He has lived and worked in the city for more than 40 years, and as the man at the head of championing Sunderland city centre, Alan Patchett sees a bright future.
In June, Mr Patchett took the reins as chairman of the board at Sunderland Business Improvement District (BID) after retiring from his post as director at Age UK Sunderland.
Having been on the board of the BID since it began, Mr Patchett has been involved in every step so far, and admits his aims now are to help develop the city centre into a place where people want to work, live and play.
“Since taking up the new role, it has really focused my mind to what needs to be done in both the short and long term, to get Sunderland to where we want it to be,” he said.
“I think we have to really focus on doing things that people can see are making a real difference.”
Recent initiatives like Project 100, which involved 3,000 students from Sunderland College helping clean up Park Lane and its surrounding area, have proved popular and with the Christmas celebrations now a big priority, it’s a busy time for everyone involved.
“We’ve just had a tremendous boost from the Project 100 initiative, which shows that things are being done to improve the look of the city and we are also supporting the bid to become City of Culture in 2021, which, if successful, would make a huge difference not only to the city centre, but to the whole of Sunderland.”
With a year to run of its current tenure, Mr Patchett believes the BID needs to focus on Sunderland’s individual merits.
“I’ve always said we shouldn’t try to copy anywhere else,” he stresses. “We aren’t Newcastle or Hull, we are Sunderland and we need to play to our own strengths.
“The Vaux site is starting to be developed now at long last which I think will drive more new businesses into the city.
“For me, I would like to see more independent traders.
“One of the things we have is a lot of fantastic independent businesses, and I believe we should work hard to encourage more.
“We have a wonderful restaurant culture here too.
“We’ve also got work going on with Jacky Whites market which will make it a really unique place, and we have things going on at the former Park Lane market, so it’s an exciting time for the city, and we need everyone to get on board.”
Mr Patchett says he and the team is fully committed to working with the existing businesses to carve out a strong future for the city, and is hopeful that business leaders will continue to support the BID and work with it.
“We need to continue talking to the levy payers so they can see that we are making big improvements for everyone, and to ensure they are getting value for money, he added.
“Going forward, we need to work with our unique assets to encourage more and more people to come into Sunderland.
“We are in a unique position to really make a difference, and we just hope we can get the support we need to carry it through.”
BRINGING PARK LANE MARKET BACK TO ITS FORMER GLORY
It was once a hub for savvy Sunderland shoppers looking for a bargain or two … and later this month, Park Lane Market will once again be restored to its bustling best.
This winter, it will be the location for the BID’s city Christmas Market, and it now looks likely that it will continue on long after the festive season is finished.
Brian Jackson, who has a very hands on role within the City Centre Traders Association, is quietly confident that this could be the resurgence the city has been waiting for.
“We are excited, this is a very important time for everyone in Sunderland,” he explained.
“We have this wonderful facility sitting here, and it now seems like we could be moving in the right direction to restore it to its former glory.”
The market and its surrounding area recently enjoyed a spruce up thanks to the 100 Project, an initiative between Sunderland Business Improvement District (BID), Sunderland College and Sunderland City Council.
All 3,000 students from the college headed into the streets for a three-day clean-up campaign, which also included painting some of the units and making it an attractive spot ahead of the Christmas market.
A call for local firms and businesses to join the market over the course of its five week run proved to be such a success that all stalls are now filled.
“We’ve had an incredible response. We have all sorts of independent traders signed up to join us. We have food and drink, gifts, toys, a local butcher who will be selling turkey and Christmas meat. Everything is here,” said Brian.
“It’s going to be brilliant and will give people somewhere local and interesting to come and do their Christmas shopping. It’s certainly going to be the best Christmas market we’ve seen in a long time.”
While the focus at the moment is on Christmas, Mr Jackson is also excited at the prospect of some of the festive traders staying on after the event.
“We’ve had a really fantastic response so far, and already we’ve had a lot of traders asking about staying on after Christmas. This is something we are very, very keen to promote.
“Sunderland, like all cities, needs a market like Park Lane. Shoppers need somewhere a little bit different where they can go and enjoy interesting, quirky stalls where they can buy things you can’t get elsewhere.
“It’s all there ready. Traders can come in, set up and they’re away. It’s got such incredible potential, and I’m very much hoping we can keep the momentum after Christmas.”
Mr Jackson also believes that if the market was full of traders, it would help encourage more people into the Park Lane area, which in turn would help surrounding businesses.
“The biggest problem is getting people out of the main hub and into places like Olive Street and Derwent Street, which is where a lot of fantastic independent shops are based.
“I think if the market was full and busy, it would only improve business for other shops as more and more people would come up to Park Lane.
“I’m very confident about the future. Park Lane Market is an essential part of Sunderland’s heritage and it’s starting to look like we could be on the verge of turning a big corner.
“It’s a very exciting time, and I hope the city can get behind it, support it and help grow it into a big success.”
The Park Lane Christmas market opens on Friday 24 November and will then run each weekend up until Christmas Eve.