Sunderland is celebrating after taking a huge step forward in its bid to become the next UK City of Culture 2021, making it through to the next stage of the competition.

Sunderland has made it to the final five in the hotly-contested competition and will now battle it out against other shortlisted cities, Coventry, Paisley, Stoke-On-Trent and Swansea. The bid, which was submitted at the end of April, was assessed by judges from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and they announced [this morning], that the city had made it to the final stage.

The team is now working on Sunderland’s second stage bid, which will be submitted in September, before the overall winner is announced in December.

Rebecca Ball, director of Sunderland 2021, said: “This is fantastic news for the city and we couldn’t have done it without the support from the people of Sunderland and the North East. It is down to their support and hard work that we have made it this far.”

She added: “It is a huge achievement to get to this stage of what has been an extremely competitive process. We are delighted to have come this far, but we don’t have time to be complacent; we are very much in it to win it and there is much to be done to prepare for the next stage of the competition.

“We wish all of the other shortlisted places the very best of luck as they develop their bids over the next few months.  The first stage bid submission was the culmination of months and months of hard work, so every single place that has thrown their hat in the ring deserves credit.”

The UK City of Culture title is designed to use culture as a catalyst for economic and social regeneration and to raise the profile of arts and creativity. It also helps cities develop a broader arts and culture sector, as well as attract increased business investment and boost tourism.

Winning City of Culture status could deliver a multi-million-pound boost to Sunderland. This year has seen 2017’s UK City of Culture Hull see £1billion in investment since winning the title in 2013. It is estimated Hull’s economy will see a £60million rise in this year alone.

Councillor Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “Sunderland has a unique energy and ambition, making it the perfect contender for UK City of Culture. From the New Wear Crossing, to the Vaux site development; from the regeneration of our seafront to the repurposing of buildings like the old Fire Station to prepare it for a new future, the city is undergoing unprecedented change, and this investment in infrastructure will be perfectly underpinned by a year of cultural celebration. Regardless of whether we win or lose, we have gained so much from this process.”

If Sunderland was to win, the benefits would last long beyond 2021, creating jobs and tourism opportunities throughout the area.

Shirley Atkinson, the University of Sunderland’s vice-chancellor, added: “The competition has the power to absolutely transform Sunderland’s destiny.  It will change the future for the city and the people who live and work here as well as those who visit.  A win for Sunderland would be a win for the whole of the North East.”

Paul Callaghan of the MAC Trust said: “Confidence in Sunderland has never been higher.  As a city, we are brimming with a pride and passion that runs in our veins.  Like so many people from Sunderland, I am immensely proud of our city and I do think we have a great chance of bringing this accolade to Sunderland in 2021.

“Reaching the final of this competition is absolutely incredible, and is huge testament to the Sunderland 2021 team, all of those who have worked alongside them to develop the first-stage bid, and most importantly, to the people of Sunderland and the North East, whose enthusiasm has shone through since we announced our intention to go for this title.

“We’ll need more of the same to ensure we are front of mind when the judges come to select a winning city, so we’ll celebrate that we have been shortlisted today, and the hard work will begin again tomorrow.”

Sunderland declared its intention to bid in the early part of 2016. The bid was written by a team from Sunderland, Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust, the University of Sunderland and Sunderland City Council, who have since formally come together as Sunderland Culture, a company set up to oversee the bid, run major city attractions and deliver large-scale cultural projects in the city.  It will also raise the profile of the city’s arts provision and manage programming for the city’s cultural sector.

Keith Merrin, chief executive of Sunderland Culture said: “Making it this far in such a tough competition gives our city renewed confidence, and I think we can be incredibly proud of what we have achieved.

“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but winning this title would put Sunderland firmly in the cultural spotlight, kick-starting a period of growth and creating a calendar of exciting cultural and artistic events, the Sunderland 2021 team is going to be working really hard as we prepare for the final stage submission in September.”

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