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Sunderland Empire Unveils Historical Blue Plaque

Sunderland Empire is proud to announce that it today (Friday 8 March), unveiled a commemorative blue plaque on the Eastern elevation of the theatre as part of Sunderland City Council’s Bishopwearmouth Townscape Heritage Scheme which is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.


The commemorative plaque was awarded to Sunderland Empire, which has become an iconic local Edwardian landmark since its opening in 1907, and recognises the theatre for its dedication and commitment to providing the community and the North East with theatrical and cultural services for over 100 years.


The plaque was unveiled by Councillor John Price – Cabinet Member for Vibrant City - and Sunderland-born actor Adam Strong, who realised his dream of performing as the villainous Jafar in Disney Aladdin, currently starring in the iconic role on his home stage in a month long run from 15 February until 10 March 2024. Adam’s unveiling of the blue plaque also celebrates the success of all theatrical stars from Sunderland.


Heritage blue plaques are installed across the country to indicate places of historic significance - marking buildings, places and people of interest across the city as a way of celebrating noteworthy contributions to Sunderland’s history and historic environments.


The plaque, which is situated above Vesta Tilley’s iconic founding stone reads; ‘Grade II* listed building designed by W and TR Milburn as a music hall with a stunning Baroque interior. Opened 1st July 1907 became the first Civic Theatre in Britain in 1960.’


Sunderland Empire’s plaque also includes a scannable QR code linking to the Theatre Space Youtube channel, where visitors and the local community can enjoy the lost voices of the past including musical hall star Vesta Tilley, thanks to Sunderland City Council’s 2023 collaboration with Theatre Space North East CIC and volunteers from the area who interactively bring the blue plaques to life.


Marie Nixon, Theatre Director at Sunderland Empire said: “It's truly an honour to receive this Blue Plaque. It highlights the significance of the Empire in Sunderland's history, showcasing the best of theatre, arts, and culture right here in our city for over a century. As we look to a bright future for our theatre, it is gratifying to know that our history will be shared now and for generations to come.”


Councillor Price at Sunderland City Council said: “The Sunderland Empire is one of the city’s best-loved venues and an iconic building. The Bishopwearmouth Townscape Heritage Scheme has been helping to restore and preserve the heritage buildings in this area of the city, and this blue plaque will help future generations to learn more about the Sunderland Empire. I know that so many of our residents have fond memories of watching shows at the Empire over its rich history, and I’m delighted to be unveiling this plaque here today to recognise its importance to our city.”


The Bishopwearmouth Townscape Heritage Scheme was made possible due to Sunderland City Council being awarded £1.9m in funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2018. The scheme, combined with contributions from the owners and tenants, will see an expected £3m invested in the Minster Quarter.


The Bishopwearmouth Townscape Heritage Scheme runs until Summer 2024. It offers grants to historic building owners to carry out repairs, created the new Minster Park in 2020, and offers free events and volunteer activities to promote the history of the area.


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