Sunderland - a Premier city full of optimism

PUBLISHED: 00:15 24 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:57 20 February 2013

Sunderland – a Premier city full of optimism

Sunderland â€" a Premier city full of optimism

Peek through the looking glass of Sunderland and you'll find a lot more than you bargained for, reports Barbara Mason

With the name stemming from the sunderlonde - meaning land which is separate - Sunderland is not a place you pass through en route elsewhere; it is a destination with a lot more going for it than some might realise.

Im born and bred in Sunderland and proud of my roots, says Paul Downey who runs Furniture 2 Go Direct, a high-class furniture store just outside the city centre. My family has traded in Sunderland for 100 years. My dad was a well-known funeral director while my brother used to have a chain of chip shops and now rents property.

We made a decision to move out here when the new eastern radial route opened up because its a prime site for us due to the passing traffic and weve got free parking right next to our 15,000 sq ft showroom. We use the same suppliers as places like Barker & Stonehouse and Fenwicks. We sell quality products that are top brand names that we source all from all over the world and, while our prices are competitive, its our after sales service that is especially important to us.

Mr Downeys commitment to his birthplace is echoed by Harry Collinson Senior, of Collinson Jewellers. Im Sunderland born and bred and have been in business since 1981, beginning with a watch repair shop in Blandford Street.

At a time when many businesses across the country are experiencing difficult trading conditions, Collinsons is thriving in the last original house in one of the city centres oldest shopping streets, Crowtree Road. Were bucking the national trend. We took Pandora jewellery on four years ago and it has been such a phenomenal success weve just opened a new Pandora shop in The Bridges, where weve taken on seven new staff. Weve been named Sunderlands Independent Retailer of the Year for 2010 and attended an excellent event at the Stadium of Light to collect the award, says Mr Collinson.

With 400 new jobs being announced in January at Nissan - Britains biggest car plant and Europes most productive - there is good news in Sunderland to counter-balance economic difficulties the city has faced before. Once the worlds biggest shipbuilding centre, that heritage has disappeared along with the pits and glassmaking. However, where Wearmouth pit, once the biggest in the Durham coalfield, stood, is now the Stadium of Light, the biggest and best football stadium built in England in the second half of the 20th century.

Just down river is The National Glass Centre, near to Sunderlands oldest building, the AD 674 St Peters Church, where Benedict Biscop introduced glass-making to Britain, while in terms of new industry Sunderland has been rated as one of the worlds top seven most intelligent IT communities with the latest boost being up to 140 jobs to be created at a new multi-million-pound Software Centre, announced in March.

Every summer Sunderland hosts Europes biggest free air show, the city has the north of Englands biggest swimming pool and the countrys most northerly Barclays Premier League football club, which in addition to top flight football stages major music events, with superstar P!nk scheduled to perform on June 11.

Sunderland also boasts the only theatre between Manchester and Edinburgh large enough to stage touring West End productions. The Empire even markets itself as The West End of the North East and specialises in musicals, opera and ballet. One of the few theatres in the country to have four tiers, the Empire is now into its second century and can boast having hosted The Beatles on their first ever UK tour.

No one has ever seen a yellow submarine in Roker Marina but a trip along the Seaburn and Roker seafront can be a delight on a spring or summer day. There are a good range of hotels, restaurants, cafes and pubs along the seafront that so inspired the artist LS Lowry, who used to take his holidays in Sunderland, and the author Lewis Carroll, who devised Jabberwocky on his visits to Whitburn. He also had a sister who lived in Southwick, is believed to have based the Alice from Alice in Wonderland on the daughter of a friend who lived in Boldon and had his poem The Walrus and the Carpenter inspired by a stuffed walrus on display in Sunderland museum.

Sunderland honours Carroll with a bronze statue of a walrus in Mowbray Park that backs onto the museum and has an Alice in Wonderland theme in its childrens playground. Peek through the looking glass of Sunderland and youll find an awful lot more than you might have imagined.

Wonders of Wearside

April 12 - 17: When Harry Met Sally. Brand new UK tour.Sunderland Empire, tel 0844 847 2499.

May 1: Sunderland v Manchester United, Stadium of Light. Tel 0871 911 1973.

Ongoing to May 9: China - journey to the East. A British Museum tour. Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, free. Tel 0191 553 2323.

June 11: P!nks Summer Funhouse Carnival tour - Stadium of Light. Tel: 0871 230 1080.

July 3 & 4: International Friendship Festival (kite festival) Tel 0191 553 2000.

July 24 & 25: Sunderland international air-show. Europes biggest free air-show - winner of awards including Best Tourism Experience in the Enjoy England awards.

National Glass Centre: Tel 0191 515 5555

Fulwell Mill, the only working mill in the north east. Tel. 0191 516 9790

Sunderlands Trafalgar Square

Part of Sunderlands little- known history is its Trafalgar Square, opened in 1840, five years before Londons Trafalgar Square was completed.

Situated in one of the oldest parts of the East End, Sunderlands Trafalgar Square honours 76 sailors from Sunderland who were present at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. These early Victorian seamens almshouses provide a haven of tranquillity just a few hundred yards away from the shoreline and just around the corner from the Hearts of Oak public house, which dates from 1711 and has its own Trafalgar Room displaying items honouring Nelson and his men, including a piece of wood and copper from HMS Victory and a letter to the people of Sunderland from a descendant of Nelson himself.

In this part of old Sunderland that was once the centre of town also stands Holy Trinity Church. A Grade One Listed Building from 1719, it once hosted Sunderlands Council Chamber and Library and is now opened for occasional concerts and events.

With the highest population of any city between Leeds and Edinburgh, Sunderland is a vibrant place with a huge population that had the distinction of being the biggest town in Europe before it was granted city status.

It remains the largest city between Leeds and Edinburgh, eclipsing Newcastle in terms of its population.

Until local government reorganisation in 1974, Sunderland was part of County Durham and, with the Wear flowing from deep in the County of the Prince Bishops, through majestic Durham city itself to its mouth at Sunderland, Wearsiders tend to have a passionate sense of identity and pride.

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