Jul 04 2012

Sunderland: ‘A Sleeping Giant’

The North-East is a fiercely proud region. You only have to talk to its people to discover that; I was chatting with a colleague recently who described himself as “Geordie first, then British, then English.”

We’re proud of our history, our heritage. Our football teams!   We’re proud of our down-to-earth resilience and lack of pretentiousness.  This region has taken, and continues to take, more than its fair share of knocks, but, in the words of Chumbawumba, We get knocked down, But we get up again, You ain’t never gonna keep us down!

Since I moved back to Sunderland at the start of this year I’ve really noticed and increasing sense of drive, pride and passion around my home town of Sunderland.  For many years, and for various reasons, the city has been considered a second-class citizen to Newcastle, but there is now, I believe, a genuine ambition amongst the people and the businesses of Sunderland to turn things around and get a positive buzz going in the city again.

After talking about a film competition on my radio show recently, I decided I would make a short documentary that highlighted some of the positive things going on here.  It was prompted by my conversations with Wear 1 City, which is the Sunderland City Centre Traders Association, chaired by the director of Collinson’s Jewellers, Harry Collinson.  Harry is extremely passionate about improving the city centre experience for everyone – shoppers, traders, visitors and, yes, tourists.  Since taking on the chairman’s role just three months ago he has worked tirelessly to bring people together to exchange and discuss ideas, and last night headed up a Q&A meeting with the leader of Sunderland council Paul Watson.  The meeting opened with a personal video by ex-Eurythmics star and famous Sunderland boy Dave Stewart, who thanks to twitter conversations with Harry over the past six months has become increasingly vocal and hands-on in his support for his hometown.  His ideas last night centred around the notion that “creativity is not locked out of the room”, and the idea of a creative and artistic hub being created here in Sunderland (perhaps on the Vaux site?) is one that certainly got my attention.

This, and many more issues, were discussed at last night’s Wear1City meeting, and you’ll be able to read more about that on their website in the coming days.

The short documentary I made really started out as nothing more than a sideline project for me.  It was a last-minute thing, put together in a couple of days, on pretty basic equipment, but I was really pleased with the input I got from people (including, of course, Donna Petch, who set up this very site and has quickly nurtured it into something quite fantastic).  The response has been interesting too, as word about it has spread and it has been tweeted and re-tweeted by various people.  I’m really glad about this; not for my own vanity, but for the recognition of the contributors, the enthusiasm and passion for Sunderland that they obviously possess.  Have a look at it here, and feel free to re-post and spread the word!

As Councillor Watson said at the Wear1City meeting last night, Sunderland has massive potential to grow, and it does feel like there’s momentum gathering to enable that growth.  Harry Collinson put it perfectly (and helpfully provided me with a great title for my documentary!) when he described Sunderland as A Sleeping Giant.  “And,” he continued, “it’s starting to wake up.”