New songs for BBC Radio 2 capture life in the city with Sunderland Soup Kitchen founder Andrea Bell and foyboatman Michael Dodds

The work of Sunderland Soup Kitchen and its founder Andrea Bell has been captured in song and is to be showcased on BBC Radio 2’s new feature, 21st Century Folk.

The scheme, which is being run in partnership with BBC Radio Newcastle and BBC Radio Tees, aims to capture the essence life in the North East through the creation of folk songs, and Andrea and her team of volunteers are one of five stories set to be immortalised in music.

The kitchen serves free food to people in need, including those who are homeless, four nights a week.

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Named Albert’s Place, the song captures the selfless dedication of volunteers as well as the increasing demand being experienced due to the Cost of Living Crisis.

The song was penned by Welsh singer-songwriter, Martyn Joseph, who has performed across the globe and recently released his 23rd album.

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Andrea, who is today (January 9) set to appear on both BBC Breakfast and the Jeremy Vine Show, said: “It’s incredible to have a song written about us and be part of this time capsule encapsulating life in Sunderland.

"It was great to meet Martyn and we actually went to see one of his concerts. He visited the kitchen and said he was humbled by what he saw.

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Sunderland Soup Kitchen founder Andrea Bell said it was "incredible" to have a song created about the work of the Kitchen.

"It’s called Albert’s Place after former owner Albert Gibbons who was a butcher and businessman in the city. He used to help families in need by giving them food. Hopefully we are following in his footsteps.”

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Martyn said: “I’ve always felt that music is a big conduit of empathy and hope, and should come alongside us and remind us that we’re not alone in the world. And if you want to tell the story of a big issue, it’s best to find one person within that issue and tell that one person’s story.”

The production features another Sunderland stalwart, fifth-generation foyboatman Michael Dodds.

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Michael helps ships from around the world to moor on the docks of Wearside.

(Left to right) Andrea Bell, Katie Toner, Dr Ifti Lone, Delyth Raffell and Michael Dodds. Photograph: BBC
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Michael’s song, entitled Foyboatmen, was penned by legendary Squeeze lyricist Chris Difford, who performed the song with Liverpool singer Kathryn Williams.

Chris said: “It was a real pleasure working on this song. Talking with Michael I managed to get a good impression of his life and the boatmen who go back many generations before him. It was a subject that instantly inspired me.”

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The project was launched in February 2022 by presenter Mark Radcliffe and the songs can be heard for the first time today (Monday January 9).

(Left to right) artists Martyn Joseph, Thea Gilmore, Kathryn Williams, Chris Difford, Angeline Morrison and Sean Cooney. Photograph: BBC
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Helen Thomas, Head of Radio 2, said: “Radio 2’s commitment to specialist music makes us unique in the UK radio landscape, and I’m hugely proud of 21st Century Folk, which has originated five beautiful new songs. I’d like to thank our wonderful contributors for sharing their stories and the talented songwriters and composers who’ve brought them to life through their music.”

The three remaining songs feature Delyth Raffell from Blyth, who tragically lost her teenage daughter, Ellen, Dr Ifti Lone, a dedicated GP working in Middlesbrough, and Katie Toner, from Northumberland, who organises accessible parties and sleepovers for neurodiverse children.

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The five stories of the contributors and their songwriters are available on BBC Sounds and will be broadcast in 21st Century Folk on Radio 2, 8pm - 10pm on Sunday, January 15.