Sunderland, passion and our collective pride.

I love being a writer, I take great satisfaction from the whole creative process and there is a fantastic buzz when someone likes my work.

I get to meet a lot of creative people who are all passionate about what they do and writing is definitely a passion of mine.

Those that know me will tell you that whilst I’m generally laid back, I like a good argument, whether it’s politics, sport or people in general, I’m never short of an opinion. But there is one subject that gets me particularly passionate. The city of Sunderland.

I get defensive, occasionally too defensive, when the place is criticised. I latch on to any positive news and spread it far and wide. Recently we have been under the cosh with a lot of bad publicity due to how the city voted in the recent EU referendum. There were many complex reasons why people voted the way they did and I don’t intend to get into that here but the way we were portrayed in the media wasn’t the city I know and love. It hurt, it still does.

I am immensely proud of my home city but it’s sometimes difficult to articulate why. I don’t go in for cliches so saying things like ‘we have the friendliest people’ or ‘it’s the best city in the world’ won’t work for me. I’m not naive, I have travelled extensively and I realise that Sunderland has its limitations. We are financially poor, our city centre, whilst having some great individual pieces of architecture, isn’t the prettiest and as much as I love our football team, the best we manage is flattering to deceive.

There must be something, something that inspires so much passion inside me and many others. We have a stunning coastline and running along the top at Roker and Seaburn when the sun comes up makes me forget how much running hurts. We do have friendly people and we are also very good at keeping people’s feet on the ground. We have a proud industrial history with shipbuilding and mining as well as having one of the most productive car plants in the world at Nissan.

As wonderful as these things are, there is something else. There is something that appears only rarely but it is always bubbling under the surface. It’s not about why I am proud of Sunderland, it’s about why we are proud of Sunderland. There is a collective pride that shows itself when we get something right. The whole city comes together as one and when you experience it, you realise that it is something unique.

Football is the obvious example, anybody in London for the Wembley weekend in 2014 will know what I mean. Even when people weren’t wearing colours, you knew they were from Sunderland. Lads and lasses from all parts of the world congregated in our capital and we owned it for one wonderful weekend with the only connection being Sunderland. The humour, togetherness and friendliness made me wonder what could happen if we got it right more often.

The Split Festival in Mowbray Park in the same year had that atmosphere. The sun was belting down, the park was beautiful and the music was great but it was the broad range of people coming together to enjoy themselves that caught my eye. I thought maybe I was seeing something that others weren’t but I bumped into a mate and we didn’t speak at first, we just nodded with big stupid grins on our faces. We spoke about it a week later and we both said that we felt we were witnessing something special. Split is sadly no longer around but I witnessed a hint of it at Sunniside last year and Summer Streets is starting to get more and more attention.

Every year we host the biggest (and best) free Airshow in Europe. Every year it is brilliant but I don’t have a particular interest in aircraft. You can’t fail to be impressed as a Vulcan Bomber flies past the pub or when a Harrier hovers above the cliffs in front of you but no matter how majestic they are, it’s having the city converge on the seafront to mingle with people from all over the world and have a great time is what makes it magical.

Sunderland will be the starting port for the Tall Ships Race in 2018 and you know that it’s going to be the same.

Grayson Perry scratched the surface of this in his great show In The Best Possible Taste where he showed it was the people of Sunderland rather than buildings or money which makes it somewhere to be proud of. It is definitely worth a watch if you can find it.

When you have witnessed events like this, you wonder why we can’t do it more often, why we can’t bottle the magic and use it over and over again. There isn’t a simple answer, I wish there was but we have an opportunity.

Sunderland is bidding for the UK City of Culture in 2021. My two passions are coming together and we have a chance to change. A chance to make these magical moments the norm rather than the exception.

It’s not going to be easy, nobody thinks it will be but we have to give it our best shot. There’s a lot of good people involved in the bid but to make it work, we all have to engage, we all have to be involved.

The MAC Trust have shown with their refurbishment of the Dun Cow and plans for the Fire Station that we can build on the beauty we already have rather than start from scratch. We already have the core materials, we just need to polish them up and make them shine.

The word ‘culture’ can scare a lot of people, they think culture isn’t for them but culture isn’t all art, theatre and books, it is football, it is pubs, music and airshows. Most of all it is people and we have great people in abundance. Lets make this happen.

To learn more about the bid and what it could mean, follow this link.

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