The next stage of work is beginning on the £4.5million project to bring Hylton Castle back into use.
Contractors William Birch & Sons have almost completed the interior stone cleaning work to prepare for the installation of three floors to house a café, education and visitor centre, toilets and rooftop viewing platform.
More than 60 feet of interior scaffolding has allowed conservation of the historic masonry, stairway, alcoves, turrets and ornamental stonework.
With the interior scaffolding and cleaning complete, the attention of the skilled conservation craftsmen and women has turned to the exterior of the historic landmark, which dates back to the 14th Century.
The scaffolding is going up alongside the historic building to allow work to begin, with preparatory work in and around the castle including;
:: Twenty four 300m bore holes dug for metal piling inside the building
:: Construction of a steel frame inside the building to allow for construction of new floors, lift shaft, interior fittings and a new concrete staircase to each level
:: Service trenches to provide electricity and water supplies
:: Restoration of masonry to prepare for installation of windows and doorways
:: Structural work to prepare for new modern roof covering
:: Recording of archaeological features in the castle grounds
The project is a partnership between Sunderland City Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund and supported by English Heritage, which will restore the castle and its grounds to heart of community life as a visitor and learning centre.
It came after years of lobbying from the Friends of Hylton Dene and Castle (Castle in the Community) to bring the building back into use as a visitor attraction and community centre.
Councillor John Kelly, Sunderland City Council's cabinet member for Health, Wellness and Culture, said: “Hylton Castle has a fascinating past, and an exciting future as a visitor and learning centre at the heart of the community, sharing people’s stories of its history with future generations.”
Councillor Kelly said the internal structural and archaeological surveys and preliminary cleaning work has almost been completed at the castle, and any items discovered in the process have been removed from the site to be researched and recorded to establish its place in the building’s history
He added: “Our aim is to restore the original stonework as much as possible, and then provide the interior, modern structure needed to insert the floors, ceilings, lift, power and water supplies needed to return the building to lift.
“Design work also continues on how to make best use of things like lighting, IT, and audio-visual displays and exhibitions to reflect the history of Hylton Castle and the surrounding community through modern interpretation.”
Simon Potter, construction director at William Birch & Sons, added: “It is great to be part of the journey, bringing Hylton Castle back to life. The local community interest in the project has been really encouraging and we are looking forward to unveiling the new facilities.
“Our team has been working hard to create local employment and skills opportunities throughout the new project and has been delighted to recently recruit a local young person, provide him with new training opportunities and support him through an NVQ in construction.
“Five local apprentices have also worked on the scheme so far and their enthusiasm and approach to working on such a treasured building has been fantastic.”
A castle for the community
A large part of the Hylton Castle project is also about creating local training, employment and volunteering opportunities with regular activities in and around the castle and Dene until restoration work is complete later this year and it re-opens its doors.
This included a recent clean-up of the grounds by volunteers as part of the national Keep Britain Tidy Great British Spring Clean campaign.
Students from Castle View Enterprise Academy turned out to clear paths of litter, alongside volunteers from the local community at a number of sessions during March, making environmental improvements to the Dene to improve it both for people and wildlife.
Volunteers are also organising family activities for the Easter Holidays, researching the history of the castle and surrounding community ready to share people's stories with visitors when the sit opens, and going into schools to help children learn more about their heritage.
Visit www.hyltoncastle.org.uk to find out more about the activities and how to get involved.