Sunderland Christmas programme hailed as best yet

20 January 2016

SUNDERLAND’s festive calendar has been held up as a success, after figures show it attracted a combined total of close to three million people.

With events and activities including the official Lights Switch On, Sunderland BID’s Frost Village, New Year celebrations at Cliffe Park, and the traditional Christmas shopping spree, Sunderland’s business bosses believe that the city has enjoyed one of its most successful Christmases yet.

Figures revealed by the Bridges Shopping Centre show that some 2.5million shoppers passed through its doors during December, up by almost seven per cent year on year.

Andy Bradley, centre director, said: “These are fantastic figures, particularly when you put them in the context of the national picture, which saw a year on year fall in footfall of three per cent. 

“The great events we are putting on in the city really are doing a fantastic job of creating a sense of vibrancy in Sunderland and in turn, we are seeing more people make the journey here to enjoy their day.”

He added: “We know that, for most people, they no longer head out for a day of shopping, but instead look for other leisure activities to create a full day experience, so the number of shoppers no doubt translated into a successful period for our food and drink retailers and leisure attractions too.”

In the run up to the party season more than 285,000 people attended the Sunderland Illuminations, which ended only a week before the city’s official festivities began. A crowd estimated at up to 4,000 flocked to the Lights Switch On, to be entertained by former X Factor start Andrea Faustini.  And Sunderland’s Frost Village, which saw an open air ice rink, traditional Christmas Market and fun fair installed at the newly developed Keel Square and land at the former Vaux site, also brought crowds into the city centre, with more than 7,500 people putting on their skates to take to the ice.

Ken Dunbar, chief executive of Sunderland Business Improvement District (BID), said: “The Christmas programme, which saw Sunderland play host to its first ice rink in years, proved to be really popular with people of all ages across the city, and that’s been reflected by the really healthy number of people who experienced our Christmas offer. 

“By creating an attraction capable of drawing people from beyond the boundaries of the city, we have been able to draw greater footfall to Sunderland, and we hope that resulted in healthy sales for our retailers in the city centre.”

The city centre Christmas programme was delivered primarily by Sunderland BID, with the council providing the Lights Switch On and the seafront fireworks and celebrations, that took place at Cliffe Park to welcome in the New Year, with around 7,000 turning out to watch the display.

Gary Hutchinson, chair of the Sunderland Business Group, which supported with the promotion of the Christmas programme, said: “Sunderland is really beginning to raise the bar with its events programme, and the festive events in the city this year showed that there is a high level of ambition here – we want the best for people in Sunderland.

“The BID and the council did a great job of creating a Christmas programme that we can be very proud of.  And the proof of the pudding is in the eating – the numbers show that they got it absolutely right.  The plan is to keep building on this to ensure that each year, it gets better and better.”