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Eagle Workshops, Sunderland

historic view of high street Sunderland, 19th century

Once described as a tavern "of no special repute", documentary records for 200/201 High Street East date back to the 17th century revealing an extensive history of inns and taverns on the site. The current three storey building is thought to date from 1869 and has remained largely unaltered externally from the late 19th century. The building was occupied for most of the 20th century by Fairgrieve (Mouldings) Ltd, one of the first companies in the country to manufacture Bakelite.

As part of a comprehensive programme during the 1990s to regenerate this part of Sunderland, significant areas and buildings had been cleared in anticipation of new developments and restoration of the remaining historic buildings, but this left the Eagle building isolated and vulnerable and the front elevation needed emergency scaffolding to stabilise the building while it was still in use.

A feasibility study carried out by NECT considered a number of options for the building, including demolition, but the preferred option to restore and re-use the buidling was supported as it achieved the strategic aims of a number of potential partner organisations including One NorthEast which had identified the area as a high regional priority for heritage-led regeneration. NECT subsequently acquired the building in 1999 with the aim of restoring this landmark building and developing managed workspace for start up businesses. The ambitious proposal culminated in the return of the famous Eagle.

stone archway between shopfronts

A complex package of funding was then established from a range of organisations including English Heritage, who recognised the contribution of the building to the streetscape and its role as one of the few rmaining historical links with old Sunderland, and European funding linked to the creation of employment opportunities in this economically deprived part of the city.

More than £1.8 million was spent in restoring the historic features in the oldest part of the building, including the careful dismantling and rebuilding of the distinctive front elevation. Elsewhere in the buidling new construction included a bridge link at first and second floor levels to provide circulation space, an external staircase and a self contained seminar suite. A passenger lift was installed to enable access to all parts of the building to all. The internal layout was designed to accommodate 18 workshops ranging in size from 9sq metres to 76 sq metres.

Construction work commenced in early 2000, but when the main contractor went into administration a few months later, all work on site halted until a replacement contractor was found willing to take over. Stephen Easten Ltd undertook the remainder of the work on site and the building was completed in November 2001.

During the renovation works, a tobacco book was found, detailing deliveries and customers, alluding to another part of the buildings history, and also newspaper articles dating from the late 1800s . These have now been preserved for the future.

The successful completion of the project was achieved as a result of partnership commitment, vision and a strong determination to see it through. The "landing" of the replica Eagle carved from red cedar wood by a local wood sculptor, provided an emotive symbol of the regeneration of the historic core of the old city. Representing a tangible investment in the local community, the project demonstrates that regeneration and conservation can go hand in hand.

Eagle Workshops and Exchange Buildings, being adjacent to one another and completed at around the same time, were awarded both the British Archaeology Awards AIA Special Award in 2004 and a Civic Trust Award also in 2004.

Eagle Workshops are managed by STR Enterprises on behalf of NECT.