One of Sunderland’s most iconic buildings is not only undergoing renovation – it is about to enter the 21st century by being the star of a podcast.

The Elephant Tea Rooms are being restored by Sunderland City Council. The council plan to renovate the ground and first floors so the building can house Sunderland-related records and archives. The archives will be managed by Libraries Services.

The Elephant Tea Rooms have been a part of Sunderland’s fabric since 1872. The Victorian building, a striking mix of Hindu Gothic and Venetian Gothic architecture, features statues of elephants on its façade.

The Elephant Tea Rooms were designed by Frank Caws and built by Henry Hooper for tea merchant Ronald Grimshaw. The Tea Rooms were once the centre of one of the largest tea, coffee and grocery empires in the north east.

Over the years, the Elephant Tea Rooms have hosted a variety of businesses. The premises have been used as a tailors, a jewellers and a bank.

To celebrate the Tea Rooms’ latest incarnation, Libraries Services have teamed up with oral history project Living History North East and podcast producer Jay Sykes. A podcast series – entitled An Elephant Never Forgets – will be made based on local people’s memories of the building.

Janette Hilton, from Living History North East, said, “To celebrate the building’s vibrant history and heritage, we’re asking residents to come forward with their memories and voices for our An Elephant Never Forgets brand new podcast series, launching in 2020.”

“Just like the elephants aloft, we are calling on the people of Sunderland to come and help us celebrate this iconic building and its history.”

“If you have any memories of this building, its past, and how it’s been a part of your life and Sunderland’s development, we want to hear from you.”

“We are asking people to pop along to the Donnison School Heritage and Education Centre, on Wednesday 27th November from 11.00 am to 4.30 pm to share any stories, photographs, or memorabilia that relate to the building or the area.”

“Jay Sykes will be compiling your memories of the building – whether that’s opening a bank account, buying a suit from the tailors, or simply looking up at the elephants as you sip a coffee from across the street.”

“Come and join us at the Donnison School to be part of this exciting podcast project, and have your memories become part of our city’s audio history.”

Sunderland City Council’s executive director of neighbourhoods, Fiona Brown, said, “We’re very interested to hear people’s memories of the building, particularly if they or members of their family worked there or if they have photos of it in its past life, as we’d like to be able to tell its story when it reopens as Sunderland’s Local History Library@ETR.”

“We know it has had a number of incarnations since it stopped being used as a tea rooms, including as a drapers, a tailors, a jewellers, a furriers and a bank and it may have had other uses too. So we’d love to hear from people who have a family connection with the building, either in its life as a tea rooms or since then.”

An Elephant Never Forgets will be available for download as a new original weekly podcast series in 2020, and also as part of the Speak Up Sunderland podcast.”

“The episodes will be showcased at live events in the Frank Caws Elephant Tea Rooms building, where the project will continue to collect more memories.”

(Featured image courtesy of Craigy, from Wikimedia Commons)

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