Culture bid could bring millions to the city

A packed Stadium of Light, home of Sunderland AFC.
A packed Stadium of Light, home of Sunderland AFC.
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When you think about industries that contribute to an area’s economic wealth, you might think about manufacturing, financial services or even retail. Perhaps lower on the list would be culture. But, as we find out, it could in fact boost Sunderland’s economic fortunes.

In 2017, Sunderland will find out whether its bid to become City of Culture 2021 has been successful.

Sunderland City Council leader Coun Paul Watson visits the site of the new Wear Crossing at Pallion.

Sunderland City Council leader Coun Paul Watson visits the site of the new Wear Crossing at Pallion.

Bidding against towns and cities as diverse as Paisley, and Coventry, Stoke and Hereford, Sunderland could see a bumper boost if it takes the crown.

“If you look at 2017’s winning City of Culture, Hull, you can get a flavour of what we might expect,” says Rebecca Ball, director of Sunderland 2021, the partnership that is charged with leading the bid.

“Conservative estimates are that the city will experience a £60million economic boost in 2017, but it could be far, far greater than that. Hull is already seeing a cultural renaissance, and it’s not even 2017 yet. The real prize is the huge spotlight that shines on winners.

“Before it won City of Culture, who would have ever imagined that Hull would be named alongside Vancouver, Reykjavik and Amsterdam in the Rough Guide of cities to visit in 2016 Culture comes in all shapes and sizes, and we firmly believe that the next City of Culture winner could well be Sunderland. Why not?”

Sunderland City of Culture 2021 bid logo.

Sunderland City of Culture 2021 bid logo.

2017 will bring sweeping changes for Hull. The total City of Culture budget will be almost £100m, including £80m for capital building projects and £18m to stage cultural events, shows, exhibitions, gigs, concerts, festivals, artist residences and outreach activities – that’s more than 1,500 events across the year, or four each and every day.

With all of that activity, there can be no doubt that jobs will be created and tourism to the area is expected to sky-rocket, not only in Hull but in the wider East Riding.

Projections indicate some 1,200 jobs could be created in tourism and culture, that it will bring about a 20% growth in creative industries and that around seven million visitors could contribute to the £184million expected to be pumped into the local economy over the next five years.

“Creative industries – that are stimulated by the spotlight a status like City of Culture generates – make a huge contribution to the economy,” Rebecca added.

Sunderland City of Culture 2021 bid logo.

Sunderland City of Culture 2021 bid logo.

“Nationally the creative industries are one of our greatest success stories, growing at almost twice the rate of the wider economy; worth a staggering £84billion a year and exporting ideas and products across globe. To attract more to Sunderland could have huge social and economic advantages.”

Even those towns and cities that are unsuccessful could gain much from the process.

Numerous places have bid for titles and failed to win, but the resulting benefits from running their ‘plan B’ still yielded massive results.

Locally, Durham’s bi-annual Lumiere Festival, which resulted from their failed bid, but attracted 175,000 visitors and an estimated £5.8million to local economy in 2013, is a good example of the impact the work undertaken in a bid to win this coveted title can have.

“Cities in the North East have twice bid in cultural contests – Durham to be a City of Culture and NewcastleGateshead to be a Capital of Culture – and twice failed,” says Rebecca.

“Perhaps this could be third time lucky. The key thing is that both places benefitted profoundly from taking part in their respective competitions.”

Councillor Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, supports the proposal, saying: “A bid for Sunderland to be UK City of Culture would have major economic and cultural benefits for the city.

“I believe it would also benefit our greatest asset, our communities. This is a fantastic opportunity to involve everyone and undertake something as a city.

“The challenge of making a bid would alone be a catalyst to move the cultural offer forward and be an accelerator for further development and growth across Sunderland.

“Even if the bid is not as successful as we hope, the evidence from other candidate cities in the past is that the activity would help to drive forward key outcomes relevant to our economic ambitions.

“We are always looking at opportunities to attract more visitors, raise our profile, and encourage investment. There are already around 5,000 people working in the tourism, leisure, culture sectors here in Sunderland, a bid would help maintain and develop both our cultural offer and the jobs it supports.”

This is a view that is reflected by Sarah Stewart, chief executive at destination marketing agency NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI).

“We’re delighted to support Sunderland’s bid for UK City of Culture 2021. A successful bid would deliver a long- term legacy for the city and the wider region – as well as delivering an exciting year of innovative cultural events that local people and visitors alike can experience and enjoy,” says Stewart.

“But the bid process in itself also provides a great opportunity. It was NewcastleGateshead’s unsuccessful bid for European Capital of Culture 2008 that attracted significant positive media coverage and provided the catalyst for an ambitious programme of cultural festivals and events – which took place nevertheless.

“In line with our experience, we very much hope that this bid provides a vehicle through which Sunderland can raise its profile as a cultural and creative destination and ultimately drive visitor numbers and wider economic growth for the city and the region. We wish them every success.”

The benefits would certainly be longer term for Sunderland, as Rebecca Ball explains.

“Sunderland already has a really strong cultural scene. Much of it is hidden though, and this exposure would bring it to the surface.

“It would provide the impetus for the city to face up to some of its challenges too. We’d see more skills, more jobs and more wealth in Sunderland – the whole programme over the year would engage and enthuse people, and welcome them to the arts, music and cultural scene.

“It would be a jump off point for a brighter future for the city and we have the capacity to deliver an ambitious programme that would transform Sunderland and the lives of a great many people in the process.”

The bid project team has been formed thanks to a partnership between the University of Sunderland, Sunderland City Council and the MAC Trust.

A major driving force in the development of the bid has also been local businessman Paul Callaghan, who – together with his brothers Bernie and Gerard – founded international software business The Leighton Group.

“People may wonder why someone with a background in technology would be pushing this bid. Culture and tech – it may seem – have nothing to do with each other. However, the most successful cities in the world are vibrant, exciting destinations that marry together culture and enterprise, and I believe that Sunderland is on the cusp of achieving that,” says Callaghan.

“Like Hull, Sunderland has a clear vision of a transformed cityscape. We have a 3,6,9 Vision that sets out how the city will look between now and 2024 – notwithstanding the even bigger economic boost that would come from winning City of Culture 2021.

“Already we know that £1.2billion is going into Sunderland, through projects like the transformation of the Old Fire Station, the Vaux site and of course the New Wear Crossing.

“We have the backing of business, with a collective of big hitters in the city – the Bridges shopping centre, Gentoo, Sunderland AFC, Sunderland BID, Sunderland College, Sunderland Live and the University of Sunderland, with the support of Sunderland City Council – coming together to create a sense of pride and excitement in the city – and that it already helping to foster a stronger cultural scene.

“It genuinely feels like the foundations are set. We’re already a city with a tremendous sense of history and culture. The city is still doused in the values that were shaped by Sunderland’s rich industrial heritage.

“We have no airs or graces – a city that is understated yet at the same time a heartland of innovation. That’s what makes us special. We move in our own way, and we bring something really unique to the wider region – of which we are proud to be a part.

“And we – as a city – are set to welcome the world if we are successful in this bid.

“The whole city must get behind it, not only because of the economic wealth it will generate, but because of the difference it will make to generations of Wearsiders that will benefit from a city known throughout the country and the world as one that inspires and excites. And as Rebecca says, ‘why not?’”