About Us

Discover how glass arrived in Britain, how it’s made and why Sunderland has such a rich glass making heritage here at National Glass Centre.

On your visit learn about the Anglo-Saxon abbot, Saint Benedict Biscop, who first brought glass making to Sunderland, and Britain, back in the 7th Century AD. Biscop and his team of glaziers produced stained glass for the impressive windows at Bishopwearmouth Monastery.

Fast forward over 1300 years later and explore how the craftsmen of Sunderland’s factories, such as Pyrex and Hartley Woods, went on to produce some of the finest glass in the world century after century.

Today, our resident glass makers keep those skills alive. Trained in the art of turning molten glass into beautiful pieces of art, the Centre’s glass blowing team create all manner of things, from glass baubles at Christmas to hearts for Valentine’s Day. Watching this can be enjoyed from the comfort of a seat at one of our six daily glass demonstrations with commentary, or you can get even closer to the action and book a hands-on glass making experience.

In our exhibition spaces, you can marvel at some of the world’s finest contemporary glass and ceramic artists, as well as up and coming artists currently studying with the University of Sunderland.

2018 also saw the addition of Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art to the building, meaning you can now enjoy a regularly changing programme of both established and emerging contemporary artists work.

We are dedicated to creating opportunities for everyone to have a go and be involved in arts and culture. Our learning team deliver an extensive family crafts programme with lots to do for all ages, such as glass painting, glass sandcasting, glass fusing and ceramic crafts. Keep an eye out for things to do, especially around school holiday times via our What’s On.

You can also pick up your own souvenir or stunning example of glass art in our gift shop, kids love the marbles, before taking a well-earned rest in The Glass Yard cafe with its captivating views out onto the River Wear.

  • The history behind National Glass Centre


    Glass making is a key element in the history of Sunderland, bringing together its religious, social and industrial heritage.

    Ever since Benedict Biscop brought the first glaziers over from Gaul in 674 AD, Sunderland has had a rich glass making heritage. Glassmaking has played an important part in the industrial landscape of the city, with factories such as Pyrex and Hartley Woods, providing employment and economic stability.

    Since the decline of these important industries, National Glass Centre at the University of Sunderland has been dedicated to continuing the legacy of glass making, supporting and nurturing new glass making talent through the University of Sunderland’s Glass and Ceramics Degree Programme and fostering an enthusiasm and understanding of the material through a rich and varied exhibitions and learning and participation programme.

    Built on the site of a former shipyard J.L.Thompson and Sons, National Glass Centre aims to celebrate Sunderland’s glass making and industrial heritage, inspire a sense of civic pride and contribute to the economy of our city by developing a glass industry for the 21st century. In 1994 the Tyne and Wear Development Corporation held an open competition for the design of National Glass Centre and this was won by the architectural practice Gollifer Associates.

    National Glass Centre was the recipient of the first major Arts Lottery Award in the North East and the first Arts Lottery Funded building. In October 1998 HRH Prince Charles officially opened the Centre.

    In May 2010, the University of Sunderland took over the running of National Glass Centre. Rachel Smith was appointed as Director of National Glass Centre in 2021.

    The programme in National Glass Centre and Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art is delivered by Sunderland Culture – a registered charity which brings together the University of Sunderland, Sunderland City Council and Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture trust, to deliver the programme in some of Sunderland’s best loved cultural assets. Sunderland Culture’s Chief Executive is Rebecca Ball.

    Today, National Glass Centre welcomes over 230,000 visitors per year and aims to inspire the people of Sunderland through contemporary glass as well as enrich the cultural landscape of our city.

  • The University of Sunderland

    In May 2010, the University of Sunderland took over the running of National Glass Centre and embarked upon an ambitious and transformational programme which would bring together a world class visitor centre, with the next generation of world class glass artists.

    After a three year programme of capital redevelopment National Glass Centre reopening its doors in June 2013 to international acclaim.

    We are home to around 130 students studying Foundation/Level 0 Art and Design, and BA (Hons) Glass and Ceramics undergraduate and postgraduate programmes at the University of Sunderland, who enjoy access to a huge range of world class production facilities.

    To find out more about the University of Sunderland’s courses in glass and ceramics, click here.

  • Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art

    Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art has been bringing art from around the world to Sunderland and revealing the depth of talent in the North-East for 50 years.

    Working closely with artists, it stages exhibitions and events, creates publications and most recently, has begun to create a collection of contemporary art for the future.

    Since 2017, the gallery has been based inside National Glass Centre, where it has focused on new work made in photography, film & video, and twenty-first century media.

    National newspapers once described it as “the best small gallery” in the north-east, but its new home facing onto the north sea has five metre high ceilings that can present every type of artwork at its best.

    The gallery has a reputation for identifying new talent locally and internationally, having awarded artists with their first ever public exhibitions from Sean Scully in 1972 through to Marvin Gaye Chetwynd. It has brought artists who have never shown in the UK to these shores from Cory Arcangel to Harun Farocki.

    Explore their programme

  • Our Team

    Senior Management Team

    Rebecca Ball – Chief Executive, Sunderland Culture
    Rachel Smith – National Glass Centre Director
    Ian High – Director of Finance and Administration
    Suzanne Davies – Development Manager, Sunderland Culture
    Helen Connify – Head of Marketing and Communications, Sunderland Culture


    Sharon Thompson – Administrator
    Matthew Jobling – Technical Support Officer

    Visitor Services

    Victoria O’Rourke – Visitor Services Manager
    Alyson Bryan – Visitor Services Assistant
    Susan Lewis – Visitor Services Assistant
    Diane Emmerson – Visitor Services Assistant
    Stella Emms – Visitor Services Assistant
    Joanne Seaman – Visitor Services Assistant

    Contact us: [email protected]


    Julia Stephenson – Head of Arts
    Seb Trend – Exhibitions Officer

    Learning & Engagement

    Vicki Kennedy – Learning & Engagement Manager (Family and Schools)
    Rachel Groves – Learning & Engagement Officer
    Anthony Barstow – Gallery Learning Facilitator
    Stephanie Archer – Gallery Learning Facilitator
    Nigel Morgan – Gallery Learning Facilitator

    Contact us: [email protected]

    Hot Glass Studio

    Christine Keers – Hot Glass Studio Manager
    Ian Spence – Glass Artist / Glassblowing Demonstrator
    Ray Stanness – Glass Artist / Glassblowing Demonstrator
    Kalki Mansell – Glass Artist / Glassblowing Demonstrator

    Contact us: [email protected]


    Izzy McDonald-Booth  – Craft and Design Manager

    Contact us: [email protected]

    Marketing & Communications

    Gemma Grist – Marketing and Communications Co-ordinator, Sunderland Culture

    Contact us: [email protected]

    Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art

    Jonathan Weston – Exhibitions Officer, Sunderland Culture
    Dean Turnbull – Technical Officer

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