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Students help masonic hall rise from the ashes

The world's oldest purpose-built, masonic temple, based in Sunderland, will be brought back to life by creative college students following a brief set by the Heritage Skills Initiative.

A group of students are designing, specifying and costing a revival scheme and extension for the Grade 1 Listed Building, Phoenix Hall, which was first built by the Freemasons to hold their meetings in 1783.  They will then present their plans to a panel of industry professionals competing against other North East colleges and student projects to win an award set by the Heritage Skills Initiative.

The students, who will work on their proposals as part of the Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Construction Design & Management, hope to breathe new life into the historic building which is still in use today.  The temple, situated in Queen Street East, Hendon, which has been used by members of Phoenix Lodge Freemason Group for over 225 years, was destroyed by fire only months after it was put to use by the organisation.

The project, which is part of a Heritage Skills Initiative Scheme, will hopefully be funded by Heritage Lottery grants and offers students professional experience in sympathetically planning and designing the restoration of a historic structure, with stringent building restrictions.

As well as submitting their design schemes to the Heritage Skills judging team the students will also be formally presenting their work to an invited panel of professionals who will help grade the marks for their HNC award.  This panel will hopefully include Sunderland-born TV architect, writer and presenter George Clarke, the course Chief External Examiner set by BTEC and local architect, Clinton Mysleko of Sunderland’s Fitz Architects.

Gerry Ruffles, Higher Education in Construction lecturer, who previously taught George Clarke at the college, will support the students throughout the project.  He said:  “The students have been visiting the building to begin planning and design work.  This project provides hands-on professional experience in areas of architecture, construction, costing and planning that they need to pursue in their chosen careers.

The Masonic Hall houses many original features, including a pipe organ built by John Donaldson, an eighteenth century organ and instrument builder, which sits in its own purpose-built gallery in the hall.  Part of the judging process will look at how sympathetic the students are to ensure they consider the historic artefacts contained within the walls of the building, as well as feasibility of their ideas.  If their plans are accepted the grant will be used to put the plans into practice.

The students are employed locally within the construction industry and are completing the Higher National Certificate to develop their professional skills and knowledge and hopefully enhance their careers. Some will progress onto degree courses and Chartered Membership of their professional bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Building and Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

The project has already been given a significant boost with the help of Sunderland based firm Precision Geometrics Ltd. who have carried out a Laser Scan of the Lodge providing intricate details of the structure itself.

The group, who are aged from 25 to 35 years, includes four students who have already impressed at recent Chartered Institute of Building regional and national events where they beat off competition in a similar challenge.  The students, who represented Sunderland College and the North East, were up against learners from universities across the UK in a two-day event to research and present a project scheme.  This was delivered to a panel of experts outlining proposals to bring a 1960’s office block into a modern up-to-date building.

Mr Ruffles added:  “I’m hoping they are as successful as the students were at the recent CIOB event, where they were up against students from universities and they really impressed the judges.  This project is such an exciting, challenging one – particularly given the building’s history – but I’m sure they will do a brilliant job.

“They have a lot to look forward to; this project, which they should complete by the end of this academic year, as well as a trip to London to meet famous architect, Richard Rogers, the 80-year old Italian behind the creation of so many of the worlds’ most exciting, innovative and award winning buildings. It will be an overwhelming visit and experience for any architectural enthusiast.”

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