My Sunderland - part 2


Selected by Ray Leonard, Chief Executive, Back on the Map, Tom McCartney, Chief Executive, Sunderland arc, Chris Mullin, MP and Jules Preston, MBE.

Chris Mullin writes:

Sunderland has changed dramatically during the twenty years since I was elected.   When I first came the Wear was still an industrial river. The yards at Pallion and Southwick were still turning out ships which were being towed upriver for completion at North Sands.

At Monkwearmouth, where the Stadium of Light now stands, the skyline was dominated by pit-shaft beneath which 2,500 men laboured in the bowels of the earth, succumbing in the process to all kinds of industrial diseases.

The southern end of Fawcett Street was dominated on both sides by Binns department store and when it closed we had to walk a depressing gauntlet of boarded shop fronts until half of it was reborn as the City library.  A row of decaying terraced Victorian houses occupied the space where Debenham’s now stands.

Our bus station, once a huge, fume-filled cavern in the centre of town, has been replaced by a state-of-the-art transport interchange, linked by the metro to Tyneside and the airport.

Our shopping centre, now the Bridges, was a wind funnel into which in winter hapless shoppers walked bent double against the prevailing hurricane, avoiding the whirlpools of litter.

Mowbray Park, which twenty years ago was much the worse for wear, has been restored to its Victorian glory; the museum has been given a make-over with the addition of a magnificent new winter garden. 

Not all the changes of the last twenty years have been for the better. Inevitably there is a certain nostalgia for the past, but who, fifteen or twenty years ago, following the collapse of the yards and the mines and so much else, would have imagined that dear old Sunderland would today be enjoying a mini boom? Everywhere there is activity.   We have a flourishing university with a riverside campus.   Elsewhere along the river luxury apartments are springing up in place of dereliction, along with new shops, bars, restaurants.  Victorian buildings, until recently in almost terminal decline are being brought back to life.  Some of the worst excesses of ‘60s and ’70 developers have been or are about to be demolished (still plenty more to go).   Our city centre is becoming habitable again.

Robert Soden, Sunderland’s (unofficial) “artist in residence,” has brilliantly captured many of these changes.  Until I saw his work, I could not have imagined ever being attracted by  a painting of a petrol station or a football stadium, let alone a multi-story car park.   Robert’s paintings are a compelling record of a city in the process of being reborn.    

Jules Preston writes:

As a ‘Geordie’ who has worked in Sunderland for some 20 years I consider myself to be an honorary ‘Mackem.’ I was therefore thrilled to be asked to be a selector for this exhibition. Sunderland has much to offer and it has a very compact city centre. This, together with its traditional industries, has resulted in a city which has a surprise around every corner. Robert Soden’s work  captures much of that.

When I arrived in Sunderland the traditional industries of shipbuilding and coal mining were still around. I cannot help but respect the past; Sunderland was the largest shipbuilding town in the world in 1900. My selection therefore reflects the past whilst hopefully not resting on the past. The future is equally important and a couple of the choices show that as it develops. My third element consists of wonderfully atmospheric reflections of the seafront. Whatever the era, the seafront at Roker continues to be a tremendous asset of the city.


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