City announces landmark event to commemorate centenary of the Battle of the Somme


Sunderland Cultural Partnership (SCP) is pleased to announce details of a major event taking place in July, in partnership with 14-18 NOW, the UK’s official arts programme for the First World War centenary.

This ambitious new event explores the legacy of one of the most traumatic battles in military history, the Battle of the Somme, through the prism of a single city - Sunderland. Asunder will be the first 14-18 NOW co-commission in the North East.

Jenny Waldman, Director, 14-18 NOW, said:

"Bob Stanley has brought together incredible musicians and film-artists to create a unique, contemporary take on Sunderland's Somme story. The legacy of the First World War in the region, from the men on the battlefield to those working in the shipyards, needs to be told to a new generation and we are delighted to be working with Sunderland Cultural Partnership to bring this extraordinary event to the Empire.”

Asunder will see award winning film maker Esther Johnson tell a powerful story of the city’s involvement through largely unknown personal experiences. The soundtrack to the film will be scored by two renowned North East bands; Field Music and Warm Digits, who will perform live with Royal Northern Sinfonia. Guided by esteemed writer, film maker and musician Bob Stanley, the project’s Creative Producer, Asunder will premiere at a major event in Sunderland Empire on 10 July before touring the city and UK at selected venues during the WW1 centenary.

As well as the live performance in the Empire, a ‘wrap around’ programme will see outdoor spaces, buildings and other locations around the city, and in particular the city centre, brought to life on the day with a imagery, happenings, performances, displays and re-enactments.

‘The performance will be alluring, poetic and political. I want everyone who sees it to take pride in the region’s unique history and to feel they can help to build its future.’

Bob Stanley, Creative Producer

Sunderland’s museums, arts and heritage organisations will also be working with communities across the city from spring, to explore local stories and experiences and develop creative responses to life in Sunderland during 1916. Working with Sunderland Music Education Hub, Sunderland Libraries Service, Culture Bridge North East, heritage partners, artists and musicians, there will also be a programme of activity for Sunderland schools to be involved in. The community and schools programme forms an important part of our core commitment to drive up engagement in culture for all of our residents. We know that taking part in art and heritage can help to broaden the horizons of our children, build stronger communities, reduce isolation and create a buzzing and vibrant place to live. Our approach will ensure everyone who lives in Sunderland will have the chance to take part in Asunder – whether as a participant or as audience.

Cabinet Secretary for Sunderland City Council and Chair of the Sunderland Cultural Partnership, Councillor Mel Speding said: “This ambitious programme reflects both our city’s commitment to our shared heritage and our cultural future, using one to commemorate the other.

“Every family in Sunderland was affected by the First World War, and through this project we hope people will join us in remembering the sacrifice of those involved with the Battle of the Somme one hundred years ago which helped shape world history.

“This event is part of an exciting programme that we have put in place with our cultural partners to commemorate our past and celebrate our future which they all helped to make possible.”                 

Like many Northern towns and cities, young men across Sunderland were elated to sign up with some lying about their age and reaching the battle front at 14 and 15 years of age. They were seduced by the glamour of war, desperate to get away from the drudge of the coal face or other heavy industry. Asunder will explore stories of those who went away, those who were left behind and those who returned as very different people to the fresh faces that went off to war – both through the film and music, and the community programme.

Asunder is an important milestone for the cultural partnership and demonstrates the potential strength of collaborative working, with arts and heritage partner organisations large and small, as well as individual artists, contributing their expertise and positive spirit to make this work. It will also be an important project to rally public support in the year we begin work on our bid to become UK City of Culture 2021.

Tickets will be available from February.

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Did you know?

2013 marked 21 years since Sunderland city status from HM The Queen, on 23rd March 1992.


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