A five-figure investment to help young Wearsiders find their first foot in the world of work has been unveiled as part of the new Beacon of Light.
The Harrison Centre for Social Mobility is located within the £19million Stadium Park building, which will be fully opened as a school and community sports hub at the start of the next academic year.
The cash has been pledged to the scheme by David Harrison, of North East financial technology company True Potential, and forms part of the Social Mobility Pledge launched in partnership with former Education Secretary Justine Greening.
Firms are encouraged to sign up to a partnership with a school or college, set up a recruitment process which promotes a level playing field for people from disadvantaged background and offer work experience or apprenticeships to those in need of a leg up due to their circumstances.
The funds from Mr Harrison were gifted in an initial £10,000 donation, followed by a further £70,000 which will cover costs including teaching and materials.
Mr Harrison, who started out as an apprentice fitter and turner at Consett Iron Company, now employs 250 workers, with a further 4,000 self-employed team members backing the firm’s work.
If you give people a certain level of education and training, the essential stills of English language and maths, it can raise their confidence and they can take that step forwardDavid Harrison
He said: “I’m looking forward to seeing it up and running and we came and had a look a few months ago and picked out a prime spot.
“I think a lot of it comes down to confidence for our young people, it certainly was for me.
“There are times when they are victims of their circumstances and I was grateful that I was employed, I chose my apprenticeship and I don’t think it’s quite as easy as that now.
“But if you give people a certain level of education and training, the essential stills of English language and maths, it can raise their confidence and they can take that step forward.”
Ms Greening became involved in the launch of the pledge during her time as education minister.
She got the chance to try out the Beacon’s rooftop artificial pitch for herself with a game of handball with young people who work with the Foundation of Light, Sunderland AFC’s charity organisation, as well as a penalty shoot out with Mr Harrison after they had unveiled the facility.
“It is early days, but I think if this takes off it could see this in other areas of the country,” she said.
“I think this is unique and it’s incredible for the young people here in Sunderland, something linked to their football team and it puts them in a place where they can really start to develop.”
Phil King, general manager of the Beacon of Light and a director of the foundation, said: “From our point of view, seeing the families and children starting to use the building is great.
“The Harrison Centre is a fantastic facility and it’s going to help in our work to get people employed and give them an education.”