I was delighted to secure a Parliamentary debate this week to shine a national spotlight Sunderland's bid for the title of City of Culture 2021 - a bid that has galvanised and united the city.
Sunderland is a truly wonderful place for creativity. It is ambitious, brave and collaborative - and our bid is too. Winning UK City of Culture would bring so much to our city.
It came as no surprise to those of us who have the privilege to call Sunderland home that we were shortlisted for the coveted title earlier this year alongside Coventry, Stoke, Swansea and Paisley.
My city has a long and proud history, it is a city built on industry and hard work - but which has struggled over the last 30 years to recover from the body blows of losing our shipbuilding and mining industries.
Fuelled by a determination to renew itself, however, Sunderland has - after a decade of thinking and planning - started to re-awaken. As a city and a community we feel that we are at a crossroads and that the path leading to renewal and a brighter future is within our reach.
Becoming City of Culture 2021 would put us on the right path, enabling us to prosper and grow - whilst at the same time showing the nation how culture can transform a city.
If we win City of Culture 2021 it would be the culmination of ten years of preparation. Over the years a revival has begun, a renaissance shaped and powered by culture. We have embedded arts and culture at the core of our economic master-plan and invested heavily both in infrastructure and people’s creativity and talent.
We’ve done this with the generous help of others – particularly through valued partnerships with Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund - who have bought in to our vision and supported us.
If you visit Sunderland now, you will see physical regeneration happening on a scale I can't remember. We have the new Wear Crossing nearing completion, Keel Square giving us a public space that we can gather on and hold events, the first building nearing completion on the Vaux site and the recent opening of the old Fire Station - which incorporates a bar and restaurant, dance and theatre studios as well as a heritage centre.
Sunderland needs City of Culture 2021 status to make sure our resurgence continues, that the next generation can see every reason to stay in our city and see no reason to leave.
Our bid has galvanised and united the city. Businesses, our university, our college, our local housing group, our football club and organisations throughout the city have stood as one with the people of Sunderland in supporting the bid.
It’s not lukewarm support, but passionate backing for a project that the people want and the city needs. Our bid has also garnered the support of people from across the North East region. Even the old rivalries between Sunderland and Newcastle have been put to one side with Newcastle City Council passing a motion in support of our bid.
Neither The City of Culture title nor The European Capital of Culture title have ever been awarded to a city in the North East of England, despite very strong bids by our neighbours Newcastle and Gateshead in 2008 and Durham in 2013. We are hoping that this is third time lucky!
The people of Sunderland get what a difference it would make. We understand that change would be fundamental and long-lasting. Hull is forecasting more than £3bn will have flowed into their city thanks to being this year’s City of Culture.
UK City of Culture would change the way Sunderland is perceived regionally, nationally and internationally. The city that to some has become the symbol of Brexit would once again be seen as the warm, welcoming, modest, hardworking, tolerant, creative and innovative city we know it is.
Winning City of Culture status would be the catalyst for growth in our creative industries. We believe it would enable the growth of 150 new creative businesses, bringing 750 sustainable jobs - which our city needs.
We also understand how a successful bid would improve our health and well-being and help us become a more cohesive city. It is widely known that engagement and participation in the arts can have a positive, long-term effect on improving someone’s health and well-being - particularly someone’s mental health.
An extended and improved cultural sector, delivering more opportunities for people to engage in the arts, will also have a meaningful impact on the city’s well-being. Sunderland struggles with some of the most acute health challenges in the country. This injection of cultural opportunity will do more for communities in Sunderland than anywhere else.
Communities become stronger, and more understanding, when working together on artistic projects. The participatory and collaborative nature of the arts, and their informality, promote friendships and greater tolerance across cultural divides – even bridging language barriers.
Our city-wide conversations have inspired three creative themes – Light, Inventiveness and Friendship. These themes connect our past and future, they resonate with our local communities and would provide the stimulus for world-class cultural activity throughout 2021. They will strengthen the three strands of any successful city - Society, Economy and Culture.
Our opening season, should Sunderland be awarded City of Culture status, would be themed around friendship - bringing together communities from across Wearside and welcoming visitors from around the world to a programme of art and culture inspired by questions about how we live together both locally and globally.
Our middle season would take inspiration from the innovators, inventors and trailblazers past, present and future, to create a programme that would tackle the questions of how we make and shape the future of the world around us through our creativity and ingenuity.
Sunderland was home to Joseph Swan, inventor of the electric light-bulb (but lost out to Eddison on the patent!) and before him the glass-makers who brought stained glass window makers to this country more than 1,300 years ago. Nowadays we ‘Mackems’ continue to innovate and invent, particularly in the IT and digital sector - as well as having the most productive car plant in Europe!
Our final season would be inspired by the theme of light and would be a celebration of the power of art and culture to enchant, inspire and illuminate new possibilities. Sunderland has long been an inspiration for artists and writers, such as L.S. Lowry and Lewis Carroll, and painters talk of the special light that casts a glowing warmth over our fantastic beaches and coastline.
I want everyone to know just how special Sunderland is, and more than that, what City of Culture status will do for this city. My city is a truly wonderful place for creativity. It is ambitious, brave and collaborative, and our bid is too.
Winning UK City of Culture 2021 would bring so much to our city. It would help reaffirm that Sunderland’s best days are not behind us, but most definitely still to come.