Director Leanne Littlewood and Cllr John Price are keen to gather ideas for content. Credit: via Creo

Work starts on Sunderland’s £25m Culture House

Contractor Kier has been selected to build the showpiece visitor attraction, overlooking Keel Square within the Riverside Sunderland masterplan.

The city council is leading the £25m project as developer. Culture House has been designed by FaulknerBrowns Architects, which was also responsible for the nearby City Hall, a RIBA award-winning project.

As the 75,000 sq ft building rises from the ground, Culture House director Leanne Littlewood has issued a call for  residents, community groups and organisations to feedback on what they would like to see the building deliver.

The council’s broad intention is for the venue to feature digitally powered immersive spaces, as well as exhibitions to inspire and educate and areas that can be used by the community to learn, meet, and have fun.

Cllr John Price, vibrant city portfolio holder, said that Culture House will deliver immediate benefits to the local community even before it opens, thanks to social value commitments by Kier.

He said: “From the moment Kier starts work on this building today, our communities will benefit, through opportunities for local businesses and people during construction.  Local people will help build Culture House, and local contractors will work on, and supply the materials to create it.

“It is fitting that’s the case, as our ambition is to create a space, in Culture House, that is shaped by our residents.  That is a genuine community asset, because it has been truly co-created by local people, and designed to serve their needs.”

The scheme is backed by Future High Streets Fund support.

Pre-construction consultation has been positive, said Sunderland, with residents welcoming the addition of a place for families in the heart of the city.

Further work has been carried out with local schools, as well as college and university students, with the launch of a competition last month to design one of the teen spaces within the new Culture House.

The council worked with partners Microsoft and TA Education to build Culture House in Minecraft, helping inspire young people in Sunderland, and giving a taste of what might be possible within the building.

Littlewood, who was appointed earlier this year to shape the plans for the building, said: “We really want to gather feedback to influence the permanent features within Culture House, as well as the programme of activities and events delivered from it – and if not from there, from the city’s other cultural venues.  We want to understand what people want to see delivered from this space.

“We want to give our residents an opportunity to curate the cultural offer across Sunderland, helping us design different spaces in the city to ensure they excite people from all corners of our community.”

A programme of enabling and preparatory works has been carried out over the last twelve months, while final tweaks were made to the design of the building to deliver it within budget.  Kier was awarded the contract following a competitive tendering process, and expects to complete works by summer 2025.

Dan Doherty, regional director at Kier, said: “Culture House will be an outstanding new venue for the residents of Sunderland and visitors to the city and I’m thrilled that Kier Construction was appointed to deliver the design and construction of such a significant building.

“This project will bring many benefits to the region throughout its build including new local employment, apprenticeships, and work placements.  We will utilise modern methods of construction to deliver the scheme safely, and my team are already engaging with the local community to maximise our social value commitments and leave a positive legacy from the build.”

As work gets started, hoardings surrounding the site of Culture House will be moved, a site office will be established at Crowtree Green and the Propellor public art installation will be temporarily moved.

The announcement comes as fellow contractor Wates takes over on the neighbouring Vaux Housing project, which will house Expo Sunderland in 2025 and is being developed as the flagship development within the drive to bring 1,000 city centre homes to Sunderland.

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