Hundreds of families braved the autumn darkness to see the official launch of Sunderland Illuminations.
A laser display thrilled the crowds as broadcaster Lauren Laverne joined her uncle, Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson, to flip the switch on the 2016 festival of light at Seaburn’s Cliffe Park.
The annual Alice in Wonderland installations were brought to life for the last time, joining exciting new features including a sea of stars, the Tardis and a Dalek.
Coun Watson said: “The Sunderland Illuminations is rapidly developing into something truly special for the city and our fantastic coastline.
“This annual event is arguably the biggest event of its type in the North East and it is something we should not only go along to and enjoy, but also be proud of as it puts the city firmly on the map.”
3D projections of history of Sunderland shone onto the lighthouse on Cliffe Park, dancing fountains and lights, caves with skeletons and gremlins, and a whole range of fun family activities are all part of the illuminations extravaganza.
The 2014 event brought in almost 150,000 visitors, and this year organisers are aiming to make it even bigger and better than before.
There is also the added incentive of finding the newly-imagined “Tap” feature somewhere in Roker Park, harking back to the good old days of the giant water feature hovering over the lake.
Coun Watson said: “I’d like to thank our partners Aurora/Balfour Beatty Living Places, Blackpool Council and Sunderland Live as well as all my council colleagues for their hard work in delivering such a fantastic event.
“I’d also like to thank in particular, the local businesses and partners who have both sponsored and supported our ambition to provide residents and visitors to the city and indeed the region, an event that everyone can be proud of.”
Families who were there expressed how much they enjoyed the launch night.
At Cliffe Park, a launch event was hosted by BBC Radio Newcastle’s Alfie Joey, while there was a performance by the winners of City Sings, St Anthony’s Catholic Girls’ Academy.
Spark Drummers then marched from Roker Park to Cliffe Park before performing there, while Lauren Laverne turned on the lights.
There was then a laser show, and the entertainment concluded with a performance by swing band Big Muddy.
Donna Hodgson, from Sunderland, who was there with daughters Millie, Brooke and Hattie, and step-granddaughter Becky Hibbert, said: “It was really enjoyable, and the kids loved it.
“It was a great event for Sunderland.”
Married couple Julie and Trevor Blake, from Catterick, were staying in Sunderland on holiday, and decided to take in the event.
She said: “Sunderland always seems to make an effort and put on a good show, and it certainly did.
“The laser show was very good, but the event as a whole was excellent for everybody.”
Thomas Smith, from Sunderland, who was there with grandchildren Rebecca and Leslie, said: “It was a really good night, and shows the kind of crowds you could get here.
“I think the fair should be open all-year round.”
Another married couple who arrended were Helen and Ian Appleby, from Sunderland.
Helen said: “I must admit, I did not have very high hopes.
“It was a pleasant surprise to see how well it went.
“The weather, and the fact it didn’t rain, certainly helped.”
Sharon Gilmore, from Roker, was there with son Lucas, 10, and his football team-mate Mackenzie Stores, also 10.
Lucas said: “The lights show was really good, and we also really enjoyed the drummers.”
Mackenzie said: “It was really, really good, and we all enjoyed it.”
Sharon said: “It was great for the kids, and better than last year’s event.
“It was good last year, as well, but this time it was improved again.”