SUNDERLAND’s cultural credentials have received a multi-million-pound boost today, after being backed with a cash injection from Arts Council England.

Just months after it was formed, Sunderland Culture, a company set up to advance the city’s cultural development, has been granted £2million from the Arts Council, after receiving National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) status. The decision will plough cash into the city’s cultural facilities, with the funding representing a significant increase in Arts Council support to the city.

It’s the second investment announcement today for Sunderland, which has also won a further £175k, to create a new exhibition space for the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art at the University of Sunderland’s National Glass Centre.  It means the iconic gallery – which is now part of the university’s arts provision – moves from its previous base in the city library.

Keith Merrin, chief executive of Sunderland Culture, which was launched in March this year, said: “This is the second occasion we have had cause to celebrate, having already secured £1.25million from the Great Places fund, which will really elevate the city’s reputation as a hotbed for creative talent.

“There really is a sense in Sunderland that we are building towards a future in which culture will be at the absolute heart of the city’s economic and social development. We are becoming a poster child for how arts can reinvigorate a city and bring about hugely positive change, and funding support like this really will help us to further the momentum we have already established.”

The funding, which will be pumped into the organisation over a four-year period is another welcome boost to Sunderland’s UK City of Culture Bid, which will assess the city’s capacity to deliver a year-long programme capable of bringing about major regeneration.

Mr Merrin added: “Of course this is great news in the context of our City of Culture bid. This backing really could prepare the ground for a successful year in 2021, ensuring we have the venues and capabilities to host a huge year of celebration. However, win or lose, I think we can now be confident that the future for the city is very bright, and that culture will be front and centre in the regeneration of Sunderland.  The impact of the City of Culture competition really will leave a lasting legacy.”

Graeme Thompson, who is chair of Sunderland Culture, said: “This is a tremendous achievement for our city, and for an organisation that – despite its relative infancy – is already bringing about a genuine step change in the way we are driving culture-led regeneration.

“Sunderland has a rich cultural story, and venues of national and international significance. This recognition from Arts Council England means we are finally able to start punching our weight in collaboration with partners across the city. It’s an exciting milestone which will help shape a new narrative for the city over the coming years.”

Sunderland Culture was formed thanks to a partnership between the Music Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust, Sunderland City Council and the University of Sunderland to deliver major projects such as the City of Culture bid and bring together the main cultural venues of the partners.

Through ‘joined up’ working, it is expected that the company could increase the volume and strength of bids Sunderland makes for support from arts and cultural funds, which will help to improve the city’s cultural offer and bring more jobs to the city.

An announcement is expected from the Department of Culture Media and Sport over the next few days about whether Sunderland’s City of Culture bid has been shortlisted to go through to the next stage of the competition.

To find out more about Sunderland Culture, visit sunderlandculture.org.uk


A NEW company established to manage and develop Sunderland’s cultural venues is celebrating after securing £1.25m of funding.

The grant from The Great Place Scheme is a huge early success for Sunderland Culture, the new company set up to run major city attractions and venues.

The city will be one of 16 pilot areas for the Great Place Scheme, jointly funded over three years by Arts Council England (ACE) and Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), to put arts, culture and heritage at the heart of communities.

Sunderland Culture’s Chief Executive Keith Merrin was thrilled at the news: “To have such significant success in attracting new investment to Sunderland just weeks after being formed is hugely satisfying and encouraging.

“It says a great deal about the faith and trust that the scheme’s partners already have in us that they’ve chosen us to help pilot a major new national project. The funding is great news for Sunderland Culture, but also great news for the people of the city.”

Leader of Sunderland City Council, Coun Paul Watson, added: “I am delighted that Sunderland has been awarded this funding. It demonstrates that the vision and investment of the city council with our partners University of Sunderland and the MAC Trust in setting up Sunderland Culture is paying off in bringing new investment to the city and new opportunities for our communities. It also lays the foundations for our ambition for Sunderland to be City of Culture in 2021.”

As well as managing and operating venues in the city, Sunderland Culture will deliver large-scale projects like the current bid to be UK City of Culture in 2021, The Great Place Scheme, and also raise the profile of the city’s arts provision.

The funding announcement comes only weeks after ACE revealed it was investing £6m toward the building of a new £8.2m auditorium adjacent to the MAC’S £3.6m redevelopment of the Fire Station, and the city was awarded one of only ten Heritage Action Zones by Historic England to bring Old Sunderland and the area around Fawcett Street and High Street back to life. Other major recent cultural investments into the city have included the redevelopments of Hylton Castle and Roker Lighthouse, and the Cultural Spring arts programme.

