Pictured: Sunniside, to the left is the office where Sunderland First held their meetings.
Patrick Lavelle was a highly respected and esteemed journalist in Sunderland. Having worked as a Crime Reporter for the Northern Echo and later as the editor of the Sunderland Echo, Patrick was known for his hard work, personal integrity and humility. His signature achievement was his work on the Wearside Jack case, pushing police to reopen their investigation into the hoax letters which ultimately led to the prosecution of John Humble.
Passionate about Sunderland, Lavelle became increasingly disillusioned with the state of the city and its council, and in late 2008 aspired to launch a new political group known as “Sunderland First” which aspired to be a localist political organisation striving for change in Sunderland on populist themes. The group stated that the city’s politics was dominated by an elite circle of “100 individuals” and vowed to return governance of the city to its people.
The group held its meetings in an office in Sunniside he rented, sent regular letters into the echo and also delivered a series of leaflets around the city. Not surprisingly, the group came under immediate scrutiny and attack by members of the Labour Party. An early controversy involved the fact that it had hired a designer to create their site, who proceeded to erroneously use a photo of a bridge in Middlesbrough as opposed to the Wearmouth Bridge.
And it is no surprise with such early organizational setbacks, despite having a good premise and a population that was receptive, Sunderland First failed to ultimately organize itself well, get its name out and attract a significant membership. This led to it losing momentum by the following year.
Tragedy would soon follow. Patrick was tragically diagnosed with cancer in that same period and sadly, did not make it. He passed away in 2010 at just 50 years of age, receiving an outpouring of local tributes. With nobody else willing to take it up, Sunderland First group ultimately died with him. Yet, its emergence represented a trend in the city that has persisted to this day, a growing disillusionment with the political status quo.
On the other hand, it is also a reminder that despite this, no group or political party has been able to attain the organization, resources or support as of yet to ultimately dislodge Labour. Yet Patrick will always be remembered as an honest and respected servant of the city.