Sunderland AFC legend Jimmy Montgomery is backing a bid to get local businesses to support an iconic new city building.
The 1973 FA Cup winner has urged local companies and individuals to join him by sponsoring one of 73 steps of a feature staircase at the heart of the under-construction Beacon of Light.
The main structure of the £18million building, which is next to the Stadium of Light, is now in place, with construction due to be completed by next summer.
But the Foundation of Light, which is one of the UK's leading sports charities, still needs £2million to complete and kit out the building.
It hopes a chunk of the cash will be raised with the help of the companies and individuals who share its vision and get behind the ‘73 Steps’ project.
The Beacon will have a feature staircase running through its centre, which, in recognition of the club’s famous FA Cup success, will have 73 steps.
For a donation of £5,000, supporters can have their name laser-cut into a stainless steel plaque which will be mounted onto the front of a step.
Former goalkeeper Jimmy, 73, who is an ambassador for the Foundation of Light, said: “This region is part of who I am. I was born and raised here and have an immense feeling of love and pride.
"But we need to be honest and admit we also have some serious problems. Now is the time we need to come together, address these head-on and show we really care about everyone in our community.
“Some of the statistics about our region make for uncomfortable reading and with the increased cuts to public services some will only get worse - unless we step in.
“Who cares that a third of adults in our region don’t have the basic skills they need to find a job, or that the North East has the most unemployed 16-24 year-olds in the country?
"Who cares that a quarter of four-year-olds in our region are obese, or that a quarter of adults do absolutely no physical exercise?
“We care - and believe the Beacon of Light will play a big part in tackling some of our biggest challenges such as unemployment, poverty, childhood obesity, skills shortage and a lack of confidence in our young people."
Les Cooper of UK Asbestos Specialists was the first backer to pledge his support for the '73 Steps' appeal.
He said: “As soon as I heard about the ‘73 Steps’ I thought it was a brilliant idea. We can all make difference and help local people - and also get to be a part of the Beacon.
"As soon as I told my daughter she said 'you have to get number 73'. I was 13 in 1973 and that day means still means so much, so I snapped it up straight away.
“I believe in the Foundation and helping those in our community who have been disadvantaged or left behind through no fault of their own.
"We can’t wait around for people from outside the region to help us – we have to help ourselves. We care - and are proud to demonstrate that by supporting the '73 Steps'.”
Lesley Spuhler, chief executive of the Foundation of Light, said: “We’re already working with other like-minded and leading names who have the expertise and resources to help us support more people to learn more, do more and be more.
“People like Nissan and Accenture will help us tackle unemployment and skills training, and Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food will provide classes and education to promote a healthy lifestyle. Now we’re asking more local businesses to get involved.”
To learn more about the Beacon of Light and how it will transform the region visit beaconoflight.co.uk