Published on 20 November 2023
The University of Sunderland is part of a new £1m three-year programme to use arts and culture to help transform the lives of children and young people living in poverty in Sunderland will launch next year.
The Culture Start programme will be supported by a £1.196m Place Partnership award from Arts Council England through the National Lottery and will benefit more than 8,000 children and young people living in poverty on Wearside.
Sunderland Culture will lead the Culture Start partnership, which will deliver activities into community venues across Wearside as well as in some of the city’s main cultural venues. The initiative for the partnership came from Sunderland MAC Trust working with Sunderland Culture. Their partners include Together for Children, Children North East, Gentoo, InspirED (Sunderland Local Cultural Education Partnership), North East Youth, Sunderland College and the Institute for Economic and Social Inclusion at the University of Sunderland.
Rebecca Ball, Chief Executive of Sunderland Culture, explained: ‘We know that taking part in creative activities and cultural events can have a really positive impact on children and young people, but all too often the children who might benefit most, have the least opportunity to take part.
“The north-east has the highest rate of child poverty in the UK, and the rate in Sunderland has increased steadily over the past five years, exceeding both national and north east averages.
“Culture Start is an opportunity for partners across the city to work together to remove the barriers that prevent children from taking part in cultural experiences. We want to show how access to cultural opportunities can start to redress some of the disadvantages faced by young people growing up in poverty, building the skills and confidence that can enhance life chances and choices.”
Activities will be delivered by many of the city’s most respected cultural and youth organisations including The Cultural Spring, Sunderland Empire, We Make Culture, Seventeen Nineteen, Sunderland Music Hub and Sunderland All Together Consortium, as well as in partnership with creative organisations, museums, galleries and theatre companies from across the country.
There will be a free-to-access creative programme including term-time and holiday activities in schools, youth and community settings, and a regular under-12s programme of free culture clubs which will build confidence and creativity, and also offer tailored activities for children needing more support, including those with special educational needs or disabilities.
The young people’s programme will develop skills and career pathways, offer work experience, volunteering and summer school opportunities and more, to help young people transition into adulthood.
Rebecca added: “Working alongside partners across education, housing and youth services, we believe the city’s cultural organisations have a powerful role to play in combating the impact of poverty on young people.
“But we need to ensure the activities we offer can be accessed by all families, regardless of income levels. Children North East will be supporting us to identify and remove the barriers young people face in accessing the arts, to ensure there is a lasting legacy.
“We are enormously grateful to Arts Council England for their investment in this transformational project for Sunderland.”
Jane Tarr, Director North, Arts Council England said: “One of the aims of our Let’s Create strategy is that everyone should have access to fantastic creative and cultural experiences wherever they live and whatever their background which can only be achieved through collaboration.
“Our Place Partnership fund is designed to help places make a step-change in the cultural and creative lives of the community and this is exactly what Culture Start will do in Sunderland. It will make potentially life-altering differences in the lives of children and young people who are growing up in challenging circumstances and I can’t wait to see the project’s progress.”
Paul Callaghan, Chair of the Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture Trust (MAC Trust), said: “We are delighted that Arts Council England is being so supportive of Sunderland's Culture Start programme and we would also like to thank the Trusts and Foundations who have pledged to support this vital work.
“The initiative for the project came from our deep concern about the rise in child poverty in Sunderland and the north-east, with so many children and young people in our city living in poverty. When money is so tight it is very difficult for families to give their kids access to music, dance and drama in a way that other families would take for granted.
“The MAC Trust is determined to do everything we can to give these children opportunities to access arts and culture and we believe that by working in partnership across the city we can make a step change in providing creative opportunities for these young people.
“Our aim is for all five to 18 year olds to have access to arts and cultural opportunities and for Sunderland’s Culture Start programme to become the template and exemplar for communities throughout the country.”
Coun Linda Williams, Sunderland City Council’s Cabinet Member for Young People, Learning and Skills, added: “This is great news as Culture Start is a very ambitious and exciting project to introduce more arts and culturally themed events and opportunities to children and young people.
“The cost of living crisis continues to affect many already hard-pressed families and this cross-city partnership driven by Arts Council England funding is a great boost for our city.
“One of the most important parts of the project is very much how the programme and its events will be guided and influenced by consultation with those who will use and gain from it.
“Alongside the holiday and term-time events activities that the City Council and Together for Children provide, Culture Start is continuing our city’s mission to give all children and young people the best possible start in life.”
The £1.196m grant from Arts Council England is a major funding boost for the three-year Culture Start programme, which will cost £1.55m to deliver. Additional funding has been pledged by Sunderland Local Cultural Education Partnership and University of Sunderland. The grant requires match funding which Sunderland Culture and the Sunderland Music Arts and Culture Trust are pursuing active leads to secure.