Sunderland’s City of Culture bid set for a grand launch

Paul Callaghan, chairman of the Music, Arts and Culture Trust.
Paul Callaghan, chairman of the Music, Arts and Culture Trust.
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Sunderland’s bid to be named the UK’s City of Culture 2021 will kick off in style next weekend.

The bid will be officially launched with a free three-day programme centred around the new Keel Square.

The launch event will set the tone for Sunderland City of Culture Bid, and will be a huge celebration of our city and all that makes it special

Paul Callaghan

The Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust, which is developing the old fire station as an arts centre, has led on the planning of the launch event.

Chairman Paul Callaghan said: “The launch event will set the tone for Sunderland City of Culture Bid, and will be a huge celebration of our city and all that makes it special.

“The arts and culture scene has provided the city’s creative heartbeat for generations. And today it remains a city that is a shining light of warmth – a city that moves to its own beat.

“We really do believe in our ability to win the City of Culture status, but we equally recognise that being part of the process is something that will deliver huge benefits.

“This launch event is the start for us to embark on a learning curve that will open everyone’s eyes to just what Sunderland was, is and is aiming to become.

“We hope everyone will join with us in celebrating our fantastic city throughout this bidding process over the coming months.”

The launch will see a bumper line-up of entertainment including winners of Gentoo community competition Gen Factor, SK Dance; and vocalist Sophie Ann Robson.

Other entertainment includes a performance from University of Sunderland students from Sage Gateshead; a newly commissioned piece from Theatre Space NE; a circus street performer; local bands including Frankie and the Heartstrings; the cast of Shrek The Musical, which comes to the Empire Theatre in November, and a City of Culture Film that shows community groups and ordinary Wearsiders talking about what Sunderland means to them.

Business and community leaders are lining up to back the bid.

Coun John Kelly is Sunderland City Council’s portfolio Holder for Public Health, Wellness and Culture: “The launch event is set to be a fantastic occasion and a real celebration of all that makes Sunderland a special place,” he said.

“We look forward to playing a key role in developing the bid, in partnership with the key city stakeholders that are leading this.”

SAFC commercial director and chairman of Sunderland Business Group Gary Hutchinson added: “This event is a great chance for us to raise our head above the parapet and show the country all that we have to offer.

“The economic and social benefits City of Culture status would bring cannot be underestimated, but for me, what this is really about is building pride in the city.

“It is something everyone can engage with, so I hope that people get behind the launch event, which marks the start of a more confident city, that is finally showing its colours.”

The University of Sunderland is throwing its weight behind the bid. Vice-chancellor and chief executive Shirley Atkinson said: “We are proud to be one of the key partners driving the bid over the coming months and I hope we will see gathering momentum behind the bid.

“This event promises to be a fantastic celebration of what Sunderland has to offer and is an indication of the city’s ambition and what is possible through working in collaboration.

“I hope Sunderland’s passionate people come out in force to demonstrate their support.”

Ken Dunbar, chief executive of Sunderland Business Improvement District, said the event would be a fantastic occasion that would bring hundreds of people into the streets of the city centre.

“Keel Square is a stunning public space, and will be the perfect backdrop for an event that celebrates the rebirth of a city.

“It seems appropriate the launch event is taking place in a part of the city centre that made a visible statement about Sunderland’s ambition.”

Andy Bradley, centre director at the Bridges shopping centre, said that the event would be a fantastic celebration for the city: “The event is a great way to kick off Sunderland’s bid to be named City of Culture 2021.

“There is so much about Sunderland to be proud of, and this event will create a real sense of vibrancy in the city centre.”

Gentoo Group chief executive Peter Walls added: “Our city has a strong sense of community and pride and the City of Culture Bid will celebrate this. It will help to tell the world what a passionate and inspiring place Sunderland is.”

Sunderland College’s Anne Isherwood, said: “The launch event is the chance for us to make a statement about our city. To be set in a part of the city centre that has been subject to such major investment, tells the story of our changing city – one that respects and values its heritage, but is forward thinking and ambitious.”

Andrea Winders, of events company Sunderland Live, said the launch would be an occasion for the whole city to enjoy: “This bid is a huge statement of intent from Sunderland, and also presents us with a genuine opportunity to have the eyes of the nation focused on our wonderful city.”