Sunderland organisations pledge to support creative industries

A group of organisations have come together to support creative industries in Sunderland through a new eighteen-month programme.

Unlock the City is led by Sunderland Culture, who will be working in partnership with the North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC), Digital Catapult North East, and Sunderland BME Network.

Together, they will deliver a comprehensive package of support including workshops, residentials, mentoring and one-to-one sessions, with the aim to increase confidence and facilitate a more diverse, sustainable and profitable creative sector within Sunderland.

The programme is funded by a Coastal Communities Fund grant of £325,000 and is part of a wider £820,000 investment in the city which will also see a redevelopment of Sunderland’s seafront. The grant is the result of a successful joint bid from Sunderland City Council and Sunderland Culture.

Keith Merrin, Chief Executive of Sunderland Culture, said:

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with the North East BIC, Digital Catapult North East, and Sunderland BME Network to collectively pool our organisational expertise and resources to help support our creative industries.

“We know that providing help in key areas such as business skills, digital development and bespoke mentoring will make a real difference to our creative graduates, start-ups and existing SMEs across the city and support the overall continued growth of Sunderland’s cultural sector”

Councillor John Kelly, Cabinet Member for Communities and Culture at Sunderland City Council, said: “We’re delighted to see this programme taking shape. It will provide a real boost for our creative industries and everyone who works in them, helping them to grow and thrive.”

As part of the programme, Digital Catapult North East, based at Sunderland Software City, will deliver a series of residentials for individual creative practitioners, creative businesses and venues in the city, introducing organisations to the digital sector and supporting them to implement digital development plans.

The North East BIC will lead a programme of business skills development sessions aimed at creative businesses in the city, and have appointed a Creative Business Advisor, Victoria Moodle, to deliver targeted support and guidance.

Sunderland BME network will offer bespoke mentoring and events to help growth and sustainability, as well as undertaking a mapping exercise to establish the volume and depth of the creative sector within the BME community.

Northern Powerhouse Minister, Rt Hon Jake Berry MP, said“This Government is committed to levelling up opportunities for people across the Northern Powerhouse and along the Great British Coast.

“That’s why we are backing Sunderland with a total of £3.36 million from our Coastal Communities Fund. The creative industries are at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse economy and this latest £325,000 investment will help people develop the skills they need to get jobs and grow this important sector in the city.”

The Unlock the City programme builds on and enhances the work initiated by Sunderland Culture’s original Unlock programme, funded by Arts Council England and National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of the Great Place Programme.

The Coastal Communities Fund will enable Sunderland Culture to continue this work and further invest in developing a creative co-working space in the city for 2020.

The programme enhances the work already being delivered to support the creative industries in the city through the Business Development team at Sunderland City Council and the University of Sunderland’s Hope Street Exchange.

Youth Arts Exhibition 2020: Call for Young Artists

A call has gone out for Young Artists aged 11 – 19 to submit work to be exhibited at Arts Centre Washington’s Youth Arts exhibition 2020.

Arts Centre Washington’s Youth Arts Exhibition has become a staple in the main Gallery’s calendar as its reputation has built over the last few years. Each year more and more high quality pieces of artwork revived to make up the exhibition. Sunderland Culture work with a team of young curators who help to keep the exhibition sustainable and of the highest quality, showcasing the talent of young people in Washington and all across the Sunderland area.

Youth Arts Exhibition: BRIGHT LIGHTS (3 Feb – 14 Mar 2020) will be an exhibition of artwork made by promising young artists aged 11-19, curated by a group of young people, supported by professionals.

The digital submission process, from which artwork will be selected by the young curators to be installed in the exhibition at Arts Centre Washington, is now open.

All artwork, whether selected for exhibition or not, will be uploaded onto our Instagram account using the hashtag #brightlightsofsunderland and to our website as a record of achievement and so the work can be shared with family and friends.

This is a call out to young people aged 11-19 living in Sunderland or the wider Sunderland area who might like to apply to be a young curator or to submit their artwork for BRIGHT LIGHTS.

How to submit artwork:
Please download the submission form below for artwork criteria and more information. Email completed forms, along with up to three images, to [email protected]
by 12noon on Friday 10th January 2020.


