After years of planning, £20million pounds of fundraising and 18 months of building work, the latest addition to the city’s skyline will open its doors to the public from Monday.
The state-of-the-art Beacon of Light, which is the first of its kind in the country, not only houses the Foundation of Light charity, it is also a sports, health, education and events space for all to use.
Whether it’s hiring an FA standard pitch for you and your friends to play football on, having a cuppa in the cafe, taking part in a cookery course by Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food or attending a conference in one its rooms, the distinctive box-shaped building, which can be lit different colours for match days and events, has a multitude of uses.
The Echo was given a first look around the Beacon before it opens next week and its general manager Phil King say the foundation is looking forward to seeing people’s reaction to its new home. “Because of the box-shape outside it’s difficult to judge its scale inside, but we’ve had a few people in already for a soft launch and they’ve all been amazed by its facilities. Because we’re a community building, the idea is that we have a real mix of the community coming in here,” he explained.
Speaking about the award-winning charity, which harnesses the power of football to engage people in sports, health, community and education programmes, he said: “It’s fantastic for the foundation to have a home like this. Raising 20million pounds, especially in Sunderland, is no mean feat, and it’s great to see all those plans come to fruition. The idea of the Beacon has always been to deliver what we deliver but to do it bigger and better and reach more people, while also delivering a different type of programme too.”
The building has been split into four zones of Education; Health and Wellbeing; Sport and Play; and the World of Work, facilities that have already been dubbed as “world class” by architect George Clarke, from TV’s Restoration Man, who had a sneak peek of the building ahead of its opening in his role as an ambassador for the charity.
Anyone can hire the Beacon’s pitches for sport. Outside, overlooking the Wear, are six 5-a-side 3G floodlit pitches, while the main arena on the ground floor houses a 12 badminton court-size sports hall, the biggest in the city and one of the biggest sports halls in the region. It’s a flexible space that can be used for a number of purposes, from events to sports including futsal, badminton, netball and basketball.
Phil said: “There’s nothing else like this in the city. It has flexible seating which can be pulled out, meaning it can be used for everything from boxing to comedy nights.”
In the roof of the building is a 7-a-side 4G pitch known as the football barn, which is FA standard in size and surface, and this too is available for teams to hire.
Phil said: “People are always surprised when they come up here and see the barn. Although it’s inside, it feels like you’re outside because around the perimeter of the pitch there’s a gap for the air to come in which creates a great atmosphere.
“It really is elite football facilities that are available to the community. Any football club in England, whether that be Premier League, Championship, League One or Two would be happy to have a football facility like this for their first team, so for us to be able to make this available to the community, for them to come and play, is fantastic.”
Another interesting architectural feature is the 73 steps leading from the main entrance, in honour of SAFC’s 1973 FA Cup win. Each step can be sponsored by a business or person and a number of high-profile supporters have already bought steps, including George Clarke and famous lyricist Tim Rice.
The steps lead to the World of Work zone, a pathway to learning featuring the Ministry of Food kitchen in partnership with Jamie Oliver, where foundation staff can deliver cookery sessions for families and young people based around healthy eating and nutrition, and more.
•Beacon of Light is running an opening week offer for hire of its pitches. More here.