Sunderland ‘Til I Die’s Lake Poets works with city pupils to honour fallen soldiers

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Unsung war heroes were given a voice by city pupils who teamed up with The Lake Poets for a moving performance at Sunderland Minster.

The Lake Poets, aka Martin Longstaff, has been working with more than 100 pupils from Grangetown Primary and Hudson Road Primary since September to research and create their own songs to honour WWI soldiers who never returned home to Sunderland.

The Lake Poets Marty Longstaff with youngsters from Grangetown Primary and Hudson Road at Sunderland Minster, along with Janet Nettleton

The Lake Poets Marty Longstaff with youngsters from Grangetown Primary and Hudson Road at Sunderland Minster, along with Janet Nettleton

The culmination of the Heritage Lottery-funded project was the performance of tracks Thank You and We Will Remember at the Minster, accompanied by Martin on guitar and Janet Nettleton from No Limits Theatre on the flute.

The aim of the project is to connect the local community to the East End’s Holy Trinity Church by recording heritage to preserve Sunderland’s First World War history, which will be exhibited at Holy Trinity Church when it reopens to the public in 2020.

Singer / songwriter Martin, whose haunting track Shipyards features on the credits for Netflix documentary Sunderland ‘Til I Die, said: “We were given a brief by Holy Trinity Church and the Churches Conservation Trust and we used a real soldier, Cecil Sayers, who features on a plaque to honour fallen East End soldiers on the wall at the church, to engage the kids in local history and inspire them to write their own words.

“It can be hard for kids to contextualise history but they dealt with it in a really grown up way. It’s been a great project to be involved with: it’s about bringing the message home to young generations and not in a stuffy way. They’ve driven it, the songs are very much the kids’ words, and I’m really proud of them.”

Funding for the project was secured from Sunderland Empire’s Creative learning and Community Partnerships team and as part of the project the youngsters also learned about War Horse and went to see the play at the Empire.

Anthony Hope, creative learning and community partnerships manager at Sunderland Empire, said: “Unsung Heroes has been a poignant and moving project, giving local young people the opportunity to develop their own lasting legacy. We are committed to developing innovative and enriching cultural experiences for young people across the region in partnership. This funded project from the Heritage Lottery Fund has been instrumental in giving young people a further insight into WW1.”

The schools have also embarked on educational visits to Holy Trinity Church where they learnt from members of the Holy Trinity Ambassador Group about the history of the building and Sunderland’s wartime past.

The songs will be recorded and exhibited in Holy Trinity Church’s Library and War Memorial for future visitors to experience and enjoy and uploaded to Charanga, an online music resource for classroom teachers, for all primary schools in Sunderland to access.

•Read our review of War Horse, which is running at Sunderland Empire until February 23, here.