About Us

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

On your visit learn about the Anglo-Saxon abbot and now Saint Benedict Biscop who first brought glass-making to Sunderland, and Britain, all the way 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 for 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 glassmaking 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 the 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 create 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


    Glassmaking 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 glassmaking heritage. Glass making 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 glassmaking 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.

    With the decline of many of the North East’s major industries, Sunderland has developed pockets of deprivation: 25% of children live in poverty, and the city has higher than average numbers of young people not in work, education or training and of unemployed adults. In 2010 18% of the City was classified as being amongst the most deprived 10% in the UK.

    Built on the site of a former shipyard, 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 and in 2011 appointed a new Director, James Bustard.

    Phase One: May – September 2012

    The first phase of the development of National Glass Centre focused on new accommodation for the University of Sunderland’s Art & Design Foundation programme on the lower ground floor of the building. The Hot Glass Studios have been brought together and reoriented, greatly improving the visitor experience of the live production of glass, as well as our teaching facilities. The Shop, which lies adjacent to the Hot Glass Studio, has been remodelled to create a better shopping environment and improved merchandising.

    Phase Two: January – June 2013

    Phase Two saw significant investment in the upper ground floor galleries. This phase doubled the exhibition and events capacity of the Centre, upgrading and modernising the gallery spaces, education and resource rooms and enabling the Centre to better meet the needs of the visitor, schools and groups.

    The Centre is now managed by Sunderland Culture, a new company created to bring together Sunderland’s most important cultural assets. Keith Merrin was appointed Director of National Glass Centre back in 2016, he is also Chief Executive of Sunderland Culture

    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.

  • Meet the Team


    Keith Merrin – Director / Chief Executive of Sunderland Culture
    Kimberley Foster – PA to Director
    Michelle Daurat – Operations Director
    Matthew Jobling – Technical Support Officer

    Visitor Services

    Victoria O’Rourke – Visitor Services Manager
    Alyson Bryan – Visitor Services Assistant
    Susan Lewis – Visitor Services Assistant
    Georgia Smithson – Visitor Services Assistant
    Laura Tokell – Visitor Services Assistant


    Julia Stephenson – Head of Arts
    Seb Trend – Exhibitions Officer
    Marie Neeson – Project Coordinator, Glass Exchange

    Learning & Engagement

    Alison Cleland – Senior Learning & Engagement Officer (Family and Schools) – Currently on Maternity Leave
    Neil Walker – Senior Learning & Engagement Officer (Adult Learning)
    Rachel Groves – Learning & Engagement Officer
    Selene D’Alessandro – Learning & Engagement Officer
    Janina Sabaliauskaite – Gallery Learning Facilitator
    Nigel Morgan – Gallery Learning Facilitator

    Contact us: learning@sunderland.ac.uk

    Hot Glass Studio

    Christine Keers – Hot Glass Studio Studio Manager
    Spence, Ian – Glass Artist / Glass Blowing Demonstrator
    Stanness, Ray – Glass Artist / Glass Blowing Demonstrator
    Dave Martin – Glass Artist / Glass Blowing Demonstrator
    Kalki Mansell – Glass Artist / Glass Blowing Demonstrator


    Izzy McDonald-Booth  – Craft and Design Manager
    Jade Tapson – Retail Supervisor
    Lil Davison – Sales Advisor
    Susan Bulley – Sales Advisor
    Laura Jones – Sales Advisor

    Marketing, PR & Communications

    Laura Reed – Marketing and Communications Co-ordinator

    Contact us: info@sunderlandculture.org.uk