Three philanthropic families from the region have thrown their backing behind the Beacon of Light by pledging a seven figure sum towards the capital funding.
CEO of the Foundation of Light Lesley Spuhler said: “We are immensely grateful that such prominent and generous family names from the northeast have been inspired by our vision and share our passion to make the Beacon a reality. It will positively touch the lives of so many people from the region.”
The three families backing the Beacon; The Sir Tom Cowie Charitable Trust, Sir Peter Vardy DL through The Vardy Foundation and Sir Bob Murray CBE all have strong personal connections to Sunderland.
Sir Tom Cowie OBE led the Cowie Group from when it re-opened for business after the war in 1948 until 1993. The company was re-named Arriva in 1998. He was Chairman of Sunderland AFC between 1980 and 1986 before selling his stake to Sir Bob Murray CBE.
Following Sir Tom Cowie’s death in 2012, the Trustees of his Charitable Trust refocussed their funding on Sunderland and agreed that one of their priority areas would be giving young people opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t get. The Trust works closely with a number of primary schools and other educational establishments in the City and the opportunity to provide funding for the educational side of the Beacon of Light project was felt to be something Sir Tom would have been very keen to support.
Commenting on behalf of The Sir Tom Cowie Charitable Trust, Lady Cowie said; “Sir Tom always maintained that his grammar school education was a once in a lifetime opportunity for him to move forward and develop his business acumen that led to the business he established in Sunderland.
“Throughout his lifetime he supported the City, latterly through the University and a number of secondary schools. His Charitable Trust, set up in 2002, continues that legacy and I and my fellow Trustees look forward to working with the Foundation of Light on this exciting project, which will provide a much needed focussed resource for the people of Sunderland.”
Sir Peter Vardy is businessman and charitable benefactor originally from Houghton-le-Spring and a lifelong Sunderland fan. The Vardy name has been synonymous with motor retail in the UK since 1923 and the Vardy Group had its head-quarters in Sunderland until 2005.
The Vardy Foundation is Sir Peter’s family charity. Set up in 1987 it seeks to support a wide range of initiatives at home and abroad. The Trust’s priorities are supporting education, training and social action programmes in the UK and around the world. Their most recent focus has been to be involved and support early intervention initiatives, dealing with the causes of problems in society rather than the consequences.
Foundation of Light at Sunderland AFC is recognised as the best in the country.
In its community outreach work, Sunderland tops the Premier League every year. Using football as a catalyst to support education and health initiatives, it has proved to be phenomenally successful.
I am pleased to contribute to this new project to increase the reach and effectiveness of the Foundation.
Another prolific businessman and philanthropist from the region with an enduring passion for education and sport is Sir Bob Murray CBE. He was chairman of SAFC from 1986 to 2006 and his legacy includes the iconic Stadium of Light. He remains Chair of the Trustees of the Foundation of Light.
Sir Bob Murray added: “I am immensely proud of my regional heritage and return to the northeast whenever I can. The northeast is a special place but still has some challenges so there was never any question that my family and I would personally back the Beacon.
“I have always been a passionate advocate of the power of education to change lives and the power of football and sport to inspire and motivate people. The Beacon will fuse together sport, education, the world of work and health and well-being like no other place in the UK and I am proud to be playing a small part in making that vision a reality.”
The £16m striking cube-shaped Beacon will boast education and training facilities with an indoor football pitch above. When they enter the Beacon, users will be presented with a busy street along which the various activities will interconnect. Inspirational and motivational zones for education, the world of work, health and wellbeing, sport and play will combine together with excellent views into the sports arena.
Lesley Spuhler added; “The Beacon of Light will be unlike any other venue and the first of its kind in the UK. It will welcome thousands of children, young people and adults through its doors every week and give us an important platform to expand our pioneering programmes and extend our award-winning work. The Beacon is now attracting a lot of interest regionally and nationally and the fact that such respected names are keen to personally get involved is a great boost.”
Work on the Beacon is due to start in 2016 and the venue is expected to welcome over 300,000 people through its doors every year.
The award winning Foundation of Light was established in 2001 and uses the power of football to educate, inspire and motivate. One of the largest and leading sports charities in the UK, it has an excellent track record of working with children, young people and their families.
Structurally and financially independent of Sunderland Football Club, the Foundation has been the architect of its own success raising over £4 million every year to deliver life changing and pioneering programmes across the region.