George Clarke gives views on Sunderland's Riverside development as he enjoys factory reunion with old friends
Getting Sunderland’s Riverside development right if ‘make or break’ for the city, says George Clarke.
The architect and TV presenter, who grew up in Washington, was back home on a whistlestop tour of the Hillary’s’ factory on the Bentall Business Park, to mark the firm’s 50th anniversary.
George has been working with the city council on the regeneration plans and believes things are finally on the up: “Sunderland is full of great people, passionate people, but let’s be honest, we’ve had 20, 30 years of false promises,” he said.
"I think this is the first time where it could really happen – they have got some good plans in place for Riverside Sunderland, they’ve got some good people there that I think can deliver it.
“Seeing some development happening on the old Vaux site is great – we all know how ridiculous it was for the Vaux site to be abandoned for as long as it was and, if anything, it stopped the city from moving forward for 20 years.
“Now that regeneration is being planned on it, it’s really exciting. I genuinely think its a great time for the city.
"I think the Riverside is make or break for the city, I really do. Sunderland will genuinely be transformed by that riverside development.”
George believes the city can replicate the success of another seaside town that reinvented itself: “I worked on the masterplan for Margate,” he said.
“Everyone said ‘Margate will never turn, it’s too poor, property’s all cheap, why would anyone want to be in Margate?’ - look at it now. Once you get creative people wanting to stay, and build businesses, before you know it you’ve started to change the culture of the place.
“The big thing for me is the need to inspire young people to want to build things, to build businesses and to stay in the city. We’ve got a brilliant university, we get all this talent from all over the world and it would be fantastic if we could create a level of excitement and hope in the city to make them stay.”
Lifelong Sunderland AFC fan George sees the city’s rebirth mirrored in progress on the pitch: “In some ways the football club is a representation of what has happened to the city,” he said.
"We’ve gone from being a Premier League club to League One.
"Now we are top of the league, we’ve made some good signings, we’ve got a new owner. Let’s see what happens.”
During his tour of the Hilarys Blinds unit on a return to his native north east, George met up with some familiar faces.
He grew up with workers Linda Fergus, Alan Middlemiss, Michael Ohara and Jill Hanson in Blackfell.
"It’s amazing, we’ve not seen each other for about 30 years,” said Linda, while Michael added: “We always knew he would go on to do something – he was the only one who did his homework.”