Sunderland Heritage Quarter: DIGIT Project

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DIGIT involves young people from the East End of Sunderland in the history of their neighbourhood, Sunderland Heritage Quarter

Sunderland Heritage Quarter is a regeneration project for the East End of Sunderland. This historic area was once the hub of Sunderland's great industrial port and retains many significant buildings, including Holy Trinity Church, the Victorian Orphanage and the Donnison School. We aim to use the past to breathe new life into the district and lead an East End revival.

Recently, we organised the DIGIT project.  DIGIT involves young people from the East End of Sunderland in the history of their neighbourhood. The young people filmed and recorded interviews with older residents about their early lives; carried out research into the Orphan Asylum on the town moor; and completed an archaeological dig on an East End site.

The Sunderland orphanage opened in 1861 and continued in its original building until 1945, when it moved to Grangetown. It was originally geared towards training fatherless boys for a career at sea. There are very detailed records and photos of the boys who were brought up there. Our young people visited Tyne and Wear Archives to look at the orphanage admission books and reports.

Sunderland Orphanage

The dig in April 2011 investigated a site next to Prospect Row, where Burleigh Garth flats formerly stood. Before the interwar flats, there had been streets there, built around 1750-70.

Sunderland garths (now demolished)

Our digging immediately exposed a wonderful cobbled street, which the young archaeologists cleaned up and photographed. This caused a lot of local interest.

The trench, with archaeologist Phil Abramson

The diggers also turned up some 17th-century pottery pieces, a coin of George III dated 1803, and a clay pipe. The finds were shown in an exhibition at the end of the project, along with details of all the other work and achievements of our young people.

A display of finds from the excavation

The DIGIT project ran for a year, September 2010 to August 2011, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund Young Roots programme and the Sir James Knott Trust. DIGIT was a partnership between the Sans Street Youth and Community Centre and Living History North East. LHNE delivers the training in oral history, filming and film-editing. The archaeology was supervised by North East Archaeological Research Ltd. DIGIT was developed by Sunderland Heritage Quarter.

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