Countess of Wessex visits Sunderland to open The Beacon of Light before joining Sir Tim Rice, George Clarke and Faye Tozer at Gala Dinner

Sunderland's newest iconic building has been given the royal seal of approval.

Wednesday, 6th March 2019, 6:22 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th March 2019, 6:53 pm
The Countess of Wessex opening the Beacon of Light.

Sophie, The Countess of Wessex, was in the city to officially open The Beacon of Light.

HRH has been a long supporter of the Foundation of Light and was delighted to be able to tour their new premises.

The Countess of Wessex opening the Beacon of Light.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The countess performed the official opening ceremony of the building and later in the evening returned for a star-studded Gala Dinner.

After years of planning, £20million pounds of fundraising and 18 months of building work, the addition to the city’s skyline opened its doors last summer.

The state-of-the-art Beacon of Light, which is the first of its kind in the country, not only houses the Foundation of Light charity, it is also a sports, health, education and events space for all to use.

Television presenter and architect, George Clarke, who hails from Sunderland and is an ambassador and a trustee for the Foundation of Light charity, spoke of his pride at seeing the dream of such a building come to life.

Youngster Todd Gourlay, 11, was delighted to present flowers to The Countess of Wessex.

He said when they first starting talking about the idea, around eight years ago, they wondered if they would ever make it.

George said: "I have been lucky enough to work on so many fantastic buildings around the country and and this one for me is genuinely the best - and I am not just saying that.

"The reason being, an amazing building only becomes great by the amazing people in it.

"When you this what this building does, not just for the city, but the entire North East, it is absolutely phenomenal.

The Countess of Wessex chats with some of the young people using the gym at The Beacon of Light.

"We are right at the beginning of a very long journey ahead to make a big difference within the North East."

Following the opening ceremony people started to arrive for a celebration Gala Dinner, marking the work of the charity.

Among the guests joining the Countess of Wessex for the event, were some of the leading names in Sunderland football, including Sir Bob Murray, Kevin Phillips, Kevin Ball, Dick Malone and the current Sunderland AFC manager, Jack Ross with some of the current players.

Also there were former Steps and Strictly Come Dancing star, Faye Tozer, the Mayor of Sunderland, Coun Lynda Scanlan, and her consort, former member of the 1973 FA cup winning side, Micky Horswill.

An emotional Lesley Spuhler, chief executive of The Foundation of Light, get a hug from The Countess of Wessex.

Sunderland AFC fan, Sir Tim Rice, along with some of his friends from the West End, provided the entertainment at the glittering, red carpet event.

Sir Tim, who wrote the words for many of the nation’s most-loved musicals including Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Aladdin and The Lion King, presented a show, re-telling stories and lyrics along the way all linked with performances by West End singers and an 8-piece band under the baton of Musical Director Duncan Waugh. The Beacon of Light is split into four zones of Education, Health and Wellbeing, Sport and Play, and the World of Work.

Television presenter George Clarke, a trustee of the Foundation of Light, at the opening ceremony.
Sunderland AFC manager, Jack Ross, arriving for the Gala Dinner.
Sir Bob Murray arriving at The Beacon of Light for the Gala Dinner.