Next generation benefits to City of Culture crown

University of Sunderland's St Peter's Campus
University of Sunderland's St Peter's Campus
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City of Culture status would deliver a year of cultural activity bright enough to blaze a trail long into the future. While the immediate benefits are obvious, we look at what the impact would be on future generations.

Sunderland announced its intention to launch a bid for City of Culture status in 2015, something that – if successful – will deliver a year-long celebration of music, arts and culture in the city.

Ellen Thinnesen.

Ellen Thinnesen.

Last won by Hull, who will become a City of Culture in 2017, the initiative – launched by the UK Government after seeing the impact that European Capital of Culture status had on Liverpool – can have a transformative impact that can deliver long-term change.

“The status’ potential to change lives in the long term cannot be underestimated. It would be easy to think that this is a short-term boost that creates a year of events only, but the legacy that is left behind is significant,” explains Rebecca Ball, Sunderland 2021 bid director.

“It is not just this generation that will enjoy the benefits of a successful City of Culture bid, but the next generation and perhaps even the one after that.

“The boost that a city gets from recognition on this scale is long term, and tangible, and the social benefit is even more significant. We want to use this bid to make a case for how art and culture can help to tackle some of the challenges we face, as well as to enhance some of the natural assets we have in Sunderland.”

Sunderland City of Culture 2021 bid logo.

Sunderland City of Culture 2021 bid logo.

One such asset to the city is its college. Home to more than 10,000 students, full and part-time, Sunderland College has a strong reputation for its work in the arts.

With some 2,000 of the college’s students moving to its soon to be opened City Campus, and hundreds more only miles away in Bede Campus – where its visual and performing arts provision is based – Rebecca believes that a successful bid for City of Culture status would deliver huge benefits to its students and other young people across the city.

“City of Culture status is a vote of confidence in this city. We know that for a long time, Sunderland had a declining population, and – while that picture is changing – we have to be able to show our next generation that this is a city with promise; a city that will afford them opportunities.

“The level of ambition in Sunderland is already very high, but City of Culture status would just accelerate that. It brings immediate wealth with businesses and investors drawn to a place that is attracting the interest and attention that comes with this crown. And it brings with it enormous talent.

Sunderland City of Culture 2021 bid logo.

Sunderland City of Culture 2021 bid logo.

“During 2021, Sunderland would be awash with some of the most talented artists and creatives. How could that fail to inspire.

“College and university students, as well as those of school-age, will have an opportunity to be amazed by the work they see, the events they enjoy and the inspirational stories they will learn about during the city’s year in the spotlight.

“What is also vitally important to us is that the hugely creative and talented students and young people we have in the city help us to shape the bid – these young people are our future creatives, business leaders and innovators, and we have some exciting plans of how we’ll be enabling them to share their ideas.

“For our generation, the younger generation, and for generations to come, it really would deliver a step change for Sunderland unlike anything we have seen in recent years.”

Ellen Thinnesen, principal and chief executive of Sunderland College, also believes that the city’s young people would be left inspired by City of Culture status.

“The impact that this could have on talent attraction and retention in our city is phenomenal.

“Sunderland would be thrust into the limelight, and would become the name on everyone’s lips. From artists looking for residencies to visitors keen to enjoy the place for themselves, the city would be infinitely more attractive to all kinds of people.

“And for our young people, Sunderland would become a place that further unlocks their creative passion, a place where there are more jobs in the creative and cultural industries ensuring everyone can fulfil their potential.”

With its own ambitious plans taking shape, in the form of its multimillion pound campus, Ellen is particularly proud to see just how high leaders across the city are prepared to aim.

She added: “There is a confidence about Sunderland. And a palpable passion among the business leaders we have here. Sunderland means business, and it is a place that is prepared to be bold and brave and to throw its hat in the ring.

“With confidence comes success.

“The real measure of work we do as leaders of the city now, is the impact it has on Sunderland in the future. We have a responsibility to our young people and one of those is to create a sustainable city – a city that is prepared for the future and that will shine long into it. That is what I think this bid can deliver.

“We are feeding into the development of the bid, because we care about this city, and we care about the young people we support.

“We know that this city is going through seismic change, and we know that one of the key things Sunderland must do is keep people from Sunderland in Sunderland in the future.

“That has to be achieved by creating an exciting city in which they can live, work, and play.”

City of Culture status would see the city play host to a packed cultural programme during 2021. Sunderland is bidding against places as diverse as Paisley, and Coventry, Stoke and Hereford, with Coventry currently the front-runner with bookmakers.

The process works with towns and cities declaring their intention to stand for the title and submitting an outline of how they feel the status would benefit their area.

Entries will then be shortlisted to three in early 2017, with further bids submitted and the winning city is eventually named in September 2017, with Hull handing over its title to the new City of Culture, which will have its year in the spotlight in 2021.

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

Rebecca says: “It’s vital that the bid we submit captures the views of our next generation so we are listening to the things that they like, dislike, expect and hope for in the future. 2021 is four years away, but its impact will be felt for many years thereafter.

“Young people are likely to be most impacted by the legacy 2021 leaves in its wake, so it is critical that they are treated as key stakeholders in this, and that we work with schools, the college and the university, as well as youth clubs and groups, to create a bid that meets their needs.”

As well as participation in the programme, it is thought that young people will benefit from more work opportunities as a result of a successful bid, with Hull expected to secure 1,200 new jobs as a result of winning.

This will help to address Sunderland’s unemployment rates – currently standing at 8.5%, against a national average of 5.2% – with levels particularly high among 18 to 21-year-olds.

“Cultural activity can address all manner of challenges, and we know that it can help us – as a city – to create wealth and success,” says Rebecca.

“Young people are the future of this city, and we want to make sure that they enjoy a culturally vibrant place, that can deliver the opportunities they richly deserve.”

To find out more about Sunderland’s City of Culture Bid, visit