IMAGINE having the ability to transform a city – to reinvigorate parts of a place with boundless potential.

Step forward John Seager, who is chief executive of Siglion, a company charged with breathing new life into Sunderland’s cityscape.

The 42-year-old, who was born in Eastbourne and grew up in a variety of Asian countries, moved to the North-East more than 15 years ago

Loading article content

He now considers the region home and is more than making his mark, with major regeneration projects kicking off thanks to the work of the Sunderland-based Siglion team.

Among the projects he is leading is the creation of a new mixed-use development on one of Sunderland’s most significant sites, the former Vaux Brewery.

For nearly 20 years, the site stood empty.

After a legal battle with Tesco, which eventually saw the city council take ownership of the land, Siglion and the authority have done what others before had been unable to.

“It was a proud day when we broke ground on site in December”, said Mr Seager.

“I think only people in Sunderland truly appreciate the strength of feeling there is about the Vaux site.

“It was once home to a business that was the pride of Sunderland, and I think for many people, the site’s emptiness since has been a symbol of the challenges the city has faced, with the decline of prevalent industries in Sunderland.

“Now though, we are seeing investment pour into Sunderland – more than £1bn between now and 2024 – and so it is poignant to see the first building rise from the ashes, a continuing sign of a resurgent Sunderland, and one that will build on the work that has already been done to regenerate the city.”

However, the vision for the Vaux site does not stop there.

Mr Seager hopes phases two and three will follow soon after the completion of the first, and already a planning application has been put forward for a symbolic structure that will proudly punctuate the Keel Line – a piece of art running across the city’s Keel Square that will extend across the Vaux site to the cliff’s edge.

The Launch, as it will be known, will pay homage to the city’s shipbuilding heritage, creating a structure that will reconnect the city centre to the riverside.

Mr Seager said: “The Launch is something special.

“It honours the city’s past, but also symbolises the future and is progressive and bold.

“We’re really hopeful it will be given the green light.

Siglion, which was formed in 2013 thanks to a partnership between Sunderland City Council and Carillion, with development and asset management services being provided by sustainable regeneration company Igloo, is also responsible for a number of other sites in the city.

Seaburn, Sunderland’s seaside resort, is set to be brought spectacularly back to life, with 100,000 sq ft of leisure space, and Chapelgarth, part of Sunderland south’s regeneration area, will welcome new homes.

“No site stands alone”, added Mr Seager.

“This is all part of an overall aim in the city to create happy, healthy, sustainable communities.

“That’s why we do more than just develop sites.

“We work with local people to create spaces that they will use, and their children will use after that.

“We, along with the city council and other partners, have a long-term vision for the city and it’s something that will be created by and for the people of Sunderland, something to be proud of.”

Five minutes with… John Seager

Favourite North-East building and why? The National Glass Centre. It’s just a great building and always a surprise the first time you take someone there. The shop is also great for buying gifts for people.

What was your first job and how much did you get paid? I was a paper boy in my early teens – I think it was £10 a week but I used to get up early and do another round. I used to spend my hard-earned cash on bits and bobs to pimp up my bicycle.

What is the worst job you've had? I’m not sure I can think of one but I do remember one of the best – I was a security guard at the Wimbledon Championships in 1993. I got paid £400 to stand next to the umpire on Court 2 and watch professional tennis for two weeks.

What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner? I’d knock up a roast dinner with all the trimmings. It’s not the most difficult thing to do well but it’s a proper family meal and we all love sitting at the table together to eat it.

What would your superpower be? I’d love to be an amazing athlete – the most supreme Ironman triathlete the world has ever seen.

Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party: Spike Milligan, Sir David Attenborough, Barack Obama and Michael Palin (and the rest of the Pythons if possible).

Most expensive thing you've bought - other than a car or house - and how much? I told my wife my bike was £1,000. I’ll just leave it there…

Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why? I’m rubbish at Twitter – I’m a big fan of Sunderland band The Lake Poets and I follow Martin Longstaff on Twitter. He posts some great stuff from wherever he is playing.

Favourite book? The Catcher in the Rye – read while listening to Lou Reed’s Transformer – don’t ask me why, that’s just what I was listening to when I first read it.

When did you last cry? When my son was born.

What is your greatest achievement? I cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats in eight days. It’s my greatest achievement because, as part of a group of four people, we raised more than £40,000 for charity.

What's the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given? Why can’t you do that?

Favourite animal and why? I love dogs. It’s the unadulterated trust they bestow on you when you look at them. Not small handbag ones though – never trust a Chihuahua.

Most famous person on your mobile phone? Siglion are the main sponsor for the Sunderland 10k and Half Marathon, which is organised by Steve Cram. He’s not only the most famous person on my phone, I think he’s the only famous person on it.

What was the last band you saw live? The Lake Poets at The Sage, last year. I’m really, really looking forward to seeing The Happy Mondays and The Farm at Sunniside Live in July.

Describe your perfect night in: Feet up in front of the TV watching a box set with my wife – we’re making our way through Orange is the New Black at the moment.

In another life I would be... A 16th Century global explorer.

Who would play you in a film of your life? If you ask my friends they would say Pasha off Strictly Come Dancing and not because of my dance skills.

What irritates you? People who drop litter and spit on the floor.

What's your secret talent? If I told you it wouldn’t be a secret, would it?