The old Binns property in Sunderland’s High Street West, which was once the launchpad for a national department store company, will now be cultivating young people’s musical and cooking abilities.
Futureheads, Field Music, and Frankie & the Heart Strings will open the first major show at Pop Recs, a music and arts venue and community center that is being resurrected as a former department store.
Binns haberdashery shop, which established in 1811 and operated for almost 80 years, is now a Grade II-listed structure. Later, it served as an ironmongery and a squat, as well as providing bedsits and a squat.
The facility now features a music venue, record store, café, gallery, and kitchen where young people may obtain cookery skills, after a £1 million restoration that took three years to complete. It also houses a juvenile mental health charity as well as a marketplace where teens may sell their wares. Sunshine Co-operative, a local online grocer, will open its first high-street location at a nearby business.
The initiative is one of many throughout the nation in which communities, local governments, social entrepreneurs, and charities are gathering cash to reopen old department shops that have been dormant since the fall of brands like BHS and Debenhams.
While the program in Sunderland is centered on music, in Southend, Essex, the former Havens department store, an art deco masterpiece that resembles a miniature version of London’s Selfridges, is now home to a vibrant community center dedicated to assisting the elderly.
The abandoned Debenhams site in Great Yarmouth has been transformed into the Primeyarc gallery under the auspices of a local charity, while the former Elizabeth Packs department store in Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, has been transformed into an arts space with plans for a cafe and a permanent home for the Shademakers carnival group.
The Tyne & Wear Building Preservation Trust worked with Sunderland city council and the funders, the Architectural Heritage Fund and Historic England, to restore the old Binns building, according to Martin Hulse, trust manager. Pop Recs, a local social organization, came up with the innovative solutions to liven up the area.
“Pop Recs’ ability to produce social results makes it really unique. I collaborated with them on the concept.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do my part without their dynamism,” Hulse remarked. “The social outcomes of community engagement, improving security, bringing footfall, and making it a nicer place to live are really difficult to monetise, but that is exactly what we are delivering – huge change for the area.” At night, you may see people on the streets.”
The Architectural Heritage Fund’s chief executive, Matthew Mckeague, said that social businesses, which are cropping up all across the country, were frequently able to utilize their local expertise and connections to discover solutions for historic buildings that the commercial sector couldn’t.
“They’ve become a bigger part of the economy, especially in economically depressed areas,” Mckeague added. The heritage fund, a foundation that encourages the reuse of old buildings, has £15 million to spend in 100 comparable projects around the UK, with roughly eight currently underway.
“In a lot of places, the cost of doing up a building is more than the value of the building itself,” Mckeague said. No bank will lend money to you, and your landlord will tell you it’s not worth it. There has been a never-ending circle of inaction. A not-for-profit organization may generate funds via grants and other forms of social investment that a private owner cannot.”
Community initiatives, which are often sponsored by crowdsourcing or municipal money, also have the benefit of being able to work rapidly to bring semi- or underdeveloped regions back to life, which helps to keep people coming to town centers.
There are concerns regarding such projects’ long-term viability, especially considering the high expenses of redeveloping major department store buildings that may be plagued by structural issues or asbestos.
However, Mark Robinson, chair of the High Streets Task Force, a government-backed body tasked with supporting the revival of town centres, said community projects were just one of a number of strategies needed to provide new anchors for high streets and town centres where department stores were no longer a draw.
“About 160 Debenhams stores have closed, and there will most likely be over a hundred different solutions for those structures.” That gets us away from clone towns, which we’ve grown tired of, and puts what communities want and need back in place,” he added.