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.”

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