Project aims to unlock and grow City’s cultural community

A NEW initiative aims to support Sunderland’s cultural community by linking practitioners with sector specialists and delivering training by industry experts.

The programme is an extension of Sunderland Culture’s Unlock programme which was established to grow the city’s cultural infrastructure and is being delivered by Sunderland Culture on behalf of University of Sunderland’s Innovate and Grow project, funded by the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF).

The UKSPF is part of the UK Government’s Levelling Up agenda, aiming to improve the standard of living across the UK by investing in communities, supporting local businesses, people, and skills.

Unlock will have three strands, the first of which will be the opportunity for Sunderland companies working in arts and culture to apply for one of ten £1,000 grants to support and grow their businesses.

Laura Brewis, who is managing Unlock for Sunderland Culture, explained: “We’ll have ten grants available for sole traders, freelancers and companies to expand their existing creative businesses. The grants aren’t aimed at start-ups, but existing companies who could do with some practical support to help them to the next level.”

The second strand is a mentor programme, aimed at sole traders and companies who would benefit from one-to-one support in their chosen area of the cultural sector. Six months of mentoring support, which will match individuals with established practitioners, is available for up to eight people.

Laura explained: “ It could be that we’ll find experts in specific fields for the individuals, or they might have an idea who they’d like to work with and we’ll see if that is possible.”

The third strand is Unlock Backstage and is being managed by Sunderland Culture’s Head of Performance Helen Green.

She explained: “Unlock Backstage is aimed at those already working in the sector who are looking to develop their skills. We’re specifically looking for people interested in developing their skills in lighting and sound who would benefit from a programme that could include training, master-classes with experienced professionals and mentoring.

“We’re also arranging backstage visits to regional and national theatres, as well as visits to performances at theatres across the UK to see the impact lighting and sound can have on live performances.

“We’ll be giving people at the early stages of their careers access to some of the UK’s best and brightest sound and lighting designers and technicians. We’ll be focusing on the performing arts, theatre and dance, both indoor and outdoor as well as music.”

Six people will be chosen to benefit from the Unlock Backstage programme, and recipients must be over 18 and live or work in the cultural sector Sunderland.

Three briefing sessions have been arranged for anyone interested in any of the three Unlock strands:

  • Unlock Support Programme Briefing at Seventeen Nineteen: Thursday, May 23, 11am-2pm (group briefing at 11.30am and 1.30pm);
  • Unlock Support Programme Briefing at Pop Recs Ltd: Thursday, May 30, 11am-2pm (group briefing at 11.30am and 1.30pm);
  • Online Zoom briefing session: Tuesday June 4, 6pm. Details for this session will be made available through Sunderland Culture’s social media channels.

Sunderland’s Innovate and Grow programme is part of the wider Enterprising Sunderland project, funded by the UKSPF, overseen by Sunderland City Council, and set up to help stimulate business start-up, growth and innovation.

The programme, which is being delivered by a consortium of delivery partners from across the city, is providing advice and support to those already running – or looking to run – their own business.

This includes inspiring residents to consider self-employment and providing opportunities for everyone to access free, tailored advice, workshops and online resources, as well as free, monthly events to help existing entrepreneurs overcome the common challenges often associated with growing a business.

The consortium delivering the programme, led by the North East BIC, includes Back on the Map, Sunderland Bangladeshi International Centre, Sunderland BME Network, The Prince’s Trust, University of Sunderland, Smarta and Sunderland City Council.

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