills in its transformation. The building work is well on, and the new fire station is starting to emerge from the old. It’s such a wonderful building and will be a real asset to the city once it’s opened and established as a hub for artistic and cultural activity."

Lee Francis, Area Director in the North East for Keepmoat Regeneration said: “Working in the heart of Sunderland gives us the added benefit of partnering with educational institutions that are on our doorstep and engaging with the local community. Since the inception of the programme we have created a steady stream of opportunities for pupils at different stages in their education to learn about the diverse skills required onsite and to help broaden their knowledge of the industry. Due to the complex nature in restoring this renowned landmark, it’s an interesting project for students to witness first-hand and will hopefully complement their studies when they’re sat back in the classroom. As we approach the next phase of the programme, we look forward to continuing the partnership with Sunderland City Council and the MAC trust and welcoming more people onsite to be a part of this incredible project.”

The Fire Station development is part of MAC Trust’s transformation of the area. The first phase was the award-winning renovation of the historic Dun Cow pub, and another stage was the successful renovation of the Londonderry pub, which reopened as The Peacock earlier this year. The fourth stage of the MAC’s cultural quarter will be the construction of a new £8.2m auditorium for music, dance and drama adjacent to The Fire Station. Arts Council England has awarded £6m towards the cost of the work, which will begin later this year and be finished in 2019.