Work gets underway on historic Sunderland buildings

27 February 2018

Work is about to get underway on a group of derelict Grade II listed properties on High Street West, including the original site of Binns department store, following a repair grant from Historic England. 

The restoration of 170 -175 High Street West is a key project for Sunderland’s Heritage Action Zone.

The buildings have been derelict for a number of years but there has long been a desire from the local community to preserve them. 

The project is part of Sunderland Historic High Streets Heritage Action Zone, a partnership scheme led by Historic England and Sunderland City Council. Through the project, the council bought the buildings and passed their ownership to Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust so that they can be repaired and brought back into use.

The repair grant from Historic England will allow emergency repairs to be carried out to consolidate the buildings while funding is sought for the full conservation and conversion scheme. Further plans for the buildings will be released by Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust in the coming weeks.

The buildings will also feature as a case study in a European research project called Open Treasure, in which TWBPT are a partner. The restoration of these dilapidated buildings in Sunderland will be compared with projects in Lisbon, Rome, Warsaw, Berlin and Budapest. One of the key research themes will be the financing of these difficult projects.

As part of the emergency repairs, road closures will be in place on High Street West and Little Villiers Street to allow work to take place safely. The road outside the buildings on High Street West will be closed from 19th February for 7 days and the road to the rear of the building on Little Villiers Street will be closed from 19th February for 21 days.

Martin Hulse, Trust Manager, said: “For the past two years the Trust have been working in partnership with Sunderland City Council to acquire these buildings. 

“It is quite clear this is the last chance to save these buildings, two of which were built in 1815 and are a crucial part of Sunderland's history. They are currently an eyesore and the immediate job is to make them safe and improve their appearance. 

“The location of the properties within Sunderland’s Heritage Action Zone has been crucial to bringing the project forward.” 

The Historic High Streets project began last year when the area was awarded Heritage Action Zone status. The partnership project which is led by Historic England and Sunderland City Council aims to transform Sunderland’s high street heritage, building on previous work by the council and local partners to revive historic Sunderland and reconnect it with the modern city centre. 

A number of projects are already underway including an Historic Area Assessment of Old Sunderland. The Historic Area Assessment, which is being undertaken by Wardell Armstrong Archaeology, will improve understanding of the significance of Sunderland’s Historic High Streets and character of the wider city centre, and be a useful planning tool for managing the heritage of the area. 

Other projects that have been undertaken include detailed building assessments of Hutchinsons Buildings (Mackie’s Corner), the Athenaeum building on Fawcett Street, and Phoenix Masonic Hall on Queen Street. 

Through the project, building improvements have already been secured on Fawcett Street and High Street West, with Sunderland City Council working alongside building owners to ensure better upkeep of historic properties. 

An ongoing Heritage Schools project has already resulted in a teacher training event in January as well as funding three Sunderland schools to undertake local history projects with local heritage providers in the city. 

Catherine Dewar - Historic England’s Planning Director for the North East and North West said: “I’ve been aware of these important buildings in Sunderland for many years, first visiting them nearly 10 years ago.  They are an important part of Sunderland’s heritage and help to tell the story of how the city developed.  We are delighted to be working with the Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust and Sunderland Council to ensure that these special buildings are repaired as part of Sunderland’s Heritage Action Zone.”

Cabinet Secretary Councillor Mel Speding, said: “Binns holds a very special place in the hearts of people in Sunderland so it’s fantastic to see this group of historic buildings being given a second chance with a repair grant from Historic England as part of the Heritage Action Zone, while funding is sought to secure their long term future. 

“They are an important part of the city’s history and it would be wonderful to see them restored and given a new lease of life for use by future generations.” 

Activity is due to increase in the Heritage Action Zone over the next few months as the project prepares for its second year. A programme of community engagement is planned to run alongside further building improvement and restoration projects. 

For further information and to keep up to date with progress, visit