A vital repair project at an historic Sunderland building is providing a new generation with opportunities to learn heritage craft skills.

Phoenix Hall is one of only two Grade I listed buildings in the city, and the oldest surviving purpose-built masonic lodge still in use by the Freemasons in England

The major repairs of this significant building, which is owned by Queen Street Heritage Trust, have been made possible by £180,000 of funding from Historic England as part of Sunderland’s Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) initiative.

Alongside the building repair project, a Heritage Skills Programme – funded by Sunderland City Council and Historic England – is offering opportunities for people to learn more about the building and its history.

Working with local training provider Resources (NE) Ltd, and with the support of Darlington-based contractor Stone Technical Services, young people from Sunderland aged between 18 and 21 who are studying Level 1 extended construction courses are currently participating in multi-trade placements on site, where they have the chance to develop skills in joinery and stone masonry specific to the conservation of historic buildings like Phoenix Hall.

The programme will also be inviting people to join ‘hard hat’ tours and practical workshops during the restoration works.

Located on Queen Street East in the East End of Sunderland, the hall dates back to around 1785, and although it has been extended and altered over the years, its original structure and interior has remained remarkably intact, with the original organ, ceremonial chairs and furnishing still in place.

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “Phoenix Hall has been a constant in the city’s landscape for more than two centuries, which is why it’s important to preserve its heritage.

“I’m delighted to see repair works underway – the latest in a line of fantastic projects as part of the HAZ – and young people getting involved in this unique opportunity, to learn new skills that will ensure we keep the heritage alive in Sunderland for years to come.

“I would encourage people from across the city to take up the opportunity to find out more about this project and everything that has been achieved through our Heritage Action Zone during the events planned on 22 and 23 July.”

Maria Carballeira, Historic England’s Partnership Team Architect for the North East, said: “We are delighted to help fund repairs to Phoenix Hall, which is such an important part of Sunderland’s past and has a key role to play in its future.

“The Heritage Skills Programme will open up new opportunities for trainees and allow local people to find out more about the city’s heritage, while trying their hand at craft traditional craft skills.”

Richard Pavlou, managing director at Stone Technical Services Group said “We feel so passionately about helping to protect the rich history we have here in the UK through the work we carry out on buildings and monuments all across the country, and we love what we do.

“And it means even more to us when we are doing it right here in the North East with the help of local people”

The site will be open to the public on Saturday July 23, where people can try their hand at traditional heritage crafts, experience practical demonstrations showing conservation repairs and take part in a tour of the building.

The open day is part of a multi-venue event ‘Celebrating Sunderland’s Heritage Action Zone (HAZ)’ taking place on 22 and 23 July showcasing HAZ building restoration projects, the traditional skills used in the conservation of Sunderland’s historic buildings and celebrating the very best of the area’s rich heritage.

For more information about the events taking place across the city, email sarah.carr@sunderland.gov.uk