A landmark cultural event in Sunderland to commemorate centenary of the Battle of the Somme - July 10th 2016 Sunderland Empire




Sunderland Cultural Partnership – which is led by University of Sunderland, Sunderland City Council and MAC Trust, commissioned Asunder - a major cultural and heritage programme culminating in a large showcase event which took place in July 2016, in partnership with 14-18 NOW: the UK’s official WW1 cultural commemoration programme. This ambitious new event explored 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 was the first 14-18 NOW co-commission in the North East and the only one for the 2016 programme. 


"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.” Jenny Waldman, Director, 14-18 NOW


Asunder saw 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 was scored by two renowned North East bands; Field Music and Warm Digits, who performed live with Royal Northern Sinfonia. Guided by esteemed writer, film maker and musician Bob Stanley, the project’s Creative Producer, Asunder premiered 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 saw 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 was alluring, poetic and political. I want everyone who saw 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 arts and heritage organisations also worked with communities across the city from spring 2016, 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 was a programme of activity for Sunderland schools to be involved in. The community and schools programme formed 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.


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. 

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