The Beacon of Light is ready to shine.
The landmark building was officially handed over to the Foundation of Light yesterday, with an open day for sponsors and supporters.
The man who started it all, Sir Bob Murray, was there to see his dream become a reality.
And he was quick to pay tribute to Foundation chief executive Lesley Spuhler, her staff and their work: “We have built up a formidable team in the foundation,” said Sir Bob.
“It is second to none, made up of people who are driven by the work they do and the outputs that they achieve.
“They change people’s lives on an enormous scale.”
I feel both fulfilled and emotional. I really care about these people.Sir Bob Murray
The Beacon will house a broad range of the foundation’s community programmes through four zones: Education; Health and Wellbeing; Sport and Play; and the World of Work, offering elite quality facilities for anyone who wants to use them.
The foundation had been crucial to rebuilding the relationship between football club and fans when he took over at Roker Park: “I took over a club that was down to 8,000 crowds and one of the things I wanted to do was open it up,” he said.
“I got ridiculed for it because I named it ‘The Caring Club.’ I got a bit of stick for that, which was fine, then we had a community programme and then that developed into the charity.
“It’s not just about this building, its about out our reach. We have places in Shildon, Chester-le-Street, Peterlee, we have got a massive presence in South Tyneside – it’s not just our city, it’s our region.”
Sir Bob is all too aware of what the foundation can do: “I was unemployed for a year when I left school,” he said.
“I was a war baby – half the kids didn’t get a job and I was one of them. That changed my life and I know what education can do for people, and care as well.”
Promoting a healthy lifestyle without being judgmental will be part of the Beacon’s work: “I had a 46-inch waist once and later I ran a three hour marathon,” said Sir Bob.
“I know what it’s all about but I sympathise, I don’t criticise.”
Creating the Beacon was ‘unfinished business,’: “Isn’t it nice Sunderland has got the best of something?,” he said.
“I feel both fulfilled and emotional. I really care about these people.”