SUNDERLAND’S new Fire Station Auditorium has received a major boost through a £1.38m grant from the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund to help reduce the impact of COVID-19.

The project is one of 74 in England receiving grants totalling £58.9m today. The grant of £1.38m has been awarded through the Cultural Capital Kickstart grants programme which helps organisations cover costs added to capital projects such as building works, refurbishments and large-scale equipment purchases by pandemic-related delays or fundraising shortfalls.

The Kickstart fund is part of the Government’s £1.57 billion Cultural Recovery Fund package to protect the UK’s culture and heritage sectors from the economic impacts of Covid-19.

The superb new Fire Station Auditorium is scheduled to open in late 2021 and construction was already well underway when the pandemic struck. The project team has had to cope with delays and rising costs that have resulted as a consequence.

Paul Callaghan, Chairman of the Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust, the charity that is leading the Fire Station Auditorium construction, said: “This very welcome grant will mean that we will be able to complete this exciting, culturally significant venue for the people of Sunderland and the North East and play an important role in the city’s ambitious regeneration plans. The Trust is extremely grateful to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and to Arts Council England (ACE) for this continued generous support.”

Rebecca Ball, Creative Director at Sunderland Culture, which will operate the Fire Station once it is completed, said “This investment, at such a crucial time, is wonderful news for Sunderland and for music and performing arts across the North East. We are thrilled that MAC Trust has been awarded this support through the Cultural Capital Kick Start Fund to complete the construction of the Fire Station Auditorium. Sunderland Culture is extremely proud to be working with the MAC Trust to develop plans for the opening of the Fire Station later in 2021 and for its music, theatre, comedy and dance programme.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “This government promised it would be here for culture and this announcement is proof we’ve kept our word.

“The £1billion invested so far through the Culture Recovery Fund has protected tens of thousands of jobs at cultural organisations across the UK, with more support still to come through a second round of applications.

“Today we’re extending a huge helping hand to the crown jewels of UK culture – so they can continue to inspire future generations all around the world.”

DCMS has also announced £165m from the Culture Recovery Fund has been offered in repayable loans to help 11 major cultural organisations survive the loss of income caused by the crisis. This follows previous rounds of the Culture Recovery Fund, including the Grants programme which distributed £428m to more than 2,000 cultural organisations across the UK, and the £3.36m Emergency Grassroots Music Venues Fund.

Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair of ACE, said: “Today’s announcement is another vital step in securing the future of England’s cultural sector. Supporting capital projects will help to ensure that we maintain an innovative, sustainable cultural infrastructure that supports world class creative work, while the loans announced today will enable some of our largest and most prestigious cultural organisations to weather the effects of Covid 19 and reopen when it is safe to do so.

“The Arts Council is grateful to the Government for its support through the Culture Recovery Fund and we are proud to support all the organisations receiving money today.”

The £11m auditorium is part of the Fire Station development, one of the largest current cultural developments in a post-industrial UK city centre, and supported by Sunderland City Council, Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Presenting a wide range of music, theatre, comedy and dance, the auditorium will seat 460 and have capacity for 800 people standing, as well as an outdoor performance space that will allow socially-distanced events. It has been designed by award-winning architects Flanagan Lawrence, with fixtures, technology and equipment specified by international acoustic experts Idibri and is being built by Sunderland-based Brims Construction.

The auditorium adjoins the original Fire Station, which was officially opened by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2018. This building houses The Engine Room Bar and Restaurant, heritage exhibitions, and specially designed studios which host programmes by Live Theatre and Dance City, including an MA in Advanced Dance Performance.

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