The exhibition runs from Monday 3 February – Saturday 14 March


Young people in Sunderland plan own event celebrating difference

A group of young people in Sunderland have been given the chance to plan, curate and deliver their own event at Arts Centre Washington.

Recruited by Sunderland Culture earlier this year as young ambassadors to help shape the cultural future of the area, the event will be the first significant project for the team, who are all aged between 13 and 25.

Taking place on Friday 1 November (6.30pm-9pm), Celebrate Different is a FREE  event exploring themes impacting many young people today, including body positivity, identity, gender, race, and culture through specially commissioned artworks made by professional artists.

Taking over the entire Centre, the event is aimed at young people and will be full of things to experience, do and see, including performances, music and visual art. 

Over the summer, Sunderland Culture’s Young Ambassadors have been working with North East arts organisation, Helix Arts, through its Make it Happen programme to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to plan, fund and co-produce events, exhibitions, festivals and projects in their own communities.

Cheryl Gavin, Senior Project Manager at Helix Arts, said:

 “Our Make it Happen programme is about giving people the skills to deliver ambitious and exciting arts events where they live.

“The Sunderland Young Cultural Ambassadors are a creative and talented group, who are keen to explore issues that affect many young people by working with artists and performers.

“Through Make it Happen, we were able to equip them with everything they need to deliver their own arts event; everything from looking after budgets, fundraising, commissioning to appointing artists and event planning.”

Rebecca Ball, Creative Director, Sunderland Culture, said:

“It’s hugely important to empower young people in Sunderland and to give them a voice on what kind of events or culture they want to see and experience in their area.

“The team have been working incredibly hard over the last few weeks and we encourage everyone to come along to Arts Centre Washington on the 1 November to join the celebration!” 

Julia, aged 14 from High Barnes, a Sunderland Culture Young Ambassador Team member, said:

“These projects are great for young people, as it gives them a set of life skills that are so, so important if you want to go into the Arts. By young people getting involved in this sort of thing, it’s helping to give us a really powerful voice and way of a way of expressing our ideas.

“It’s not every day that a group of young people run and organise an event of this scale, so we’d love everyone to come along, celebrate with us, and have a good time!”

The event has been made possible thanks to funding from Culture Bridge North East and Hays Travel.

Tickets for the event are free but can be pre-booked from or by calling Arts Centre Washington’s box office on 0191 561 3455.


CURTAIN UP at Sunderland’s new £11m venue for music, dance, theatre and comedy is a step closer after work began on its city centre site.

The auditorium is being built adjacent to the newly-restored and repurposed Fire Station on the corner of Garden Place and Dun Cow Street and will be the centrepiece of the city’s Music Arts and Cultural Quarter.

The £7m Fire Station project was officially opened by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge last year and the new auditorium will be open in the spring of 2021.

The Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust is behind the development and secured a £6.25m award from Arts Council England‘s Capital: Large Grants  programme, funded by the National lottery.

The Arts Council’s capital programme supports organisations to develop resilience and to become more sustainable businesses and the grant will help to make the vision of a new, mid-scale venue for
the city a reality.

Together the new auditorium and the renovated Fire Station will provide an integrated centre for the performing arts that will sit next to, and very much complement, the hugely successful Sunderland Empire. While on a smaller scale than the Empire, it will present an exciting programme of music, dance, drama and comedy.

Sunderland construction company Brims has been chosen to build the new venue and has already started on the development. Recent Brims projects include the Tombola HQ building on the Sunderland Riverside and the refurbishment of Gilbridge House on Keel Square as headquarters for Hays Travel.

The new auditorium will have retractable seating for 450 and will be able to host 800 people standing. The glazed foyer at the front of the new building will be clad in terracotta, matching the colour and tone of the red-brick fire station.

The award-winning architect behind the design of the auditorium is Jason Flanagan, who was project director for the iconic Sage building in Gateshead. His other designs include the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff and LiveWorks in Newcastle.

Following completion of the auditorium, the MAC Trust will pass programming, operation and management of the auditorium to Sunderland Culture, of which MAC Trust was a founding partner.

Paul Callaghan CBE, Chair of the MAC Trust, said:

“We’re delighted that work on the auditorium has started and are excited by the transformational effect we’re sure it will have on the city’s arts and culture sector. It will be a game-changer in terms of
the cultural offer the city will be able to deliver.

