Sunderland’s historic Hylton Castle is preparing to open its doors later this year – all thanks to a lot of hard work behind the scenes, much of it by local volunteers.

In 2016, a £4.2-million project began to transform Hylton Castle – a fortress dating back to the 14th century – into a heritage and community centre. This was the result of a campaign by local people – lasting a quarter of a century – to give the iconic structure a key role in the local community.

Last year, over 120 people gave up their time to help out at the castle.

The work they did ranged from raising awareness of Hylton Castle’s history to leading workshops for schoolchildren.

Locals also did environmental work in Hylton Dene and helped to host the ‘Battle for Sunderland’ English Civil War re-enactment event, which was held in the grounds of the castle last summer.

Universities, schools and colleges have participated in educational projects connected to Hylton Castle, with hundreds of schoolchildren visiting the castle and learning about its history through workshops conducted in their schools.

Youngsters on apprenticeships and work placements have also been involved with the castle. Construction students have worked with the on-site building team and work placements have been arranged with the Hylton Castle Project Team.

When the work on Hylton Castle is completed – and it opens its doors later this year – the castle will boast a café along with learning, event and exhibition spaces. Community-based learning, training and volunteering will remain central to the project.

The renovation of the castle is being funded by Sunderland City Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The council’s cabinet member for communities and culture, Cllr John Kelly, said, “It’s fantastic to see the progress being made at Hylton Castle, both in terms of the construction work on site, but also the numbers of local volunteers and schools who have already been involved.”

“This will continue to grow as the Hylton Castle project moves forward.”

“This project isn’t just about celebrating the history of the castle and grounds – it’s about celebrating the different roles it has played as an iconic building in the heart of the community and in the lives of the generations of local people connected with it.”

“As we look forward to the future of the castle as a community-based, heritage-led venue for the region, we also look forward to the training, learning, cultural and leisure opportunities that will be provided for future generations.”

Other events connected with the castle that took place last year included a story writing contest involving over 500 schoolchildren and a celebration to mark the royal wedding in May, which was attended by 50 older people.

More than 200 people went on ‘hard-hat tours’ of the site, during which they got to climb the scaffolding to experience great views of Sunderland. A volunteer research group was set up to delve deeper into the history of the castle and – during the school holidays – more than 1000 people attended family activities, such as nature trails, sports, craft workshops and storytelling sessions.

Susan Ord – the chair of Castle in the Community, which is running the castle project together with Sunderland City Council – said, “The success of the Hylton Castle project is founded on the contributions and support of local people over past decades.”

“We’ve tried to organise as wide a range of events and activities as possible to give everyone the opportunity to get involved – as volunteers, participants and spectators – and we have more planned over the next few months as we prepare for the castle and grounds to reopen to the public.”

You can learn more about the Hylton Castle project by visiting

(Featured image courtesy of Craigy, from Wikipedia Creative Commons.)

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