How skating, shopping and a tipi helped earn Sunderland a £1million winter windfall

The ice rink in Keel Square, Sunderland on Sunday
The ice rink in Keel Square, Sunderland on Sunday

Winter events, ice skating and shopping promotions helped boost Sunderland’s economy by £1million, a business boss has revealed.

The city’s Business Improvement District (BID) this week gave Sunderland City Council’s Economic Prosperity Scrutiny Committee an update on how the 2018 winter season performed in the city, with attractions including Hadrian’s Tipi and an ice rink based at Keel Square over the festive period.

Hadrian's Tipi at Keel Square. Chantelle Forrest and Chloe Scott-Haynes (R)

Hadrian's Tipi at Keel Square. Chantelle Forrest and Chloe Scott-Haynes (R)

According to BID figures, 50,000 people visited the tipi over its 11-week run – just under 5,000 every week.

Around 10,500 visitors also used ice rink in the five weeks it was open – a 7.5% increase on last year and 40% up on the first year it was introduced.

“I’m delighted that 1,200 more people have skated this year and a lot of that is to do with the tipi being in the same place,” head of business operations at the BID, Sharon Appleby, told councillors at Sunderland Civic Centre.

“But we also know that people are spending money when they’re there, buying food and drinks and staying in the city centre because there’s a reason for them to come.

“We know that people who don’t normally come to Sunderland, who would potentially go to Newcastle to visit the tipi, were coming and definitely going on elsewhere.”

Other events over the festive period included a business shopping night in The Bridges which offered discounts for people who work in the city centre.

According to Ms Appleby, 494 people attended and at least half spent more than £100 as part of a festive deal to claim a £10 gift voucher.

Alongside the success of the ‘reindeer dash’ and culture shed on Blandford Street, which saw 350 interactions, Ms Appleby said the BID had a huge impact despite operating on a reduced budget.

“I would say more than £1million worth of economic impact from those things that the BID facilitated,” she added.

Committee chairman, Doris MacKnight, also welcomed the figures.

“The tipi was excellent, it was something different and people talked about it,” she said.

“It was an experience and that’s what we need, we need something different all the time.

“But our city never pushes itself and we have the biggest asset in the North East and it’s our seafront and we need to be promoting it.”

Last year, more than 51% of businesses backed the BID in a ballot, with 72.7% of votes cast in support.

Recent work from the BID includes a lone street ranger providing support to businesses, graffiti removal and tackling dirty backlanes.

Other schemes include parking passes to allow loading and deliveries and a ‘Shop Sunderland brochure’ to showcase city traders.

At the meeting, councillors raised concerns about the future use of Park Lane market, the lack of footfall on Sundays and future plans to improve the appearance of High Street West.

And Coun Michael Dixon also called for information on the demand or need for offices in Sunniside noting “there were quite a few to let signs.”

Ms Appleby, responding, said many of the buildings were older, with higher maintenance and conversion costs and that more accommodation was needed  rather than offices.

“The office accommodation should come from modern fit for purpose accommodation going forward,” she added.

Future BID plans include revamping the city centre, providing more security, hosting and supporting events, reviewing its Vibe Magazine and attracting more footfall from the wider region.

Big events in future include a food and drink festival, a summer programme, music events, a standout Hallowe’en event and the popular festive programme.

Other ideas include new campaign ‘Have a Ball’ in conjunction with Sunderland AFC encouraging fans to eat and shop in the city centre on match days.

Business bosses are now preparing a bid for up to £25 million pot from the £650 million Future High Street Fund for capital projects in the city.

And the BID also aims to work with bus providers and Nexus to improve transport links to “make it easier for people to visit and stay in Sunderland.”

For more information on Sunderland BID, visit: www.sunderlandbid.co.uk/bid

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service