“We’re extremely grateful to Arts Council England for their generous capital grant, and I would also like to thank Sunderland Council who have offered tremendous support during the development stage for this superb new cultural asset for the city.”

Rebecca Ball, Creative Director of Sunderland Culture, added:

“The auditorium will be a landmark venue of which the city can be proud, presenting local, regional,
national and international artists to local audiences and giving new and emerging artistic talent a platform on which to shine. We’re sure it will attract new audiences into the city – from across the region and beyond.”

Sunderland musician, Ross Millard, of the Futureheads and Frankie and the Heartstrings, and a MAC Trustee, was delighted by the news:

“The music scene has always been really healthy in this city and a brand new venue of this size will be a great way to support our local musicians and performers. It will also allow Sunderland to regularly attract top touring musicians, too, which is a massive boost.”

Nicholas Baumfield, Senior Relationship Manager at Arts Council England, added:

“We are delighted to be supporting Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture Trust with National Lottery investment from our capital programme, which helps organisations build dynamic spaces for great work and develop their sustainability. The new cultural quarter will firmly establish Sunderland’s identity in the North and we are very excited about the creative opportunities that it will bring for artists and
audiences. Along with the Fire Station, the new auditorium will attract more people to the city and will raise the profile of Sunderland’s contribution to arts and culture in the UK.”

Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. Arts Council supports a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Between 2015 and 2018, Arts Council plans to invest £1.1 billion of public money from government and an estimated £700
million from the National Lottery to help create experiences for as many people as possible across the country.

Councillor John Kelly, Cabinet Member for Communities and Culture, Sunderland City Council, said: “We’re delighted to have been able to support this latest stage of the development, bringing the City Council’s total grant funding in the project to £690,000. The auditorium will be a very welcome addition to the city’s cultural offer, complementing Sunderland Empire and the adjacent Fire Station. It is one of a number of significant projects in this part of the city which started with the council’s
development of Keel Square, which are part of a wider £1.5bn programme of investment underway in Sunderland and include £0.5bn billion for the city centre.”

The new auditorium is the third phase of the MAC Trust’s transformation of the area. The first phase was the award-winning renovation of the historic Dun Cow and Peacock pubs, and the second stage was the transformation of the old Fire Station into a restaurant, heritage centre and dance and drama studios.


Sunderland Culture have announced the recipients of their inaugural Sunderland Creative Development Fellowships. 

Launched in June 2019, the Sunderland Creative Development Fellowships aim to support artistic development within Sunderland and over sixty applications were submitted from creative practitioners from across the borough.

Fourteen Fellowships were awarded in total, including eight to graduates from the University of Sunderland.

Recipients range from a broad selection of creative disciplines and also represent practitioners at varying stages of their careers – from emerging to established. These include writing (Iain Rowan, Alan Parkinson), performance (Rosie Vleugels), music (Rhys Patterson), curatorship (Rory Williams), photography (Jo Howell), illustration and design (Kathryn Robertson), glass art (Jeffery Sarmiento, Rachel Welford, Anna Selway), visual art ( Susan Loughlin, Rachel Groves), participatory art (Steph Robson), and Sunderland Maritime Heritage.

The Creative Development Fellowships will enable each individual to develop their creative practice in a range of diverse ways – from funding practical tools and equipment, mentorship, business support and courses, to completing a music album or exhibiting work around the country. 

Laura Brewis, Producer for Artist Development and Creative Economy at Sunderland Culture, said:


“Many funding applications ask applicants to do a “project”, but we wanted to launch a programme that offered support to creative practitioners and organisations in Sunderland to develop themselves and think about what might make them more resilient as practitioners or move them to the next stage of their career.”

“We were thrilled by the amount of fantastic applications, particularly the number of graduates from the University of Sunderland who have been successful and are choosing to stay and work in the city. We hope that programmes such as the Sunderland Creative Development Bursary will make the cultural and heritage sectors in the city stronger and more sustainable.”

Rachel Welford, who specialises in making glass artworks for architectural settings and is in the final stage of a PhD at the University of Sunderland, said:

“Although the creative aspects of my art are going well, the business and financial side of what I do needs improving! So I’ll be using the Creative Development Bursary for mentoring and business support to improve profitability and growth.”

