Historic new home for Local Studies Library

Sunderland's historic Elephant Team Rooms are set to take on a new lease of life as home to the city's Local Studies Library.

As part of the core statutory Libraries Services offer, Local Studies holds the largest collection of records and information on Sunderland.

It will take over the ground floor and first floor of the Grade II listed building on the corner of Fawcett Street and High Street West later this year.

Councillor John Kelly, Cabinet Member for Communities and Culture, said: "I'm delighted that by buying the Elephant Tea Rooms, the City Council has been able to safeguard the long term future of this architectural gem.

"Local Studies has a really important role to play in recording and preserving the important records which chart the development of our city and its social and family history. I can't think of a better place for it than this much loved historic building with its fantastic façade and central location."

With its vast collection of photographs, maps, film, trade directories, Corder directories, parish registers, newspapers and more, the Local Studies Library has become increasingly popular in recent years.

Cllr Kelly said: "The growing popularity of TV programmes like Who Do You think You Are and A House Through Time, means that more people than ever are interested in researching their family and social history. 

"Local Studies is the obvious first stop for anyone looking for information or to do research, and it's free. We often get people in looking for pictures and information on old Sunderland and industries such as shipbuilding and coal mining.
"In the long term we're also hoping to be able to provide universal access by making all our resources available digitally to showcase Sunderland’s rich history as well as making sure that the original resources are preserved.
Given its central location, we're also planning to reintroduce some Tourist Information services from this site."

The ground floor location of the new base will offer much better access for customers than the current Fawcett Street site. It will also house public access ICT for learning including Family History. While the space on the first floor will be used to deliver events and activities, which could include anything from dementia and reminiscence workshops to creative programmes to support general health and wellbeing.

The Elephant Tea Rooms are located in the city's Historic High Streets Heritage Action Zone, a partnership scheme which involves the Council, Historic England and local partners, through which there are also plans to improve the shop frontages of the building. This work is currently scheduled for 2020.

The Elephant Tea Rooms were built between 1872-1877 by Henry Hopper and designed by Frank Caws, the upper floors boasted Doulton & Co terracotta ornamental elephants, as well as oriental birds all over the façade. In its day, the business was credited with controlling one of the largest retail tea, coffee and grocery trades in the whole North East of England.

Libraries Services will also be working in partnership with Living History North East, Regional Oral History Centre who will also have some presence in the building as the first phase of their strategic development plan.

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