A driving force behind Sunderland’s burgeoning culture scene, Pop Recs has become a beacon of light for creatives around the region.
Matthew Thomas popped in to learn more about Pop Recs 2 – the cultural institution run by the people, for the people…
Pop Recs: a Good Thing for a Good Reason
Having established a well-loved hub on Stockton Road nearly 10 years ago, Pop Recs have been painstakingly restoring 170-173 High Street West to transform a 217-year-old, dilapidated shell into a vibrant community hub for the people.
Originally built in 1804, 170-173 High Street West began life as a three-storey townhouse that was home to sailors and tradesmen working along the harbour of the River Wear.
The building’s purpose took on a totally different meaning during the 1840s, as a household name chain department store, Binns, took over residency selling everything from bicycles to confectionary in which it earned the nickname, ‘Harrods of the North East’.
It’s been some journey for Michael. Guitarist for Frankie & The Heartstrings, he and other band members opened Pop Recs in 2013 in an abandoned tourist office on Fawcett Street in what was intended to be a makeshift pop-up store to support the launch of their album.
It organically became more than just a pop-up store for the city. Soon, art exhibitions began springing up, more people arrived for good coffee and the likes of James Bay, The Vaccines, Edwyn Collins, Franz Ferdinand and The Charlatans all took to the stage as Sunderland began embracing Pop Recs.
A new era awaits for Pop Recs…
Fast-forward to 2021 and this historic spot is enjoying a new chapter of history with the opening of Pop Recs 2.
Following a meticulous restoration process by Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust, Michael McKnight, Jo Gordon – training and development manager at Pop Recs – and Dan Shannon – the genius behind Midnight Pizza Crü, have teamed up to breathe a new lease of life into this historic building with Pop Recs 2; a community hub that hosts live music, offers cultural workshops to the people and boasts a cafe space featuring produce from local businesses such as Vaux Brewery.
Upon opening, Pop Recs invited young people from across the city to participate in their accredited 4 week POP Project training programme; a workshop that offers youngsters the chance to learn new skills and gain confidence working in a professional setting.
Excitingly, two young people have joined the team as part of the Kickstart scheme which is being overseen by Jo Gordon. A local hero, Jo has run Sunderland food bank in previous years and has been managing every stage of Pop Recs’ big move for some time now.
Having expressed his desire to open Midnight Pizza Crü’ first bricks and mortar HQ in our recent Vibe interview, Dan Shannon will bring his pizza phenomenon to Pop Recs as café master with MPC finding a permanent base.
Midnight Pizza Crü was born out of an inherent passion for food, and following an opportunity to use the pandemic as a catalyst for a major change in profession and lifestyle, Dan has struck a chord with thousands of people across the region.
A match made in heaven if you ask us.
A historic building given a new lease of life
What was once a derelict shell on the brink of collapse, the space has been entirely transformed into an open, airy space that features subtle nods to the building’s past tenants.
A commanding stage sits at the rear, overlooking a communal hall with multi-functional seating and table arrangements.
The handmade bar counter, sound booth, café servery, tables and chairs have all been reclaimed and given a new lease of life from designer, Tony Guerilla.
Remnants of 19th-century wallpaper are littered across the brick walls that have been completely rebuilt, there’s a state-of-the-art sound system floating above and the show-stopping atrium is truly stunning.
Their delightful café features a stylish interior coupled with a warm and enticing atmosphere.
It’s a stunning space that was once ridden with damp, but now serves up rich flat whites from Hasbean Coffee, there are four lines of artisan beer from Vaux Brewery, sustainable food arrives from Sunshine Cooperative and meat is sourced locally from De Giorgio – a traditional butcher in Whitburn.
The community is pivotal for Pop Recs. Deeply embedded in Sunderland, ask anyone in the city and nearby neighbourhoods about this place and you’ll be met with a wave of positivity.
Whether it’s a show they’ve seen, a chat with the legendary Dave Harper or just a safe space to enjoy coffee with loved ones – Pop Recs is a sacred space, a collective thinking that is going from strength to strength.
Pop Recs, as their slogan suggests, is a good thing for a good reason.
For more information and a full list of programmes taking place at Pop Recs, visit instagram.com/poprecsltd