Many of the Fellowship recipients intend to use this opportunity to develop their practice to share with the community. These include Susan Loughlin, who aims to design and test a model for a range of participatory art opportunities for local people, and aerial circus artist Rosie Vleugals who will be attending a professional course and purchasing safety equipment to use for performing, teaching and training.

Rosie said:

I have been training in aerial circus arts for the past six years. Once I started, it quickly became a passion, a painful one but a passion nonetheless! This help from Sunderland Culture will assist me in taking the next step – bringing new skills home to the North East to help other aerialists and budding performers.”

Over the next year, Sunderland Culture will also be offering a range of internships at Sunderland Culture itself and at other partnering organisations in order to create pathways into the creative industries.

The internships span a range of different areas, offering a wide variety of career experience opportunities.

Three graduates of Sunderland University are currently undertaking internships across different creative industries: Eddie Scott as Marketing and Social Media intern with Sunderland Music, Michael Davidson as Programme and Exhibitions intern at NEPN, and  Eve Campbell and Jenny McNamara are undertaking a joint Curatorial Internship at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens.

For more internship opportunities, available throughout the year, visit Sunderland Culture’s opportunity page at

The Sunderland Creative Development Fellowships are supported through the Unlock strand of Sunderland Culture’s Great Place programme, supported by Arts Council England and National Lottery Heritage Fund, and funded by Coastal Communities Fund, a partnership with Sunderland City Council.

Rebel Women celebrated as part of England’s largest festival of History and Culture

As part of Heritage Open Days’ 25th birthday, Sunderland Culture will be celebrating the lives of Rebel Women of Sunderland with specially commissioned artworks and stories.

Inspired by the popular children’s book Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls which has shone a light on the achievements of women around the world, nominations for Rebel Women of Sunderland were crowd-sourced through social media with over 100 nominations of inspirational women of the city. 

Ten women were selected from past and present to represent the diversity of the achievements of the women of Sunderland. 

Two creatives from Sunderland were commissioned to collaborate on the project and tell the stories of the women: illustrator  Kathryn Robertson, a recent graduate of University of Sunderland, and writer Jessica Andrews, whose debut novel Saltwater was published by Sceptre in June this year. 

The Rebel Women of Sunderland selected are:

  • Dr Marion Philips, first female MP in Sunderland 
  • Margaret Dryburgh, teacher and missionary
  • Ida and Lousie Cook, activists who smuggled Jews out of Nazi Germany
  • Elizabeth Donnison, founder of the Donnison School
  • Hope Winch, first head of the University’s pharmacy department 
  • Kenickie (Lauren Laverne, Marie Nixon and Emma Jackson), one of the most famous female-led bands to come from Sunderland 
  • Steph Houghton and Jill Scott, England footballers
  • Abbie Robinson, Team GB paraclimber
  • Kate Adie, journalist and broadcaster
  • Emeli Sande, musician and University of Sunderland Chancellor

Laura Brewis, Creative Producer at Sunderland Culture said:

“The theme of Heritage Open Day is ‘People Power’ and we wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women from the city from a historical perspective, but also in the present. Many of these stories are unknown and we were very keen to highlight them. 

“We were thrilled to get so many nominations and we know that this is just the start of the Rebel Women of Sunderland project – we hope to tell more stories in the future and encourage people to keep nominating!

“That we were able to do this by commissioning young female creatives from the city is also really important, as we hope that hearing these stories will inspire the next generation of Rebel Women in the city!”

The first chance to see the Rebel Women of Sunderland illustrations and stories will be at Sunderland Culture’s Mini Manifesto family event Saturday 14 September (11am-3pm) at Pop Recs Ltd on 170 High Street West.

Part of Heritage Open Days, the family event invites children to have a go at badge and placard-making whilst nominating their own inspirational women. There will also be an opportunity to hear the stories of Rebel Women of Sunderland, written by Jessica Andrews, read by a storyteller from Theatre Space North East. 

Following the event on 14 September, the project will remain at Pop Recs for the duration 

This project is produced as part of Sunderland Culture’s Great Place programme, funded by Arts Council England and National Lottery Heritage Fund, and in partnership with Sunderland’s Heritage Action Zone and Open Heritage.