Ornate red and white brick building on the corner of a street
Elephant Tea Rooms, High Street West © Sunderland City Council See the List entry (1208244)
Elephant Tea Rooms, High Street West © Sunderland City Council See the List entry (1208244)

Celebrating the Success of Sunderland’s Heritage Action Zone

Guided tours, heritage open house events, workshops and craft stalls are part of the celebrations marking the end of Sunderland’s five-year Heritage Action Zone, which draws to a close this summer.

Sunderland HAZ celebrations

Back in 2017, Historic England and Sunderland City Council embarked on a scheme to work in partnership with local people, charities and organisations to breathe life back into Sunderland’s historic high streets.

The celebrations taking place 22-23 July will highlight how much has been achieved and encourage people to find out more.

As part of the two-day festival, there will be an opportunity to visit some of the historic buildings that have been brought back to life, with a vintage bus transporting people between Mackie’s Corner, Church Street East and Queen Street East.

There will also be free guided tours, workshops and a chance to have a go at heritage conservation skills, as well as a summer fair and live music.

To find out more about the two-day festival celebrating the success of the Sunderland Heritage Action Zone, follow #CelebratingSunderlandHAZ

We hope people enjoy seeing the transformation on these historic high streets and finding out more about the Sunderland’s Heritage Action Zone, which has allowed many different people and organisations to pull together and create a much bigger change for than would ever have been possible working alone. Sunderland’s HAZ is a fantastic example of how much can be achieved when people with a shared passion and vision for the value of our historic places work together.

The HAZ has enabled the repair and conversion of key listed buildings which have played an important part in Sunderland’s past and are set to play a role in a vibrant future. And it has acted as a catalyst, helping to attract further investment, including grants from the Future High Street Funds and the Levelling Up Fund, which will continue to improve the area for residents and visitors alike.

Trevor Mitchell, Regional Director for the North and Levelling Up Historic England

Sunderland is a transforming city, with a changing skyline owed to many millions of pounds being pumped into exciting new buildings. However, preserving and polishing the hidden gems we have in the heart of Sunderland is an equally important part of the area’s regeneration, and it’s fantastic to be able to celebrate the incredible impact of the HAZ on our city centre as the project comes to a close.

Graeme Miller, Council Leader Sunderland City Council

Funding boost

The aim of Sunderland’s Historic High Streets Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) was to spark regeneration and economic growth by harnessing a shared commitment to restore historic buildings and help local people connect with the heritage on their doorstep.

It launched in 2017 with £5 million in funding. Since then, it has attracted further support which has helped make this vision a reality. This includes a further £1 million from Historic England, £1.3 million from the Sunderland City Council, £3.6 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and £2.1 million of leveraged funding from other organisations, bringing the total investment up to £8 million.

There has been a remarkable transformation in these forgotten places, which have been brought back from the brink and now have a purpose for the future.

Historic buildings bringing the past back to life

Visitors to the celebrations will have the chance to learn more about the heritage on their doorstep and how the Sunderland HAZ initiative has helped to revive it.

During the 19th century, Sunderland’s high streets were active, bustling places, full of people and business.

Over time, as the heart of the city shifted, streets like High Street West were left behind, their once thriving shops gradually turning into empty shells.

Local people had no reason to visit them and their future seemed bleak.

But with the launch of Sunderland’s Heritage Action Zone, the collective energy and commitment of a wide range of organisations in the city was harnessed and their regeneration started.

This energy has driven the rescue, repair and conversion of important listed buildings which still retain their historic significance but are now ready to play an active role in Sunderland’s future.

  • The Hutchinson’s Buildings – on Bridge Street and High Street West – were constructed as Sunderland's first purpose-built shops giving Wearsiders access to the latest fashions. The impact of these buildings was huge. Their significance is clear from that fact that – some 170 years on - local people still refer to ‘Mackie’s Corner’ as a landmark, though the hat maker Robert Mackie who ran the prestigious corner store is long gone.

