Three famous families with strong connections to Sunderland have pledged a seven-figure sum to the Beacon of Light.
The Sir Tom Cowie Charitable Trust, Sir Peter Vardy – through The Vardy Foundation – and Sir Bob Murray have made a major contribution to the capital funding of the £16million educational and sports facility.
Work on the site, which will include education and training facilities along with an indoor football pitch, is due to start next year.
It is expected that more than 300,000 people make use the building, with activity zones for education, the world of work, health and wellbeing, sport and play.
Sir Tom Cowie OBE, who passed away in 2012, was chairman of Sunderland AFC between 1980 and 1986 before selling his stake to Sir Bob Murray CBE.
Commenting on behalf of The Sir Tom Cowie Charitable Trust, Lady Cowie said; “Sir Tom always maintained that his grammar school education was a once in a lifetime opportunity for him to move forward and develop his business acumen that led to the business he established in Sunderland.
I have always been a passionate advocate of the power of education to change lives and the power of football and sport to inspire and motivate peopleSir Bob Murray
“Throughout his lifetime he supported the City, latterly through the University and a number of secondary schools. His Charitable Trust, set up in 2002, continues that legacy and I and my fellow Trustees look forward to working with the Foundation of Light on this exciting project, which will provide a much needed focussed resource for the people of Sunderland.”
Sir Peter Vardy, a businessman and charitable benefactor originally from Houghton-le-Spring, is a lifelong Sunderland fan.
The Vardy name has been synonymous with motor retail in the UK since 1923 and the Vardy Group had its head-quarters in Sunderland until 2005. The Vardy Foundation is Sir Peter’s family charity. and was set up in 1987.
Sir Peter said: “The Foundation of Light at Sunderland Football Club is recognised as the best in the country. In its community outreach work, Sunderland tops the Premier League every year.
“Using football as a catalyst to support education and health initiatives, it has proved to be phenomenally successful.
“I am pleased to contribute to this new project to increase the reach and effectiveness of the Foundation.” Sir Bob Murray CBE was chairman of SAFC from 1986 to 2006 and remains Chair of the Trustees of the Foundation of Light.
He added: “I am immensely proud of my regional heritage and return to the northeast whenever I can. The northeast is a special place but still has some challenges so there was never any question that my family and I would personally back the Beacon.
“I have always been a passionate advocate of the power of education to change lives and the power of football and sport to inspire and motivate people. The Beacon will fuse together sport, education, the world of work and health and well-being like no other place in the UK and I am proud to be playing a small part in making that vision a reality.”
Foundation of Light CEO Lesley Spuhler said: “We are immensely grateful that such prominent and generous family names from the northeast have been inspired by our vision and share our passion to make the Beacon a reality. It will positively touch the lives of so many people from the region.”