Tyne & Wear

Sunderland's shrinking young population

Paige Audlsey
Image caption Paige Audsley thinks her prospects in Sunderland are "pretty good"

Twenty five years after Sunderland became a city, there are plans to revive its fortunes with a bid to be UK City of Culture in 2021. But as statistics show just over 600 people aged 16-19 left the city last year, BBC News has been speaking to some young people to find out their hopes for the future.

"For me, Sunderland seems to be expanding and getting bigger and better," says 17-year-old Paige Audsley, an apprentice painter and decorator.

"I'm proud of my job and what it means to the city. I came off site yesterday having painted a load of new homes, which are bringing new people into the city.

"We've had a new college built, the city centre is being transformed and, as a young person living in Sunderland, I think my prospects are pretty good."

Paige's view of her future in Sunderland is positive, but the statistics suggest there are challenges in terms of job prospects for young people in the city and the number of teenagers who are leaving.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sunderland became a city in 1992

According to data gathered by the Office for National Statistics just over 600 16 to 19-year-olds left Sunderland last year - more than double the average departure count of 246 for all 326 local authorities in England.

And with just 208 16-19-year-olds arriving, Sunderland is now one of only five cities in England - along with Carlisle, Hull, Portsmouth and Stoke - where the number of residents aged 65 outnumber those aged 16.

In addition, the average unemployment rate for 16 to 19-years-olds in Sunderland has stood at 36% over the past three years, compared to 24% across the UK.

As a general rule of economics, cities with youthful and dynamic workforces tend to be richer and more prosperous places.

When compared to other cities across northern England, Sunderland economically has found itself lagging behind.

That picture is reflected in the concerns of 17-year-old Adam Gorzelanczyk.

"The whole economic picture of Sunderland is uncertain at the moment," he said.

"There are lots of jobs in retail, but little else. For most people my age the only thing that is keeping them here is their family".

Image copyright Adam Gorzelanczyk
Image caption Adam Gorzelanczyk would like to be a youth worker

Adam dreams of being a youth worker, a sector traditionally funded through grants from local councils. But budget cuts have meant he and many others can no longer look to the public sector for employment.

"I now think of myself as a entrepreneur," Adam said. "I want to run my own youth project, but to achieve that dream I think I'm going to have to become self-employed.

"I'm proud of the city that I live in, but if I can't achieve my dream here I would consider leaving Sunderland."

The city's growth aspirations, however, do not lack for a want of effort.

There are investments being made in Sunderland that are worth more than £1.5bn and the city has launched a bid to become the UK's City of Culture in 2021.

There may be a steady flow of young people leaving, but the data also shows those who leave are not venturing very far - with Leeds, York and Middlesbrough among the most popular destinations.

Close enough to home, perhaps, to move back once Sunderland's revival is complete?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sunderland is bidding to be the UK's City of Culture in 2021

Throughout the week beginning 27 March BBC News will be telling the stories of young people in Sunderland online and on social media.

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