The transformation of Sunderland's Minster Quarter and how the Vaux site will bring the city's high street back to life

Online supermarket Ocado has become the first tenant to move onto Sunderland’s Vaux brewery site.

Sunday, 28th July 2019, 6:00 am
Ocado has been named the first tenants in the building on the old Vaux site. Pictured are Customer service team member Daniella Waller, Leader of the Council Graeme Miller, Ian Pattle general manager of Ocado, Customer service team member Russell Holt. Picture: Tom Banks

The move is the latest development in the remarkable transformation of the area around High Street West. Kevin Clark looks back over the last few years.

October 2013: Sunderland City Council leader Coun Paul Watson tells the Echo plans to create a new public space outside the city’s magistrates court, as part of the work to straighten St Mary’s Way are ‘an opportunity to celebrate Sunderland’s shipbuilding and industrial heritage.’

July 2014: The historic Dun Cow pub is bought by the The Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust.

Ocado has been named the first tenants in the building on the old Vaux site. Pictured are Customer service team member Daniella Waller, Leader of the Council Graeme Miller, Ian Pattle general manager of Ocado, Customer service team member Russell Holt. Picture: Tom Banks

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Sunderland December 2014: The Mac Trust, which wants to create a new cultural quarter in High Street West, is celebrating after the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) agrees to support the redevelopment of the Old Fire Station with a £5million-plus grant.

April 2015: Siglion, a development partnership between Sunderland City Council, igloo and Carillion , is established to to carry out a 20 year programme to transform a number of sites across the city – including Vaux.

August 2015: Official opening of what is now Keel Square. It features two works of art. ‘Propellers of the City’ contains names of those who worked in the Wear shipyards, while ‘The Keel Line’ lists more 8,100 ships launched on the Wear and is illustrated by renowned graphic artist Bryan Talbot.

January 2016: A multi-million pound project to improve High Street West in Sunderland city centre gets under way.

John Mowbray, Marie Nixon, and Paul Callaghan in the Dun Cow, High Street West, Sunderland.

Works include creating a more welcoming pedestrian environment, including new paving, planting, signage, street furniture and feature lighting. Improved traffic management around Bridge Street and Fawcett Street will also be incorporated, including changing of waiting restrictions.

June 2016: New Primark opens in High Street West, improving access to The Bridges.

July 2016: MAC Trust buys The Londonderry pub for redevelopment.

November 2016: A major revamp of Sunderland city centre could see new bars, restaurants shops and a hotel open while protecting the area's history, council chiefs have revealed.

Coun John Kelly, Ivor Crowther of The Heritage Lottery Fund John Mowbray of the MAC Trust, city council leader Coiun Paul Watson and Coun. Mel Spedding outside the former Central Fire Station in Sunderland City Centre in 2014

The plan has been drafted to suggest how the city’s “Minster Quarter” should develop and be protected in coming years. Included in the area is the Sunderland Empire, High Street West shopping district, Keel Square and the Magistrates’ Court.

A hotel, numerous retail outlets, bars, restaurants, museums, galleries and even a heritage centre could be created as part of the proposals within the next few years.

December 2016: The long wait is finally over - more than 17 years after the brewery closed its doors, work on the redevelopment of the Vaux site starts.

A symbolic new landmark that will stand at the tip of Sunderland's Keel Line – The Launch – is unveiled to the public .

Mayor of Sunderland Coun Barry Curran officially opens Keel Square

February 2017: A multimillion-pound arts and performance venue in an historic part of Sunderland has been given the seal of approval by planners.

The £8.2million landmark complex proposed by the Mac Trust will include creating an auditorium with outdoor performance space and open space on land at Dun Cow Street and Garden Place.

May 2017: The Londonderry reopens as The Peacock, named after a coaching inn which stood on the site from 1770 to 1834.

December 2017: Sunderland's now defunct Gilbridge police station building is set to be transformed into a state-of-the-art business centre as part of a £4million revamp.

New owner Charlie Hoult and his team want to transform the former station, which closed in 2015, into a “flexible and inspirational space” for office and leisure use.

January 2018: Work on the first building on the Vaux site ceases after construction giant Carillion goes into liquidation.

The revamped High Street West

February 2018: Royal fever grips Wearside as crowds turned out to see the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visit Sunderland's new cultural quarter.

The couple officially open The Fire Station and watch workshops and performances from some of the groups using the facility.

May 2018: Hays Travel buys Gilbridge House in Keel Square, The former tax office, which has stood empty for two years, well become home to around 400 staff currently spread over four buildings in and around Vine Place.

July 2018: Construction work restarts on Vaux after construction firm Tolent is awarded a contract to complete its first building.

October 2018: Sunderland City Council’s Cabinet approves plans for a new civic centre on the former brewery site.

But opponents blast council bosses both for the decision and the exclusion of other councillors from the process.

January 2019: Media are invited into The Beam for their first look around.

City council leader Coun Graeme Miller says: "We are in conversation with several private sector businesses at the moment.”

July 2019: More than 100 jobs could be set for Sunderland as plans for a new city-centre hotel are revealed.

The £16million project aims to open a new Holiday Inn hotel on land overlooking Keel Square – and formal proposals have now been lodged with Sunderland City Council.

Ocado become the first tenants to confirm they are moving into The Beam. Sunderland City Council has said that the increase in number of city centre worked based in the area will help to revitalise the High Street.

Former Londonderry managers Dan Luke and Amy Willis toast the opening of The Peacock
Charlie Hoult outside the former Gilbridge police station in Sunderland.
Propellors of the City
The Duchess of Cambridge visits the Fire Station