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Spark that lit the fire of creativity at the University of Sunderland

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Published on 13 January 2022

Emeli Sande opening the new facilities
Emeli Sande opening the new facilities

From Jordan North to Kathryn Robertson – a new generation of creative talent is emerging from the University of Sunderland. 

Research today shows that parents are strongly in favour of university creative courses; they are recognising their economic benefit and the way in which they power the UK’s creative industries. 

The University of Sunderland’s Faculty of Creative Industries is a production powerhouse when it comes to educating, nurturing and developing the artists, journalists, photographers, designers and media talent of tomorrow. 

And there has never been a greater need for this talent. 

The latest research, conducted by Savanta ComRes for Universities UK, reveals that nearly two thirds (65 per cent) of parents agree that creative courses at university benefit the UK economy, while more than two thirds (69 per cent) say that students gain vital creative skills at university which are essential to powering the UK’s creative industries. 

The University of Sunderland is playing a key role in generating this power through its recent multimillion-pound investment in the sector. 

This included: 

  • The £1.1 million Northern Centre of Photography at David Goldman Technology Centre - kitted out with architect-designed breakout spaces with access to the new Digital Incubator, which supports students interested in exploring freelance work. 

  • Work on a 4K-UHD virtual production studio at the David Puttnam Media Centre. The £300,000 system includes a wireless-linked handheld StarTracker Viewfinder, high-grade green-screen walls and flooring, and a Mo-Sys StarTracker Studio with a camera tracking unit – the same tech used for the BBC’s Tokyo Olympics studio coverage. 

  • A new £80,000 custom-designed studio for radio station Spark, also at the Media Centre, which includes new wall art designed by Sunderland graduates, a new camera system, which allows students to film or stream interviews, and a new height adjustable desk. 

The new facilities were given the seal of approval by University Chancellor Emeli Sande, herself and leading figure in the field, during a tour last year. 

However, there is concern that the UK’s renowned creative output could now be under threat, with two thirds (67 per cent) of UK parents acknowledging that creative industries have suffered greatly as a result of the pandemic.  

Prior to the pandemic, the creative industries was the UK’s fastest growing sector, generating over £116 billion for the economy and directly employing 2.1 million people. 

In response, Universities UK has launched MadeAtUni: Creative Sparks, a campaign to showcase the creative talent produced by UK universities and encourage the Government to promote and support the importance of creativity and creative courses. 

The University of Sunderland is backing the campaign by highlighting the great work happening, not only at the University, but across Sunderland and the wider north east. 

Lee Hall, Head of the School of Media and Communication, said: “This is a special time to be studying media and photography at Sunderland as we continue to invest in our facilities to support our talented students on their creative journeys. 

“These facilities we have been put in place to help our students develop the skills they need to succeed in the creative industries and we back this new campaign which highlights the ongoing vital importance of this sector.”” 

Seven in 10 (71 per cent) parents are proud that the UK is one of the world's leading producers of creative culture and 70 per cent say that creative activities – such as listening to music, reading, watching television, and gaming – are crucial to boosting wellbeing during the pandemic. 

Alistair Jarvis CBE, Chief Executive, Universities UK said: “Our universities, creative education and brilliant academics are central to the UK’s creative excellence and vital to the success of our creative industries.  

“They are the engine room of so many things that make the UK the envy of the world, including our music, films, TV programmes, and video games. Universities are places where creative ideas flourish, where innovation happens, and where businesses employing thousands of people are started. They’re where the nation’s creative sparks are ignited.” 


Making a difference: Leading lights. 

Malcolm Gerrie has played a central role in defining the parameters of entertainment, music and events on television around the world. His early credits include The Tube, Channel 4’s legendary music show which famously gave Madonna her first ever UK TV appearance.  

He produced Wired for Channel 4, The Three Tenors, and U2’s Zooropa.  For eight years he was the creative drive behind The Brit Awards, which transformed the event into one of the largest and most respected music awards ceremonies in the world.  

Other award shows which he has produced include The Orange BAFTA Film Awards, The UK Music Hall of Fame, Miss World and The Q Awards. Gerrie also brought production values and innovation to music projects as varied as Glastonbury, U2 at Red Rocks, Fame Academy, The Voice, Queen at Wembley Stadium, Bjork at The Royal Opera House and Beat Route for the BBC.  

Gerrie pioneered the drive into advertiser-funded programming beginning with The Pepsi Chart Show for Channel 5 and then moved into multi-genre programming with hits such as Fame Academy for the BBC, The Match for Sky 1 and Soccer Aid featuring Robbie Williams for ITV.    


Sunderland Culture: Sunderland Culture was created by the University of Sunderland in partnership with the city council and business-led MAC Trust. It quickly developed a joint strategy, attracted external investment, engaged with the wider community began to build the profile of culture in the city.  

The entity programmes key city assets, including the University-owned National Glass Centre and Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art.  Since 2015, Sunderland Culture and its partners have transformed the profile of the city’s cultural life and simultaneously created opportunities in the creativeindustries for students and graduates.   


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