Northumbria is Reborn: Now We Need to Fight for Sunderland’s Place in it

At midnight “levelling up Secretary” Michael Gove announced that a region wide devolution deal has been reached covering the North East of England. The agreement will see all seven local authorities North of the River Tees area (Northumberland, County Durham, Sunderland, Newcastle, Gateshead, North Tyneside, South Tyneside) brought under the mantle of a combined authority which will be headed by a region wide elected mayor.

The deal creates the first combined entity covering the North East to exist in over 1000 years, or in other words the concept of “Northumbria“. The Anglo-Saxon era Kingdom of the same name once spanned from the Scottish lowlands to the River Humber, but following Viking invasions was reduced to the territory between Scotland and the River Tees we know today, forming the distinct cultural region of the North East.

Now, thanks to Conservative tinkering, the North East is oddly to be unified again, and as such should be called Northumbria. However, not all are happy. Some Sunderland citizens have reacted with anger at the development believing that it is a waste of taxpayers money, but more significantly in the local mindset, voicing fears that submission of Wearside to a broader North East authority will result in “Newcastle Centric rule” as the region’s dominant city.

These fears are not unsubstantiated. In the 1970s and 80s, a smaller “Tyne and Wear” authority was created. Sunderland residents remember how local taxes were used to fund the creation of a Metro System based in Newcastle, of which Wearside would not get a look in until 2002. Sunderland is subsequently sensitive of its interests being dominated by Tyneside centric governance, an inevitable product of such a deal.

However, we in Sunderland must face the reality that isolationism is not a good strategy to fight for our city’s interests. While it is important to put Sunderland first, we cannot make progress by pretending the region around us does not exist and trying to forge a completely exclusive path. In many aspects, the rest of the North East is in the same boat as us. We share the same industrial heritage, the same subculture, the same worldview.

We are proud of who we are as a city and defiant that we are not merely an appendage of Newcastle, that must not change. However, we must also be prepared to come together with the rest of the region to some degree to fight for our collective interests as opposed to the rest of Britain, and in doing so fight for Sunderland’s influence and place within it. Wearside must not exclude itself from the North East but become its champion and fight the “Newcastle centric” frame of mind. How is that possible if we are happy to sit on our own?

Change is scary, but Northumbria is reborn. History ought to remind us that “Northumbria” as an entity has never been all about Newcastle, in fact very so little of the North East’s history happened there. Rather, at the heart of this historic region was the land of County Durham, of which we are traditionally part of, and it was in Monkwearmouth Priory at St. Peter’s that Bede would define this people and its history. Don’t reject this change, be prepared to fight for Sunderland’s place in it.