Sunderland plans £5m National Centre for Imagination

An ambitious bid has been launched to establish a new flagship cultural attraction in Sunderland following a call out to LEPs across the north of England from the £15m Northern Cultural Regeneration Fund.

The Wearside-based ‘National Centre for Imagination’ (NCI) was chosen from a strong pool of funding bids that came through to the North East LEP and aims to focus on young people’s creativity and imagination.

If successful the centre will also include an institute of performing arts.

Andrew Hodgson, chair of the North East LEP, said: “We received a very impressive set of bids to put forward for potential funding from the Northern Cultural Regeneration Fund.

“The entries we received clearly demonstrated the scale and ambition of emerging cultural projects right across the North East. The National Centre for Imagination particularly demonstrated a strong fit with the criteria set out by DCMS to create a lasting legacy of cultural regeneration.”

The two key goals of the fund are to:
• Encourage sustainable cultural and creative regeneration in the North of England
• Benefit areas of the North of England that have historically had low levels of cultural and creative investment.

Keith Merrin, chief executive of Sunderland Culture, the organisation behind the proposal and Sunderland’s bid to become City of Culture 2021, said the centre would unleash the imaginations of young people and stimulate their inventiveness.

“If we are successful in securing this funding, the National Centre for Imagination will be the headquarters of Inventors, the globally-successful programme devised by Sunderland-born artist, designer and inventor Dominic Wilcox. The NCI will also be home to DigiLab, where children and young people will have the opportunity to use emerging digital technologies to learn new skills and develop their ideas,” said Keith.

Plans include a provision for the upper floor of the NCI to be devoted to the University of Sunderland’s performing and creative arts provision, with the university working with leading practitioners and providers in the region.

“Having a stimulating, inspirational learning and development space for a range of cultural disciplines on the upper floor will help cement Sunderland’s place on the national, as well as regional, cultural map,” said Keith.

“It’s another stepping stone in raising the profile and image of the city’s overall cultural offer and further making the case for Sunderland to be UK City of Culture in 2021.”

Sunderland’s bid for £3m towards the £5m cost of the building is now in competition against ten other towns and cities bidding for part of the NCRF pot. It is understood up to four projects will be successful in their bids, with a decision due in March next year.

The NCRF fund was set up to ensure a lasting legacy for the Great Exhibition of the North, which will be held in Newcastle and Gateshead next summer. The £5 million government-funded exhibition will showcase the best of Northern art, design and innovation. The fund is also anticipated to pave the way for future investment in the Northern Powerhouse.

The NCI would be owned and operated by Sunderland Culture Ltd, the joint venture company established by Sunderland City Council, University of Sunderland and Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture Trust to deliver and manage Sunderland’s major cultural venues. Since its inception just over a year ago Sunderland Culture has attracted over £3.5m in new investment into the city for cultural activity over the coming four years.

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