A day in the life of... Christine Audsley, Volunteer Project Photographer at Seventeen Nineteen
In September 2019 a £4.3 million project to repair and regenerate Holy Trinity Church in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, began. The project, supported by Heritage Fund, will transform the church into Seventeen Nineteen, a stunning cultural venue in the East End of Sunderland. Before the works began Seventeen Nineteen appointed Christine Audsley as volunteer project photographer to capture the process...
"I’m Chris and I’m involved with the ongoing restoration work at Holy Trinity in Sunderland Old East End and have been since August 2019. I’ve always had a passion for photography, which I think stems from my dad. I remember him with his old Box Brownie and I loved nothing better than looking at old black and white pictures with him. I was always messing about with a camera, at every family occasions, pets, special occasions I’d be there taking pictures. I remember I bought my first camera at the age of 17, it was from the catalogue and I paid weekly for it.
I work full time and met Amanda Gerry, Regeneration Manager, at a CCT event in July 2019, just seeing the outside of the church caught my interest. I had been taking regular pictures of Hylton Castle and was intrigued by this old church which was coming to the end of its restoration and I wanted to continue volunteering. There’s a bit of a draw with the church – I knew my parents were from the area and had lived in St Patricks Garth moving away in the 1960s, but my mam never forgot her roots. I drove past the church a lot when I brought them here for visits but had never been inside. I’ve only recently found out that my dad was actually christened in the church in 1929.
It’s an amazing building, just looking at it from the outside makes you think about the amount of time its stood here and how its survived not only massive changes to the area but also 2 world wars, its seen so much but in all that time it remains the one constant in over 300 years. To me, the building is extra special because of its architecture inside. I love the style of it especially the chancel arch with the bible and the cherubs, to be able to get up so close, literally within touching distance with my camera and see the surviving detail is amazing.
I’m helping document these features in case they are not there in the future and that’s a big responsibility but one I’m really proud of. I feel privileged to be inside just getting up close and personal. I can take in the lovely atmosphere which is very calming. Being in the church and involved in the project makes me feel good. I can’t quite put my finger on why it just does. It’s both mental and physical, it gets me out of the house – meeting new people and talking to others who I would never have met but who share a similar passion for old buildings. I feel part of the team. We all have our good and bad days but being in this building just makes me feel good – gives me a little boost when I need it if you’re having a dark days it gives you a lift. It’s a bit like CCT are nurturing the church and giving it a new life, at the same time there’s a calmness to the building that is nurturing me, making me more confident and happier, I’m much more chatty and I look people in the eye now.
My photography has improved too which makes me proud. Before I was just photographing people, but when you take pictures of buildings you have to learn to use different techniques and take much more time and I make sure I carve out that time for myself every week. Sometimes you can tell the way I’m feeling by the picture I’ve taken that day. I could feel a bit low and come into this place, take a photo, get home and my mood can change just looking at the new lease of life and how beautiful the space is. I really am privileged to be capturing these moments in time and this makes me feel great!
My favourite part of the whole church has to be standing on the gallery looking down into the nave, I can picture just how it was way back when, its true size filled with pews and people and the different fashions, the noise and the smells back in the 1700s and 1800s. My favourite picture I’ve taken (so far!) has to be this one – it’s taken from the gallery and you can see the whole Nave from wall to wall, you can see the amount of rubble and rubbish that needs to be dug out today from the building and the scale of the job involved. My photos have captured all those tonnes of rubble being removed – quite a few skips.
I really like volunteering here, just getting to know new people with the same kind of passion and it’s so different from my day job. It makes me feel really good that I’m involved in bringing this building back to life and giving it another purpose and helping it survive for another 300 years. The photos are my way of helping build a bit of interest in the work on site and helping to document the next phase of the churches journey. I LOVE being up the scaffolding (and I’ve been up the cherry picker right to the top) I just can’t wait to get on the tower when this wind dies down! The work CCT and HPR (Historic Property Restoration) are doing is very worthwhile and I love that they are also nurturing the young apprentices and college students to help them care for these buildings.
It’s an honour and a privilege to be involved and I’m excited to see what it will look like when it reopens later this year. One thing I’ve learnt is how long these projects take, I didn’t know just how much work goes into restoring these old buildings – it’s not just a lick of paint– it's so much more, and I've been able to capture most of that work with my camera. Preserving the stonework is intriguing. I never knew that water/moisture was such a huge issue for these buildings, because you can’t see if from the outside can you?
So what’s next for me? I’ll continue documenting the journey of the church until it reopens and probably beyond that, although I already have my eye on a few other heritage buildings I might be able to get up close and personal with. I’d love to stay involved in some way so watch this space….."
Groundworks at Seventeen Nineteen are currently suspended, following the closure of all CCT churches in line with UK Government Guidelines for COVID-19. The churches in our care may be physically closed, but they remain open online for anyone who wishes to explore and learn more about these amazing places and their history. Find out more about Seventeen Nineteen and view more of Christine's photography on Seventeen Nineteen's Twitter and Facebook.