IN four years, Sunderland could be transformed.
By 2021, it could be the UK’s City of Culture, playing host to a year-long celebration that would bring millions of pounds into the North-East economy.
Spearheading that bid is Rebecca Ball, who – after leading the Cultural Spring programme, which helped take the arts into communities across Sunderland and South Tyneside – was appointed to develop what it is hoped will be a winning bid for the city.
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“It’s all becoming very real now, with just a matter of days left to develop the bid,” says Ms Ball, who, alongside a small team, is working up a campaign that could see Sunderland fall under a national and international spotlight in 2021.
She said: “We have done a huge amount of work already, to understand the things that matter to real people in Sunderland.
"That’s the things that make them proud, the things that they see as challenges that need to be addressed and the many, many reasons they think that now is Sunderland’s time.”
Ms Ball has been in post as bid director since February 2016.
During the last year, she has assembled a team of people to help her create a bid that resonates with Sunderland.
With the backing of founding partners, the MAC Trust, Sunderland City Council and the University of Sunderland, and the support of a board, who bring with them years of experience in everything from culture, to the arts and destination marketing, the bid is now reaching a critical stage, as the deadline for submissions – April 28 – draws closer.
She said: “It’s been a fantastic 12 months and I think we are in a great position now to use all that we have learnt to create a stunning bid.
"We have to demonstrate that there is a need and that this backing will make a difference to Sunderland.
"This competition has the power to absolutely transform Sunderland’s destiny and that of the thousands of people who live in and around it.
"The whole of the North-East would benefit.
“The journey so far has that same power too.
"We believe that win or lose, we have gained so much from this process.
"We have catapulted culture, as a driver for change, into the minds of so many people and businesses.
"We have created a legacy fund that means whether or not we take the title, 2021 can still be a year of culture for us.
"Ultimately though, we are in it to win it,” explains Ms Ball, who has worked in the cultural sector for almost 20 years.
The competition is organised by the Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and runs every four years.
2017’s City of Culture, Hull, has already attracted huge public and media attention, and it is expected to bring millions of pounds of investment into the wider East Riding of Yorkshire.
Ms Ball added: “We need everyone to get behind us.
"This is the North-East’s bid, and an opportunity for the whole region to bask in the spotlight that City of Culture status would bring.
Five minutes with... Rebecca Ball
Favourite North-East building and why? I really love the National Glass Centre with its amazing views of the river and the sea.
What was your first job and how much did you get paid? When I was a student, which was sadly long before the minimum wage was introduced, I worked in a number of pubs for about £3.20 per hour. But my first proper full-time job was at London Contemporary Dance School as an administrative assistant. I was paid £12,000 per annum but I got to go to as many free dance classes as I wanted.
What is the worst job you've had? Without a doubt it was waitressing in a particular restaurant in London, which will remain nameless. It was so badly run, it was just dreadful. It was an Italian restaurant but it never used to have enough stock in, so we were always running out of pasta, bread and even beer. The cook was incredibly temperamental and used to storm out all the time. It is funny thinking back on it, but it was really embarrassing constantly telling customers that I was really sorry but there was no spaghetti, or that their meal would be another 20 minutes because the chef had to ‘pop out’.
What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner? I really love cooking North African food with lots of herbs and spices, so probably a big Moroccan stew. I do a great lamb tagine with prunes and a very tasty vegetable tagine too.
What would your superpower be? Flying.
Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party: Sarah Millican, because she’d bring some humour to the table; Coco Chanel, for the style; Michelle Obama, because she is just so inspirational; David Bowie, because he’d make it cool.
Most expensive thing you've bought - other than a car or house - and how much? I am generally pretty frugal in my tastes, but we did buy a share in a boat with some friends for a couple of years. It was a pretty small boat and certainly not the newest one either, but it was a boat nonetheless and they are definitely not cheap. An amazing experience though.
Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why? It is my friend Marie Nixon because she is funny, brilliant, clever and wonderful (@mariemarie0)
Favourite book? Anna Karenina. I love big Russian romantic novels.
When did you last cry? I read an amazing book called All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which is set in France during the Second World War. I think it would make anyone cry.
What is your greatest achievement?
Fingers crossed it will be leading Sunderland’s winning City of Culture bid.
What's the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given? Sonita Alleyne, who founded Somethin' Else Production, once said in a talk that "you should always go for things (pitch for things). The worst that will happen is someone will say no. But if you don’t go for things you are just saying no to yourself."
Favourite animal and why? I have always been fond of guinea pigs. I’m in negotiations with my husband about getting one now.
Most famous person on your mobile phone? I couldn’t possibly say.
What was the last band you saw live? The band would be Field Music at Sage Gateshead. They were amazing. But my husband runs an orchestra, so I get to see a lot of orchestral music too.
Describe your perfect night in: Laughing, listening to music and putting the world to rights over a good meal and a glass of wine with old friends.
In another life I would be... An Arctic explorer
Who would play you in a film of your life? Absolutely no idea – hopefully someone younger and prettier.
What irritates you? Unkindness and intolerance.
What's your secret talent? I was always surprisingly good at rock climbing, although I haven’t done it for years.