Every castle needs a knight as its champion and protector. And now Sunderland’s 15th Century Hylton Castle has Cheryl Knight to help lead it to a new future at the centre of the city’s community.
The Grade I listed castle, a scheduled ancient monument, is on English Heritage’s At Risk register.
But, backed by a £151,000 development grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, work has now started on plans to restore the castle.
The vision is to turn it into a heritage attraction for the city and, together with its adjacent dene, a centre for educational and cultural activities.
The work will lead next year to a bid to the HLF for £2.25m towards the project cost of £3.5m.
Cheryl Knight has been appointed as project manager. Previously she has worked as keeper of social history at Beamish Museum in County Durham and interpretation developer at the National Railway Museum in York.
She said: “The vision for the site is firstly to guarantee the future of what is a really important building and take it off the At Risk register. Then there is the opportunity to bring the castle into community use.
“This is something which nobody has done before - to take a castle, renovate it, and return it to the community. It is very exciting.”
Trina Murphy, arts and heritage manager with Sunderland City Council which has set aside £1.5m for the scheme, said: “ This project is extremely important for Sunderland. The local community has such a strong affinity with the castle which will be a real asset to the city.”
Beaumont Brown Architects, based in Barnard Castle in County Durham, have been appointed to the project and Northern Archaeological Associates will also undertake an investigation of the fortress site. The team will involve the community in creating designs for the castle.
This will include the Friends of Hylton Castle and Dene who have been working with Sunderland City Council and English Heritage for years to bring the castle into use.
The council owns the land and surrounding area, while the actual castle, grounds and adjacent St Catherine’s Chapel are in the guardianship of English Heritage.
Young people will also be involved in the plans, including the nearby Castle View Enterprise Academy, and a youth panel has been set up.
Council portfolio holder for wellness, culture and public health, John Kelly said: “We have been able to appoint the team of experts we need to help realise this ambitious community-led project. This is a really exciting project, and there has never been anything quite like it before.
“Our aim is to turn a historic landmark into a community asset, a heritage-led learning centre providing cultural, education and training opportunities for the city .”
Over the coming months there will be a programme of community consultation and activities to bring local people back into the castle and its grounds.
Chairman of the Friends of Hylton Castle and Dene, Keith Younghusband, said: “It’s vitally important people get involved with the redevelopment plans which our final bid for funds will be based on. We as a group have been working towards this for many years and feel that we are another step forward to fulfilling our ambitions to see the
Jackie Smith from Castle View Enterprise Academy said: “We are very excited about the opportunities our young people will be involved in during the redevelopment.”