    After years of decline, the Hutchinson’s Buildings are now occupied once more, by a range of independent businesses. And Mackie’s Corner is now home to the award-winning men’s fashion retailer Master Debonair.
  • Back in 1811, number 173 High Street West was the place to shop when it opened as the first department store in the Binns empire. But over 200 years later, it had fallen on hard times and was virtually derelict and heading for demolition.

    Thanks to the Heritage Action Zone, it has had a three-year £1.4 million renovation and been transformed into a vibrant music and culture venue knowns as Pop Recs. It’s now home to a music venue and a café. Sunshine Co-operative and Global Teacher are also new tenants of the premises.

    It is also used as a case study for policy makers, heritage officers and planners across Europe, as part of the Open Heritage Project, showcasing how heritage can be adapted and reused.
  • In Queen Street East, the 237-year-old Grade I Listed Georgian Phoenix Hall has received £180,000 funding from Historic England, enabling repairs to take place so that it can continue to play a key role in the history of the city and local community.

    Built in 1784-5, it is the oldest surviving purpose-built masonic lodge still in use by the Freemasons in England. Although extended over time, it’s original structure and interior has remained remarkably intact, with the original organ, ceremonial chairs and furnishings still in place.

    It bears witness to centuries of change, when the east end was once the commercial heart of Sunderland. A Heritage Skills programme is currently taking place there.

New research into Old Sunderland

Finding out more about the Sunderland’s history has helped create a clearer picture of the role it played in the region’s past – and will help to shape future developments.

As part of the Heritage Action Zone, Historic England has gathered a collection of images showing Sunderland from the air, dating from 1924 to 2017, with a significant amount of detail that can’t been seen on maps alone.

These images reveal much Sunderland has changed over the years and how it looked before the Second World War, when bombing led to the subsequent large-scale redevelopment of the city. RAF photographs also show the temporary structures necessary for the war and highlight the impact of bomb damage on the city.

Research has also been carried out into historic buildings, including The Hutchinson’s Buildings, Phoenix Hall and Athenaeum Buildings, to get a better understanding of them and their significance and underpin the proposals for repair and development.

Buildings like this already had listed status – but more information has been added to the National Heritage List for England to help reflect their importance.

Learning from stories of the past

Sunderland’s Heritage Action Zone has been a great opportunity for local school children to discover more about the heritage around them.

Pupils from Grangetown Primary School, Valley Road Primary School and Hudson Road Primary School have taken part in arts and cultural activities as part of Historic England’s Heritage Schools programme.

The schools programme has been followed up with research to find out if heritage can improve people’s wellbeing. This included a visit by children from Hudson Road Primary School to Phoenix Hall and a chance to sit on the throne.

This project has been commissioned by Historic England and is being carried out with pupils from Hudson Road Primary School, who are now in year 5, as well as older residents of the three tower blocks surrounding Phoenix Hall.

Fact file

Since the launch in 2017, the Sunderland Heritage Action Zone has involved:

Heritage Action Zones Round 1

Since 2016/17, Historic England has put £6 million into funding 10 Heritage Action Zone projects around the country, which complete this year, breathing new life into historic places that are rich in heritage but need a boost to make them more attractive to residents, businesses, visitors and investors.

This funding has acted as a powerful catalyst for regeneration in these areas, successfully leveraging a further £60 million in investment and has demonstrated that heritage can be a powerful force for levelling up.

The 10 completed Heritage Action Zones are in: Appleby, Coventry, Elsecar, Hull, King’s Lynn, Nottingham, Ramsgate, Sunderland, Sutton, Weston Super Mare

Working with local councils and community partners has been crucial to their success.
Historic buildings that were deteriorating through decades of neglect have been restored and put back into use, providing employment and volunteering opportunities; conservation areas have been improved, kick-starting regeneration and renewal that has helped attract significant investment and meet local housing targets. These unsung places are now being recognised and celebrated for their unique character and heritage.