'These are not people with Sunderland or its people at heart' - council leader's message as city hosts event on tackling extremism
The city council has hosted a visit from the Commission for Countering Extremism, as the organisation looks to understand the impact of Far Right and Islamist extremism on communities across the country.
Set up in March last year in a bid to help more people challenge extremism, the commission is pulling together a study into all forms of extremism, and hopes to build a better understanding of the threat and how to respond to it.
The group visited Wearside at the council's invitation, with Sara Khan, Commissioner for Counter Extremism, meeting council leader Graeme Miller, deputy leader Michael Mordey and members of the local community and police.
Other visits have also taken place in towns and cities across England.
Councillor Miller told the event that Sunderland has seen "a recent rise" in the number of Far Right groups.
He said: "Here in Sunderland we have a long history of communities living and working together.
"But like many towns and cities across the UK, we have seen a recent rise in the number of Far Right groups largely from outside the city, targeting, exploiting and intimidating residents in an attempt to inflame tensions where they don't exist.
"These are not people with Sunderland or its people at heart - their only interest is in serving their own agenda.
"We know we're not alone in seeing this rise. The Far Right have been engaged in demonstrations in every region of the UK in recent years.
"Despite these attempts, our communities have remained resilient to these approaches and none of these groups has ever gained a foothold beyond a small minority.
"So we were very interested to meet with the Commission to get their views on this and discuss how we can work positively with them to address what is increasingly becoming a national issue."
Sara Khan thanked the council and its partners for sharing their experiences, and for their work in response to extremism.
The Commissioner also spoke of her shock in hearing concerns from across the country regarding extremism, and the harm it can cause to individuals,their communities and wider society.
She added: "In Sunderland, I found determined local leaders committed to a proactive, joined-up response and keen to share the lessons they’ve learnt. I look forward to working with them as I develop my findings and recommendations."