The Donnison History
In 2002 we had a major setback on site.
Vandals had accessed the building through the roof and they had caused a fire in the back room of the single storey cottage. This damage and the fire brigade created significant damage on site to the backroom and the entrance porch. Unfortunately some original features were lost and the damage to the central entrances was dreadful - it looked like a burnt out shell.
Not deterred.... the group continued to fundraise for the site. People of the City were asked to buy bought a roof tile as a contribution to the project costs.
Fundraising started after the purchase in 2001 but eventually in 2005 funding was secured. £550,000 was the amount needed before the restoration work could start. This was secured through the Heritage Lottery Fund, Sunderland Local Authority, Back on the Map and Included Communities Fund.
Work in progress:
Work started in October 2006. After just 2 weeks of clearing the building, work was stopped. Human remains were found in the school room and outside under the garden wall area. The police were called and pathologist identified the remains as over 100 years old. The building is built directly on the Sunderland Parish graveyard. This area is plot E and many of the grave sites are 6-7 deep around the Donnison School perimeter. An archaeologist was employed through Tyne and Wear Museums to provide a ‘watching brief’ and to supervise the removal of any remains that were found. These were collected and stored until work was complete a burial plot was purchased and the remains were re-interned, only after advertising for any living relatives to reclaim the remains.
The finished school room
After an 11 week delay - and an additional bill of £60,000 work restarted. Work finally finished in August 2007 – with an official opening of the site in December 2007.
This work really involved the outside space of the site. Original plans were to create a Victoria walled garden and herb garden but were not quite sure how to start.
However like always we had some enthusiastic volunteers who were 100% behind this development. Dennis Bulmer a founding member and Trustee alongside fellow Trustee Fred Bewick, and local resident Bill Dove supported some major clearing of weeds, bushes and trees; the garden was like a jungle! We had additional support from some volunteers from an environmental organisation called CEED in Sunderland.
After clearing the site, the advice of a gardener from Eighton Banks Nursery, who had worked on other projects, was very helpful. The gardener was asked to draw a plan of the site and make some suggestions. He visited the Donnison and he advised the garden should be divided into smaller sections. After some consideration and a review of the plan by Dennis Bulmer and Fred Bewick we re-drew the scheme and decided to include the lawned area and section the top area with reclaimed bricks.
Janette Hilton secured funding for the garden development and work started in earnest. We sectioned the area out. We received some free bricks from Thompsons and I employed some young men to help lay out the bricked section over one weekend.
Once this was done we could start to think about buying plants and trees to help furnish the site. But before we did that we needed the grass for the lawn. Janette and Dennis Bulmer bought the grass for 50p a section from B&Q and transported it back in Dennis's car!!!
Can't tell you the mess we left for Connie to clean up!
T he garden really began to take shape with the help of Dot and Alan Davison. Dot was a gardener who had a keen eye for development and really green fingers. It was through their skills and the help of Ann and Gordon Foster, that the garden picked up its first Sunderland in Bloom awards and then we received two more with an additional Royal Horticultural Society award in 2011.
Part of the prize-winning garden at Donnison School
The herb garden was a feature that was started about 18 months to 2 years ago. We decided to use a mixture of reclaimed materials and new materials. Dot, Alan, Gordon and Ann created a second area of interest that is still being developed. We also added a green house through some funding from another agency.