HIDDEN behind two black and rather inconspicuous doors, on a main city centre road in Sunderland, is a TARDIS – a whole other world that has been shaping the city’s music scene for more than 30 years.  The Bunker.  Vibe speaks to NAME about how it continues to make a difference to the city, using the power of music to transform lives. 

“People are always surprised by the size of the place when they come in.  The building looks quite narrow from the outside, so people assume it will be small, but it goes on for miles, and there are rooms off everywhere.  It’s a great space, because it means people can go in different directions and do their own thing.

“In all, there are 16 rooms in the building, and as a company, we employ 30 people, so we are not a small enterprise by any means,” explains Huitson, who has been at The Bunker since volunteering in his early twenties.

“The Bunker started life as a youth project in Borough Road, before moving to Green Terrace in 1982 and finally settling in its current home in Stockton Road in 1983.  For many years, secret gigs, attracting some of the most high profile punk rockers, were held at The Bunker, putting it at the heart of the underground music movement.

“It had moved on by the time I started coming here, in 2009.  I was – and still am – into house music, and coming here and doing my own thing became an outlet for me, a way of expressing myself.  That’s what I think The Bunker is for so many other people too.  It uses music to build confidence and self-esteem and to be part of that was something I couldn’t walk away from.  So I am still here – in a paid role now though.”

The Bunker is at the heart of Sunderland’s music landscape.  A community interest company (CIC) that is funded by a combination of income from professional bands who rent their studios, individuals who pay a low cost to use the space and funding to cover the projects it delivers with schools, community groups and old people, it has an honesty and authenticity about it, that makes it a unique environment from which to ‘home-grow’ talent.

“If you think about some of the best known bands that have been born out of Sunderland, the chances are that The Bunker has played a part in their evolution.  The Futureheads, Field Music, Frankie and the Heartstrings, Hyde & Beast.  All have made use of this space, so the Bunker really is at the centre of it all.  A community of music lovers, who come here, create songs and, in some cases, take their music to the world.

“The fact that we have been here for 35 years this year means that different generations are being touched by our work, and that’s quite special.”

But a place like The Bunker can only work if the talent exists locally.  So what does Huitson believe Sunderland owes its success to?

“Sunderland is a city with a story, and with soul.  People come to us with things they want to express, their own tales to tell.  And The Bunker gives them a space, and sometimes the support they need, to translate that into music – we give people the confidence to perform.  And the result is a city with a powerful voice that it is not afraid to use.”

For more information about The Bunker, visit www.bunkeruk.com, call 0191 567 1777 or find out more on Twitter or Facebook.

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