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PEOPLE CAN LITERALLY BECOME PART of the fabric of one of Sunderland’s most famous historic landmarks, by having strands of their DNA encapsulated in glass for a sculpture being created for display there.    

14th century Hylton Castle is being restored and returned to life as a heritage and community hub for local people and visitors to enjoy and share stories of Sunderland’s history, through a collaborative project between Sunderland City Council and Castle in the Community with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. 

On-going restoration and construction work will create three floors within the historic walls of the castle housing café, interpretation and learning spaces, exhibition space, and a base for events and activities for residents and visitors.

 As part of the work, Sunderland-based artist Zoe Garner is creating a large glass sculpture for permanent installation in the castle, providing a stunning visual piece with links to one of the city’s oldest industries. 

The sculpture, inspired by the action of centuries of rain eroding the stones of the castle, will be ceiling-mounted on the top floor of the castle, hanging above the heads of visitors and encouraging people to look up in the high spaces of the building. 

It will be illuminated, with programmed lighting creating a rainfall effect through dozens of glass rods and tubes. The work will be created using flame working techniques pioneered in Sunderland, and made at the city’s National Glass Centre.

What will make these glass rods and tubes even more remarkable is the fact that local people have also been invited to supply traces of their own or their family’s DNA.

These traces, in the form of a hair or the ashes of a loved one, will be encased in small glass droplets to be positioned inside the glass tubes. 

If you would like to help make elements of the sculpture a number of half day flame glass technique workshops are available at the National Glass Centre running from Saturday 16th – Wednesday 20thJune. 

Participants will receive expert tuition in flame working glass, and having practised the technique everyone will make at least one droplet to be included in the sculpture and one to take home to keep. 

 DNA (in the form of a hair sample) or ashes can be included and participants can also etch their initials on the droplets. 

Alyson Tate who grew up in Castletown in the shadow of Hylton Castle, is taking part in one of the workshops with her mother and sisters on Sunday 17 June – Father’s Day.

The family plan to include some of her late father’s ashes along with traces of their own individual DNA into fire-blown glass droplets for the sculpture.

Alyson said: “This is such a great opportunity to be part of an exciting project.

“ It’s a wonderful chance for the family to come together and do something in memory of my Dad, and in years to come we’ll be able to go to the castle and think of him and how we helped make something so long lasting and special.”

Sunderland City Council Portfolio Holder for Communities and Culture, Councillor John Kelly added: “This is such an unusual idea, but the restoration of Hylton Castle  has always been a community led project so it is also very appropriate.

“This historic landmark is part of Sunderland cultural heritage DNA, and the generations of communities who have lived alongside it responsible for shaping its history.

“People are as much a part of the castle as its bricks, stone and mortar and this sculpture is a visual recognition and permanent reminder of that.”                   

If you would like to include your DNA but are unable to attend a workshop, please get in touch. 

Information and bookings at www.hyltoncastle.org.uk/events or call 07774 823311 or 07827 305567.  Email contact Elanor.johnson@sunderland.gov.uk

  • Workshop cost is £40 per participant, this includes expert tuition in basic flame working techniques, all materials, and making at least one droplet to be included in the piece and one to take home.

  • Participants must be 16 or over

  • Participants must wear short sleeves and closed toe shoes or boots. 

  • All places must be pre-booked

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