North East & Yorkshire

University of Sunderland upgrades the historic Priestman Building

Priestman Building University of Sunderland

The University of Sunderland’s Priestman Building, which dates back to 1939, is undergoing a £6.5 million restoration project.

The two-phase project began in March 2012 and has seen the building transformed to integrate the university’s Fine Art programmes with the existing activities in the building .

The work forms part of the ongoing development of the University’s two-campus strategy and incorporates a new entrance to improve the Priestman Building’s connectivity with the City Campus, as well as a new art gallery, high-quality teaching and learning spaces, social space, arts studios and workshops.

There are also significant improvements to the building infrastructure including energy efficient lighting, heating and data connections as well as a new roof and windows, continuing the University’s push to achieve its carbon reduction targets supporting sustainability both at the University and within the City.

Main contractor on the project was Morgan Sindall and the work was completed in September 2012, accommodating the Fine Arts, Performing Arts, Culture and Social Sciences disciplines.

Priestman Building University of Sunderland

Conservation issues were taken into consideration while renovation plans were being drawn up as the building, which dates back to 1939 when the industrialist Sir John Priestman opened it originally as a library for Sunderland Technical College, sits in a large conservation area.

During the Second World War, the College ran special courses for the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Labour.  By 1946, the College had 840 full and part-time students and 1,485 evening class students.

New course development in the post-war period included the department of housecrafts, recognition of the ‘…modern woman’s realisation that she must have appropriate training if she is to play her part more effectively in her chosen trade, profession or in the home…’


The late 1950s saw further expansion as the College sought the status of College of Advanced Technology and it was the first educational centre in the region to install a digital computer. This hi-tech innovation required a crane to haul it through the roof of the building – a far cry from today’s laptops and iPads.

Head of Estates at the University, Iain Garfield said:

“The Priestman development is part of the two campus strategy which sees ongoing improvements at both City Campus and Sir Tom Cowie campus at St Peter’s, improving the staff and student experience and the strengthening of curriculum development by collocating academic areas with subject synergies whilst at the same time disposing of buildings outside of the two-campus estate.

“One of the features of this redevelopment is the re-sitting of the entrance of the building from Albion Way to face the University Park, improving connectivity to both the City Campus and the park itself.”

Priestman Building University of Sunderland

Morgan Sindall has a recognised specialism in the higher education sector and has delivered previous projects for the university as part of its £20m Major Works framework, including CitySpace, the £12m sport and social facility, and the £8.5m Sciences Complex.

Gordon Ray, managing director for Morgan Sindall in the North East, said:

“The Higher Education sector is under considerable pressure to maintain world-class facilities and attract students in a financially squeezed market. We’re therefore delighted that in this challenging climate, our track record has seen us appointed to this framework for the second time.

“Morgan Sindall has developed experience in the education sector and we’re looking forward to delivering more high-quality facilities which will attract the best students to embark on their studies in the region.”

James Harrison, associate in construction and engineering at law firm Watson Burton, which advised the University on legal matters surrounding the multi-million regeneration project, added:

“The refurbishment of the Priestman Building is a major part of the University’s plans to further establish Sunderland as a leading city for the provision of higher level education.

“As a firm, we take a keen interest in the development of the region’s education sector and are delighted to have been able to assist the University of Sunderland and Morgan Sindall in progressing with redevelopment of this building.”

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