A rot hound, called Sam, was let off his leash today to help with restoration work at the Holy Trinity Church.
The grade 1 listed building based in the East End, Hendon, is being restored, and Sam and his handler Peter Monaghan were enlisted to help survey the building for dry rot.
Peter Monaghan, who is Sam’s handler, explains what Sam does when he works below.
Mr Monaghan said: “I trained Sam. He’s trained on live dry rot fungus in a controlled environment at home.
“To train a dog takes about six months, and as they become more experienced they can work for longer.
“They are air-scenting dogs which means they are not physically getting a hold of anything, so you’ve got to keep their attention.
“Sam’s trained to give a passive indication which is just to sit down and look at the handler. Sometimes he’ll look directly at the area of dry rot. If he’s really excited he’ll try and paw at it.
“The reason we do that is because we work in loads of public areas with children nearby – so it doesn’t frighten people basically.”
The dog handler added: “[Sam’s] worked at quite a few of the major castles in the country and has just finished surveying the Glasgow School of Art, the Henry Macintosh building, which burnt down.
“He was in there just after the fire and after his first search in there, I had to give him a good bath because he went from a yellow labrador to a black labrador.”
Sam is retiring, so a year-old black labrador, called Yan, will be aiding Peter with his surveying work.
Sunderland City Council portfolio holder for public health, wellness and culture councillor John Kelly also attended the event this morning to help the children.
Coun Kelly said: “This is a massively important church to the city of Sunderland.
“It’s also got such a varied history as well. At one point local politics was run from this place. So this one [building] has been at the centre of the people of Sunderland for years.
“It’s a significant building, it’s an absolutely fantastic facility for the people of Sunderland. I’m sure that as we move forward it will become a fantastic community facility as well.
“To bring it [the building] back into the main frame of being at the heart of its community will be outstanding for the city.”
School children from the neighbouring Hudson Road Primary school were also at the church this morning to learn more about how the 300-year-old church was built and how it has been maintained.
The Year 5 children built a small stone wall with lime mortar. The children also learnt about traditional tools and materials used to repair historic buildings during their behind the scenes tour of the church, which was once home to the Sunderland’s first town hall, first public library and even first fire engine.
Hannah Jeynes, a Year 5 teacher at the Hudson Road Primary School in Hendon, said: “I think it’s really good that the children are actually learning about their own heritage and can contribute towards keeping it going for years to come.
“They thought [Sam] was amazing!”
Coun John Kelly added: “Holy Trinity Church is one of the oldest buildings in our city, and this is an opportunity for the younger generation to learn more about the skills which built and maintained it to become such an important part of our cultural heritage.
“Getting young people involved is vital to the success of that bid. And I hope many more schools will become regular visitors to Holy Trinity Church to learn more about the huge part it played in the past and will hopefully play in the future of our city.”
Other schools from across the city have been invited to learn more about traditional craftsmen’s skills and building conservation techniques with workshops at the church.
Amanda Gerrie, from the Churches Conservation Trust, and Eleanor Johnson, from the North of England Civic Trust, also attended the event today to help educate the children on the building.
Ms Gerrie, who is the project coordinator for the Canny Space at the Holy Trinity Church, said: “It’s incredibly important to conserve the Holy Trinity. It’s at the heart of all of Sunderland, and it’s where the history of Sunderland started through stories and the characters associated with the Holy Trinity are fabulous and have a great story to tell.
“Having the children here is a great opportunity to get them to learn about the space, to get them to love the space and to engage them in its future.”
Ms Johnson, education and engagement officer at the North of England Civic Trust, added: “In 2019, [the church] will be celebrating its 300th anniversary, so it’s a vital link to the past and to why Sunderland was an important place.
“I think it’s important young people have that story about where they come from and helps them to develop an identity about the place that they live in.”