Linda Colling: Bleak future for Sunniside

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SAD to see another business has shut up shop in Sunniside Gardens.

Artist Ursula Apreda has struggled for 21 months to survive. She told me: “I couldn’t have tried harder and I really wanted Sunderland to have a place on a par with Newcastle and Durham. Why shouldn’t we have niche shops? We should be able to when we have such immense things that we can be proud of.”

Those words of Ursula’s aren’t from a whingeing woman but one with aspirations for a Sunniside that could be a wonderful, bustling showpiece in our city. Instead it’s as dead as a doornail. That’s why it was no longer financially viable for her to keep her gallery open. And just like others – Eau Zone and Signatures restaurants – she has been forced to close down.

It looks so bleak and has suffered since Jopling’s closed and now Primark is on the move, cutting down the numbers who use this lovely, leafy haven as a cut-through.

It was the intention that this would attract the very businesses like Ursula’s but it’s locked in a Catch 22 situation.

With no footfall there, the council isn’t putting on regular markets as in Park Lane. What would be great would be if there was a flea market – something totally different from cup cakes and pricey glassware – and a big effort made to save Sunniside.

For too long it’s been in the doldrums and how many more are there looking out of their shop windows at nothingness?

There’s just traffic wardens and alcoholics. But if the council took the initative Sunniside could be transformed.

It’s no good having the odd couple of markets as there’s been. People would go if there were stalls to attract them and efforts made to pull in all kinds of traders, like those who are having regular fayres in the Alexandra at Grangetown.

It has to be novel and well advertised. Time to resurrect Sunniside before more ‘To Let’ signs go up.

There’ll never be the footfall if there’s nothing there. Ursula had high hopes and was instrumental in getting a Christmas market there in 2010, working alongside the council. She recalls: “I approached people about what I wanted to do. There was a lot of apathy which on reflection I can now understand. Where the apathy came from wasn’t because they weren’t interested but because they knew it wasn’t going to solve everybody’s problems.”

For the majority who never venture out of The Bridges, Sunniside is off the map and out of their ken. This could be brilliant, yet the reality is instead of an eclectic mix of traders, we’ve got shops shuttered and locked up for storage. And now the domino effect is taking over. Those traders that are there feel out on a limb. Some are lucky to still be in business. But they are just ticking over.

It’s not just Ursula’s gallery that looks eerie and empty, it’s the entire Gardens. There’s a forgotten air and sadly a resignation that no one is going to revitalise this spot.

Ursula had to fall back on doing window dressing to pay her rent. She tried to keep the shop as long as possible but in the end it became a luxury she couldn’t afford.

What a sorry picture her story paints of someone else who had the passion to put something special into Sunnniside, but in the end was ground down and let down by disinterest. What a sorry plight and no incentive for anyone new to move in and every reason to move out.

That’s not what was envisaged when this area was revamped. Ursula’s neighbours told her she put the sun into Sunniside. Now the future here is as black as night.