Sunderland illuminations get ready to shine

Sunderland Live CE Alison McDonough, Coun John Kelly, business chief Tom Parkin and Coun Kelly's deputy,  Coun Peter Walker.
Sunderland Live CE Alison McDonough, Coun John Kelly, business chief Tom Parkin and Coun Kelly's deputy, Coun Peter Walker.
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“These will be the best illuminations in 40 years.”

Coun John Kelly is predicting a bumper turn-out when Sunderland illuminations return later this month.

Roker Park Illuminations installation gets under way in Roker Park.

Roker Park Illuminations installation gets under way in Roker Park.

More than three kilometres of lighting, incorporating 250,000 LED lights, will line the seafront from St Peter’s Church to the Morrison’s roundabout.

Installation work is now under way and this year’s display will run between Saturday, September 24 and Saturday, November 5.

It was Coun Kelly, the city council’s Portfolio Holder for Public Health, Wellness and Culture, who had the idea of bringing the illuminations back and he has been delighted with the response from the public.

“I went to the leader of the council with an idea that probably seemed mad, really, to bring back something that had been gone for so long at a time of austerity.

It is a chance to showcase what we have to offer to half a million people.

Tom Parkin

“I was lucky that the leader backed me and everyone liked it. People love to see light in the middle of winter - it lifts everybody’s spirits.

“The illuminations give people three or four miles’ exercise without them even realising it and give families a chance to spend some quality time together, which is great.”

This year will see a nominal fee for visitors to Roker Park, but Coun Kelly said this was intended to guarantee the future of the illuminations for years to come:

“This year we will charge £1 a person,” he said.

Ken Barella at work on the illuminations in Roker Park

Ken Barella at work on the illuminations in Roker Park

“I want to assure people that £1 will go direct to the illuminations budget. If we want this to continue, we need to make sure it is sustainable, so it needs a commercial element - but hopefully not so commercial that families can’t enjoy it.”

Tom Parkin, of Sue’s Cafe, is chairman of the Sunderland Seafront Trader’s Association, which has backed the return of the illuminations.

“We have supported it from day one,” he said.

“We started off small and we have gradually got bigger and bigger. Last year we had approximately 380,000 people through Roker Park and the best part of half a million if you count the people who visited the seafront.

Lauren Laverne joins BBC Newcastle's Alfie Joey and Sunderland City Council leader Coun Paul Watson for last year's switch-on.

Lauren Laverne joins BBC Newcastle's Alfie Joey and Sunderland City Council leader Coun Paul Watson for last year's switch-on.

“It is a chance to showcase what we have to offer to half a million people - they will come, they will enjoy it and it is a double whammy, because those people will come back to visit.”

Sunderland Live is organising this year’s show on behalf of the city council and chief executive Alison McDonough is genuinely excited.

“We have got so much more this year than we have ever had,” she said.

This year’s theme is pirates and installations and activities throughout the park will reflect this. The company has worked with local schools and Scout groups, among others to design them.

Highlights will include an ultra-violet trail for children to follow through the park, a Lost Dinosaur Island section and a Peter Pan and Wendy food village.

Cliffe Park will house a family funfair, while the former Seaburn showground will host a more white-knuckle selection of rides.

And the massive Ferris wheel which proved such a hit last year is back.