Over £4m of National Lottery funding has been awarded for Great Place Schemes in Sunderland, County Durham and the Tees Valley. Ivor Crowther, Head of HLF North East, said: “From inspiring landscapes and memories of communities built on industry, to emerging art scenes and landmarks that have existed for centuries – the diversity of North East culture is incredible. Supported by over £4m of National Lottery investment, our pride in that diversity is the starting point for unlocking the benefits culture has for economies, heritage and, of course, people.”

Keith explained how the new funds will be used in Sunderland: “The £1.25m investment will deliver real impact in areas across the whole city working in partnership with communities and local organisations on initiatives to boost the creative economy, health and well being, community cohesion and opportunities for young people.”

He continued: “It’s an amazing time for arts and culture in Sunderland. This latest investment reinforces the momentum that is being built and the faith that national funders now have in the partnership of organisations and people leading arts and culture in the city.

“The process of bidding for UK City of Culture in 2021 has been invaluable and helped us to define key opportunities where culture can make a real difference to the lives of people in this city.

“Great Place has given us a stepping stone to achieve this between now and 2021,” he said.

Rebecca Ball, Project Director for Sunderland’s 2021 bid, said: “This is such wonderful news and keeps the momentum building. It’s further evidence of Sunderland’s cultural renaissance and there’s a ‘living legacy’ that is developing even before we’ve submitted our first-round bid. We have an ambitious ten-year vision and successes such as this help us create that vision, but also give us the confidence to continually aim higher.

“I think there’s an appreciation of what we’re trying to do here and that the city’s cultural sector acts as one and can be trusted to deliver major projects.”


A unique approach to managing and developing cultural venues has been unveiled in Sunderland.

A new company has been set up to run major city attractions including National Glass Centre and the Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens.  The new venture – which will also oversee Sunderland’s bid for UK City of Culture in 2021 – has been hailed as an innovative model for cultural leadership.

Sunderland Culture has been formed by the University of Sunderland, the city council and Sunderland Music Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust which is developing a new cultural quarter behind the Sunderland Empire.

The company will manage and operate major cultural venues owned by the three partners, and develop and deliver large-scale cultural projects. It will also raise the profile of the city’s arts provision and manage programming for the city’s cultural sector.

Board directors from the three partner organisations have been joined by five independent board members to govern the activities of the new venture.

The newly-appointed independent trustees are: David Roberts from Manchester-based igloo regeneration; Andrew MacKay, director of the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery Trust in Cumbria; Annabel Turpin, chief executive of the ARC arts centre in Stockton; Iraa Kadchha, director of Sunderland-based RGB Media and Gillian Miller, regional director of the Association of Colleges.

They join six trustees appointed by the company’s founding partners. Representing Sunderland City Council are Fiona Brown, Executive Director of People Services and Coun John Kelly, Cabinet Member for Public Health, Wellness and Culture. Representing the MAC Trust are John Mowbray OBE, High Sheriff of Tyne and Wear and Paul Callaghan CBE, who is chair of the Leighton Group. Representing the university are chief operating officer Steve Knight and Graeme Thompson

Chief executive of Arts Council England Darren Henley welcomed the new company, which will pioneer a fresh approach to cultural provision: “Sunderland Culture is an innovative model for place-based cultural development and leadership.

“And it is good to see its establishment growing with the appointment of this experienced board. At the Arts Council we’re very keen to continue working in partnership with them, together with the independent culture and heritage organisations in the city, in support of the ambitious and exciting plans for culture in Sunderland over the next few years.”

The director of the university-owned National Glass Centre Keith Merrin will be the new company’s chief executive.

Keith said: “This new model for cultural support and governance is a first in the country and has attracted interest from arts and culture organisations across the UK. This is a very exciting period for the city.”

Graeme Thompson Pro Vice Chancellor at the University of Sunderland is the new company’s chair. He commented: “The establishment of the company and recruitment of such a strong board of directors marks a step-change in the artistic and cultural life of the city. The company will build on the excellent work done by the Sunderland Cultural Partnership and provide strong leadership and a voice for the city’s expanding arts sector.

“The company will generate income through its venues and related activities. It will also serve as a central vehicle for fundraising and will bid to access funds from a range of sources.”

The culture company will also receive funding from its three founding partners and aims to attract millions of pounds of investment to the city over the next few years.