WEARSIDE MATTERS: Why Sunderland has a bright future ahead

Sunderlands Hilton Garden Inn.
Sunderlands Hilton Garden Inn.
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Gary Hutchinson is a name most would associate with Sunderland AFC, but the former-commercial director, who joined the club’s board in 2011 and left at the end of 2016, has been driving more than just sales of season tickets and corporate events.

“It’s been a big year for Sunderland as a city, and we have more ahead,” said the man who is spearheading major change in Sunderland, and is set to continue his ‘city’ roles, despite taking on a new position set to be announced this month.

Gary Hutchinson.

Gary Hutchinson.

He continued: “Sunderland AFC is a real driving force for positive change in the city, and I realised that it would be possible to amplify the great work of the club by getting more partners around the table and putting their collective efforts into positively impacting on the reputation of the city.”

Mr Hutchinson is speaking of his role as chairman of Sunderland Business Partnership, which is an organisation that he believes it driving major cultural change in the city.

Mr Hutchinson, who was born and bred in Sunderland, smiles as he speaks of his work in the city – it is clear it is something he is both proud of and extremely passionate about.

“Sunderland AFC is one of eight partners, including the council, that is driving a programme that will bring vibrancy to the streets of Sunderland. We want to create a feel-good factor in the city, and that is what we are doing.

“This is about organisations that are passionate about Sunderland – that want the best for the city and its communities – and that are keen to play an active role in its ongoing development.”

Under his stewardship, the group has attracted a groundswell of support from businesses in and beyond Sunderland, with more than 50 members now paying into the partnership, to create resources that are driving up the reputation of the city.

“We have delivered a magazine which goes through the doors of 125,000 people in Sunderland and beyond – a key medium through which we deliver positive news, and something we recently expanded by 40,000 additional copies,” he said.

“We have delivered a guide that celebrates the food and drink scene we have in the city, bringing economic wealth to the city.

“We were a driving partner in Sunderland’s first Restaurant Week, which was calculated as bringing at least £250,000 to the city’s businesses.

“We have created a series of city videos that are changing the image and reputation of Sunderland.

“We have a suite of photography and collateral that is helping us to tell one cohesive story about the city.

“All of this has been achieved within the last few years – and most of it in 2016.

“This is setting us up to become a force to be reckoned with in 2017. We know Sunderland has the assets to succeed and it is undergoing rapid transformation with £1.5billion of investment going into the city right now.”

One of the aims Mr Hutchinson has set for 2017 is the creation of a formal ‘city welcome’ that will see improvements to the access points of the city, as well as the formation of a ‘greeters’ scheme – a team of people who will welcome people to Sunderland at key moments in the city calendar.

Mr Hutchinson, who has been chairman of the North East England Chamber’s Sunderland Committee since 2011, a role that aligns closely with his work with Sunderland Business Partnership, said: “Sunderland is gearing up for a huge, huge year in 2018. We will see Tall Ships from around the world descend on the waters of the Wear, and somewhere between 1.5 and two million people coming to see them. We must be prepared for this.

“And of course, with big events like the Sunderland International Airshow and the possibility of a City of Culture year in 2021, should we be successful in being shortlisted, we will need to be ready to welcome the world and show them the friendliness that the city is famed for.

“We are actively working to achieve that, and of course, it’s something the North East England Chamber connection can support too, as the voice of thousands of businesses in the region.”

Mr Hutchinson oversaw the development of the North East’s first Hilton Garden Inn hotel on land close to SAFC’s Stadium of Light, which has created additional capacity for visitors and was a shift change for the city, attracting such a well-respected brand.

He said: “The number of hotels springing up in a city is a good measure of the confidence investors have in its future, as a place that will attract people.

“We are seeing more and more, and the work we are doing as a business group is about capitalising on that, working hand-in-hand with our public sector colleagues to deliver that.

“Businesses interested in joining Sunderland Business Group are welcome. The more that get behind this, the more powerful the group becomes and we believe we can create a brighter future for the city – one that will see Sunderland grow a regional, national and even international reputation as a modern European city, that dreams big, and achieves big things too.

“The partnership is getting stronger and stronger and with it, we are creating a better city. It is a pretty unique set-up and one that is allowing increased collaboration and enabling us to unlock opportunities and tackle challenges head on.”

He added: “Sunderland is a city on the march, and it’s fantastic to be at the forefront of that movement working alongside some of the biggest and best businesses out there. Long may it continue.”

To become a member of Sunderland Business Partnership or for more information on levels and benefits contact Ashmore Consulting Limited on 0191 500 8585 or email mark.hodgson@ashmoreconsulting.co.uk

Sunderland Business Partnership empowers members of the business community to come together to tackle issues in the city, and to work with their teams to create a sense of interest and excitement about the work going on to make Sunderland a more prosperous place.

The funding that the partnership scheme raises is used to deliver reputation-building campaigns that increase footfall in the city and help to promote Sunderland through a range of events and marketing activities.