Could Sunderland STACK Itself to Recovery?
A new container-based shopping and leisure facility is to be built in the former English shipbuilding city of Sunderland. One of the hidden jewels of the UK coast, Sunderland’s council has approved the development as a temporary measure while full plans for the redevelopment of the site take place in the coming years.
Sunderland – a brief history
Sunderland on the northeast coast of England was once one of the largest manufacturing and heavy industry cities in the UK. Shipbuilding was its biggest industrial asset up until the 1970s or so, and this had been a major employer as far back as the 1340s.
Another important business in the industrial town was glassmaking, something that remains to some extent in its university but as with shipbuilding, has largely fallen aside.
In recent years, the Nissan car factory has been a major employer with several thousand employees, though this has been affected by the winds of economics and could close should the UK depart the EU without a deal this year.
In the 1970s, close to 8,000 people worked in the shipbuilding industry in the city, but due to market and political pressures the yards became uncompetitive and from this peak, so the last yard closed in 1988.
The northeast of the UK having lost most of its heavy industry suffered from high unemployment and in many respects was a byword for post-industrial decline and deprivation. On the surface it may be argued that skilled workers should just move to an area where they can be employed but the UK shipbuilding industry as a whole almost imploded at the same time from Scotland, to the South Coast.
Even in 2019 a major warship building yard in Devon has closed – if an industry can’t employ its skilled workers, then those skills must disappear. Some converted to the car factory but the ghosts remain of the shipbuilding industry in its massive, empty yards.
Using its natural assets?
One of the greatest assets that Sunderland has is its natural beauty. In summer the fine sands of its coastline could easily be compared to those in warmer climes like the South West of England, only without the cheesiness of ‘kiss me quick’ resorts such as Weymouth and Dawlish.
The seaside resorts of Roker and South Shields, both close to the centre of Sunderland itself, have a certain refined style that is combined with the picturesque coastline. To add to this the people of the northeast are extremely outgoing and friendly.
In Brighton, Bournemouth and other South Coast beach resorts one will find a certain aloofness of the locals that negatively compares to the welcoming nature of the Maccams and their hated rivals the Geordies of Newcastle. Yes, the only place you won’t see Newcastle Brown Ale drunk in the UK is in Sunderland!
As climate change warms the area, so there is real potential for Sunderland to become the Brighton of the northeast.
Neighbouring Newcastle has been undergoing a revival of its own. Once blighted by the death of its own heavy industry it has become a cosmopolitan centre with lots of European funding, a renowned university, a great arts scene and nightlife that has drawn many a business due to the way of life there. By comparison to urban centres in the south, property prices are low too, helping fuel the economy even further.
Newcastle STACK is a container based leisure complex that is in the place of an old cinema and theatre that figured large in the life of the city. Owned and run by Danielli Holdings, it has 32 units that include vaping shops, clothes shops, restaurants and bars. As with all the container based leisure facilities we cover at the Gateway Gazette, it has brought life back to a part of town that was decaying.
Sunderland STACK gets approval – 2019
Sunderland may not become a cosmopolitan scene like Newcastle but its abundance of natural beauty may help to draw in visitors. The city council, therefore, has been working hard to refuel and rearm the economy, and with the vacant lot on the centre’s beachfront left by the removal of the old Seaburn Centre, there is a need to revitalise the seafront.
Chief Executive of Danielli Holdings is a Maccam and this opportunity to help drive life back into his old city seems to have been a driver toward developing the site.
Speaking to the Chronicle, he said, “We aren’t just a landlord; we have a vested interest in making it a success for all of the independent operators who come on board. We are passionate about creating a container village community where independent businesses thrive and a place for people to work, play, socialise and share unique experiences. As I am from Sunderland, originally, this will be a great addition to Sunderland’s sea front, and something we are incredibly proud to be bringing to the area.”
The council has given its full support. The Sunderland Echo reports the planning committee said, “The success of STACK within Newcastle City Centre and the location of a new STACK on the Seaburn site will attract more visitors to Sunderland’s sea front and will provide a new offer for entertainment in Seaburn.” It added, “The creation of retail, food and drink uses will encourage a variety of people to visit the proposed development. The proposed uses are suitable for families and those visiting Seaburn for other purposes as well as contributing to the evening economy.”
One has to say that 75 full time and 25 part time retail and leisure sector jobs won’t replace the 8,000 highly skilled shipbuilders, thousands of newly unemployed car manufacturing technicians as shifts get downgraded/the factory closes altogether, or the thousands or ornamental glass workers that the city has lost in the post Thatcher years.
However, as the city perhaps focuses on turning itself into a stunning seaside resort, it could well attract other businesses to the area, taking up the vacant offices and retail outlets that blight the centre.
Advantages of shipping container leisure units
Shipping container leisure outlets, if well planned and operated, can be attractive placeholders for future developments. One of the great facets of shipping containers as building units is that they can be put in place and removed with minimal groundwork beyond footings and the concrete pad on which they sit.
The STACK development may be considered a temporary denture in the missing ‘tooth’ of the Seaburn Centre on the seafront. The units can be put in place for 10 years or more while the funds are raised, or private interest piqued into replacing the leisure units with something more permanent.
Sunderland has struggled to revive from the economic blows it has suffered and as with any body blow, the harder you fall the harder it is to recover. The STACK development, as can be seen in the video and renderings above, could make the city seafront more attractive to visitors and thereby retailers and other leisure businesses. The more footfall that can be achieved from customers, the better it is for the economy as a whole.
Though nothing like the size or impact of the dead shipyards of the city’s port area, one does hope that Sunderland STACK’s shipping container leisure and retail unit can breathe life into an area that has struggled for so long.
Shipping containers from Gateway Container Sales?
Do you live or work in an area of post-industrial decline? Could you celebrate your town or city’s past with a leisure unit like Sunderland STACK? If so, get in touch with us at Gateway Container Sales today to discuss your needs!