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Sunderland fire station to be transformed into performing arts hub

An artist's impression of the new cultural quarter
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A former Sunderland fire station, which has been derelict for the past 22 years, is set to become the centre of a new cultural quarter in the city as part of a £10 million project.

The Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture Trust has put in a bid for a £2.1 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in order to transform the fire station into a performing arts hub that will include designated studios for drama and dance and a digital heritage centre.

The conversion, which will cost £2.8 million overall, is part of a three-stage project to transform the area adjacent to the Sunderland Empire into a cultural quarter for the city, costing £10.5 million.

Sunderland MAC Trust, which was formed two years ago, is working in collaboration with Newcastle’s Live Theatre to create the drama studios within the 106-year old fire station.

Paul Callaghan, board member of the trust and chairman of Live Theatre, said: “Live has really succeeded with its youth theatre. As a city, Sunderland doesn’t have anything like Live, yet it has a population of 280,000.

The trust has already purchased, and is renovating, an Edwardian pub next to the fire station, which will be restored to its original use and have a 100-seat performance space installed for music events and theatre. It will be in use by the end of the year.

If the HLF bid is successful, work will begin on the fire station, which is owned by the council, in early 2015. The final stage of the cultural quarter plan includes a newly built, 450-seat auditorium, for which the trust hopes to apply for arts council funding in 2016.

Sunderland’s Empire Theatre, which hosts large-scale touring productions, is the city’s dominant venue.

Callaghan said: “The Empire is a very successful commercial theatre. It’s able to host the big West End musicals and attract many hundreds of thousands of people to the city to see those shows. But unfortunately we have relatively little other cultural infrastructure in the city.”

He described the fire station as an iconic building and said that because it was close to the Empire, it was an ideal spot for a music, arts and culture hub.

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