Sunderland’s politicians, arts chiefs and business leaders have reacted with delight after it was shortlisted in the final five in the bidding to be named UK City of Culture 2021.
Swansea, Paisley, Coventry and Stoke are Sunderland’s rivals for the accolade, with the winner being announced in December.
Having made the final five, work is underway on Sunderland’s second stage, which will now be submitted in September.
Rebecca Ball, director of Sunderland 2021: “This is fantastic news for the city and we couldn’t have done it without the support from the people of Sunderland and the North East. It is down to their support and hard work that we have made it this far.
"It is a huge achievement to get to this stage of what has been an extremely competitive process. We are delighted to have come this far, but we don’t have time to be complacent; we are very much in it to win it and there is much to be done to prepare for the next stage of the competition.
"We wish all of the other shortlisted places the very best of luck as they develop their bids over the next few months. The first stage bid submission was the culmination of months and months of hard work, so every single place that has thrown their hat in the ring deserves credit."
Winning the contest could trigger an economic boost for Sunderland. Hull, named 2017 UK City of Culture, has seen £1billion in investment since it was crowned as winner.
Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, said: “We must now focus our energy on the second stage of the bid, bringing together all communities in our city to to show what brilliant cultural assets we already have and what opportunities are available to us in the future.
“We are a special city with a bright cultural future and are right to be excited by the potential of this bid.”
Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, said: “We have so much to offer as a beacon of culture for not only the North East, but also the wider UK and indeed the world. This is Sunderland’s opportunity to be put on the map as a top cultural destination, and I – like many others in Sunderland – will continue to back the bid and support the team working to achieve this accolade for our city.”
Coun Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “Sunderland has a unique energy and ambition, making it the perfect contender for UK City of Culture.
Shirley Atkinson, the University of Sunderland’s vice-chancellor, added: “The competition has the power to absolutely transform Sunderland’s destiny. It will change the future for the city and the people who live and work here as well as those who visit. A win for Sunderland would be a win for the whole of the North East.”
Paul Callaghan of the MAC Trust said: “Confidence in Sunderland has never been higher. As a city, we are brimming with a pride and passion that runs in our veins. Like so many people from Sunderland, I am immensely proud of our city and I do think we have a great chance of bringing this accolade to Sunderland in 2021.
“Reaching the final of this competition is absolutely incredible, and is huge testament to the Sunderland 2021 team, all of those who have worked alongside them to develop the first-stage bid, and most importantly, to the people of Sunderland and the North East, whose enthusiasm has shone through since we announced our intention to go for this title.
“We’ll need more of the same to ensure we are front of mind when the judges come to select a winning city.”
Keith Merrin, chief executive of Sunderland Culture said: “Making it this far in such a tough competition gives our city renewed confidence, and I think we can be incredibly proud of what we have achieved.”
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but winning this title would put Sunderland firmly in the cultural spotlight, kick-starting a period of growth and creating a calendar of exciting cultural and artistic events, the Sunderland 2021 team is going to be working really hard as we prepare for the final stage submission in September.”
John Seager, chief executive of Siglion, which is one of a number of businesses to support Sunderland 2021’s Bid, said: “We felt from the start that there was a huge opportunity for Sunderland to shine in this competition.
"As an organisation that is undertaking a wide-reaching programme of regeneration across the city, it was only right that we threw our weight behind it. It’s really brilliant to see Sunderland among the top five, particularly as we know how hotly contested this competition is.
“We look forward to supporting the team with the next stage of their submission and wish them the very best of luck.”