Sunderland's campaign to become the UK's City of Culture in 2021 has won support in the House of Commons.
The team behind the call, which is in the process of developing a bid that could see the area win a year-long cultural celebration, took the case for Sunderland to Westminster to gain the backing of movers and shakers from the worlds of business, politics and culture.
MP for Sunderland Central Julie Elliott hosted the evening event at the House of Commons, to give the team a platform to spread the word about the benefits a winning bid would deliver for the city.
The event featured a packed line-up that showcased the support it has been given so far, and invited those in attendance to throw their weight behind it too.
The reception saw Ms Elliott talk passionately about why she believes Sunderland should win.
She said: “It’s not hard to see why I am so proud of my city – it’s a truly wonderful place for culture and creativity.
“Sunderland has faced some tough social and economic challenges over the years, so winning the bid would be a massive boost to rebuilding the city’s confidence and putting Sunderland firmly into the cultural spotlight, attracting millions of pounds into the local economy, kick-starting a period of growth and delivering exciting cultural and artistic events.”
The Rt Hon Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top, also took to the stage to talk of how she thinks a successful bid would benefit the city.
She said: “Sunderland has lacked confidence in the past. It has so much passion, but its people have not been confident enough to share their talent.
"This bid will change that.”
Paul Callaghan CBE, Matt Wylie MBE and Bid director Rebecca Ball also made the case for the city, with local talent This Little Bird and Tom Fletcher taking centre-stage to end the reception, showing off their musical talent to an audience of more than 70 people.
Among the politicians at the event were Damian Collins MP, conservative party member for Folkestone and Hythe and chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee and regional
politicians including Chi Onwurah MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, and all three of Sunderland’s MPs.
Sporting hero Matt Wylie MBE was also among the speakers. He said: “The City of Culture Bid 2021 would be a fantastic boost to the city.
“A successful bid will allow the city to host more important events, not just for sport but in all aspects of life.
"I could not have achieved what I have without the support of this city, putting on events to inspire the youth.
"I am proud to have been raised in this city.”
Rebecca Ball, who closed the speeches, said: “A City of Culture in Sunderland would be amazing; it would be amazing for the North East and it would be amazing for Britain; because it shows that cities such as ours have so much more than people think.
“It speaks of revealing hidden talent, developing new-found confidence, and of equality of opportunity across our country.
“We are a city brimming with creative drive and ambition; from students at Sunderland College to volunteers at Washington Old Hall; from the fine artists at the National Glass Centre to the ukulele group at Hylton Castle Working Men’s Club; and from the showbiz stars at the Sunderland Empire, to the computer programmers and engineers at our high-tech businesses.”
The Mac Trust’s Paul Callaghan delivered a rousing speech that talked of his pride and passion for a city that he and his family have grown up in.
He said: “We are doing this not just for ourselves, but for others: those who built the ships, mined the coal, blew the glass, worked in factories or in shops; people who lived and died in our town, as it was then, and our city as it is now, bringing up their families with love and care.
"The generations past - my mother, your father, your great grandmother - they may be gone, but we must make them proud.
“There are those who have despaired of Sunderland ever being a great place again, and there are those who have kept the faith.
"We will engage and excite them all, and restore and renew their belief in this place.
“And those of the younger generation, whose lives still have a long way to run.
"Children and young people who have yet to decide whether their future lies here or elsewhere.
“We will give them experiences that they will never forget, that will change the way they think, the
way they act, and may fundamentally alter the direction of their lives. We will open their eyes, open their minds, and we will let them shine.”
He added: “We now need to speak with a single voice, but we also need hundreds of thousands of voices saying ‘we need this to happen and we want this to happen’.”
Sunderland’s bid has attracted support from people and businesses across the North East.
The City of Culture contest is highly competitive, as towns and cities across the country compete for the title.
The winner of this year's title, Hull, is seeing the national spotlight fall on it this year.
It was awarded the title in 2014 and is in the midst of year that will see a multi-million- pound injection of cultural events, shows, exhibitions, gigs, concerts, festivals, artist residences and outreach activities.
Organisers say the benefits of winning the title go beyond the initial year’s programme.
It is estimated that winning the status will deliver a £60million economic boost to the Hull, creating jobs and tourism opportunities throughout the East Riding.
Projections indicate some 1,200 jobs could be created in tourism and culture, that it will bring about a 20% growth in creative industries and that around 7million visitors could contribute to the £184million expected to be pumped into the local economy.
To find out more visit www.sunderland2021.co.uk, and take part in the conversation on social media by including #sunderland2021 in posts.