Northern Spire Community Engagement

Sunderland City Council


Sunderland City Council


Northern Spire Community Engagement


Community Engagement
Public Affairs
Public Relations


Infrastructure​, Regeneration and Energy


October 2015 - August 2018

The Brief

DTW was appointed by Sunderland City Council to develop and deliver a communications and engagement strategy for a new infrastructure scheme in the heart of Sunderland featuring a major new bridge – now called Northern Spire.

The focus of the communications and engagement activity was to transform scepticism about the project into pride in the city’s achievements and positioning Sunderland as a successful and dynamic city.

A key objective was to initiate a “community of interest” and generate excitement….. and to create a lasting legacy for the project in the city.

Our Work

Our work included strategic planning, stakeholder mapping, proactive outreach engagement with near neighbours – both businesses and residents, and school and community site visits throughout the three-and-a-half-year project.

Our approach was to:

  • Be proactive to build trust and credibility – we reached out to local community groups and invested in infrastructure to allow visits to take place
  • Keep people informed – we made sure key stakeholders such as councillors, MPs and business influencers heard important news direct from the project – minimising any surprises and giving an opportunity for questions to come to us
  • Be accessible – our team responded to enquiries for visits
  • Focus on benefits – our key messages focused on the project’s outcomes at all times
  • Use digital and traditional channels, ranging from drop-ins to retailers and businesses to social media, enewsletters and web based ‘self-service’ information.
  • Speak in plain English at all times.

This was developed through extensive, open and transparent media and public engagement throughout the lifetime of the project. National media relations to showcase the project and the city was combined with on the ground direct engagement.

Local people shortlisted and chose the ‘Northern Spire’ name in conjunction with the Sunderland Echo, we gave special site access to local artists and photographers, enabling them to capture and spread the project as it developed, and thousands of schoolchildren from throughout the city were inspired by trips to the site to see the construction and engineering work.


Northern Spire is now viewed by local people as a huge source of pride and a symbol of the city’s aspirations. The communications and engagement activity was a major contributor to this:

  • 2,300 schoolchildren from 46 schools visited site during 116 sessions hosted by DTW, with teachers scoring the visits an average of 4.9 out of 5 for content, pupil interaction and value
  • 20,000 people turning up to walk across the bridge the day before it opened to traffic as part of a special celebratory opening
  • The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge requested to visit the project on a visit to the region – with resulting publicity stretching across the globe
  • We secured a 90-second segment on BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing in front of an audience of 11 million people featuring two of the contestants dancing across the bridge.

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Visitors on opening day

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Schoolchildren visiting the project during construction

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Approval rating from school visits to site

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