Linda Colling: Sunderland market is ‘desultory, dismal and desperate’

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WHAT a washout. I knew it would be even if it hadn’t rained. And no doubt yours truly will get the blame – another predictability – from the council for her “negative” summing up of Sunniside Gardens before Saturday’s market.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Despite the best efforts of everyone, this was desultory, dismal, desperate really. There was just a handful of people wandering round the 14 stalls, a further seven stood empty.

It’s really sad because traders and the council are locked in a Catch 22 situation here. How do you get people out of The Bridges, which was heaving on Saturday afternoon? The fact is no one goes down to Sunniside. It’s crying out for new life to be breathed into it. As I walked round with my brolly up and my heart in my boots, listening to the five-piece band belt out rock ‘n’ roll hits, I pondered what it would take to get this place rocking.

That same afternoon, over in Houghton, crowds lined the streets for the age-old parade led by that true gentleman John Mawston, a former Mayor, pushed in his wheelechair.

Following were Houghton pipe band, decorated floats, dancing girls, vintage cars, steam engines, colourful kids and jesters. It was buzzing for the 10-day Houghton Feast.

They’ve got so much more than we have, a great community spirit. We’ve lost so much of our identity. Yet, make no mistake, nobody does it better than the East End. The East End carnival has gone, but the spirit lives on.

Down in the old Donnison School, charity Living History North East, the regional oral history centre is a hit at putting on period-style crowd-pulling events, even when it rains.

So how about their Victorian Christmas fayre in the Donnison School, organised by Janette Hilton, joining forces with the council which has a Christmas Market planned for Sunniside in December and putting on a great day out for families?

Maybe I’ve set the ball rolling now that Janette is going to approach events organisers to stage a joint grand Christmas Fayre.

That’s since I told her about the Sunniside one which she didn’t know about. “More joined up thinking. That’s what’s needed,” Jeanette told me. And not just in Hendon and the city centre, but she says across the whole of the city, adding, “It’s not rocket science.”

She wants more talking between the events team and their centre which she knows has so much to offer this city with a passionate band of 50 volunteers who are weighing in to make the Victorian Christmas, yet again, a ding dong success.

They have the right idea, dressed in period costume with legendary Annie Burlinson’s pies on sale, home-made cakes, jewellery, cards and crafts, all at affordable prices.

Communication is the key. And that’s where the council seems to be falling down by not tapping in to those with a true passion for the city who Jeanette knows make all their events a massive success.

She says: “It would be nice to have events that linked. Anything that brings footfall further down from The Bridges.”

While I know one trader in the Gardens has been visited since my recent piece by someone from the council wanting to help boost business, that’s good. But what’s there?

And unlike the white elephant stall that wasn’t there, this place will stay a white elephant unless there’s something with real, regular pull offering something The Bridges hasn’t got. Annie Burlinson’s pies perhaps?

Certainly not £20 glass earring studs, £40 glass dishes and tiny £8.50 pots at Saturday’s market. Potty to think that there’s this kind of money around in Sunderland.