2023: Our year in smart city achievements


20th December 2023

Topic Education, Enabling Technologies, Energy, Environment, Health & Social Care, Infrastructure, Insights, Living & Inclusion, Safety & Security, Transport
Technology 5G, Assistive technology, Autonomous Vehicles, Healthtech, IoT, LoRaWAN, Wi-Fi
Sector Education, Enabling Technologies, Energy, Environment, Health & Social Care, Infrastructure, Insights, Living & Inclusion, Safety & Security, Transport

As the sun sets on another remarkable year, it’s timely to reflect on the huge strides, innovations, and transformative moments that have defined our journey towards a smarter, more connected future.

Welcome to our annual smart city roundup – a celebration of achievements that have reshaped Sunderland’s urban landscape. From cutting-edge initiatives to impactful collaborations, each achievement represents a milestone that has defined our collective commitment to progress.


Accelerating progress in Sunderland

Showcasing an ability to be dynamic and adaptive, Sunderland kick-started 2023 demonstrating a strong ambition to lead the way in digital transformation, utilising the latest technology and 5G connectivity as stepping-stones in order to leave no one and nowhere behind.

January was shaped by investment and growth – investment in skills, places and progress. From tech startups gaining valuable expertise to underpin their planned growth, to government backing of next generation smart transport solutions; Sunderland continued to showcase its capabilities both locally and nationally.

IoT 5G Accelerator group

5G IoT Accelerator propelled 10 startups to success in Sunderland
The 10 startups making up the first cohort of the Sunderland Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G Accelerator revealed why they were drawn to Sunderland and how our smart city supported their business growth. Read the full story here.

CCAV deployment competition announcement event image

Government backed self-driving shuttles rollout in Sunderland
It was announced in January that Sunderland was being awarded part of a huge £84 million in combined government and industry funding to help develop self-driving, zero emission vehicles.

This funding underpinned the development of a self-driving passenger shuttle service – the Sunderland Advanced Mobility Shuttle project (SAMS) – which will be piloted in the city, as well as enabled further development of self-driving lorries via Project V-CAL, led by the North East Automotive Alliance. Find out more about the funding announcement here.

Making smarter business decisions image

Making smarter business decisions
From education to housing, and healthcare to environment, the expectations of what a city can provide its residents, businesses and visitors are ever-growing.

An insightful blog in February focused on perceptions of Sunderland as a smart city of the future, and recognised the strides already taken as well as those still to come. Read the blog in full here.


Smart initiatives aplenty

The ongoing roll out of smart city technologies across Sunderland was already realising a wide range of benefits to residents, students, businesses and visitors early on in 2023.

Progress continued to underpin the city’s reputation as well as providing more and better solutions for the future.

Smart initiatives taking shape across Sunderland in March, included smart technology in housing, which was recognised at a national level in the Housing Digital Awards.

Council scooped duo of industry awards
As a leading smart city, it was with huge pride that we announced in February that Sunderland City Council had scooped two coveted awards for digital housing innovation.

Supporting residents through digitally-enabled homes, we won the Most Innovative Housing Provider Award and Most Innovative Support or Care Service Award at the Housing Digital Awards 2023.

Read the full story to explore how new homes being developed in Sunderland feature a range of technologies to make life easier for residents.


Digital transformation for every generation

Passionate about creating better connected experiences for all, our ambition to leave no one and nowhere behind continued in April with the huge expansion of Sunderland’s free, superfast Wi-Fi network in the city centre and at Roker.

As Spring bloomed, our smart city’s digital transformation realised opportunities for residents and visitors, from pre-school age to retirement with smart initiatives including: tech-driven improvements at a local play park, featuring interactive elements to engage youngsters; and a news platform led by community reporters aged 50 years+, shining a light on what it means to grow old in the city.

12free graphicHuge expansion of free public Wi-Fi across Sunderland
Sunderland City Council and Boldyn Networks’ free public Wi-Fi network expansion saw the number of access points triple. The footprint of where the service is available expanded by an extra 1.5 square kms, accompanied by a much denser coverage across the city for a more reliable and superfast connection. Find out more about Sunderland’s free public Wi-Fi expansion here.

Sunderland reporters from We'ar shining the light

North East’s first older people led news platform launched in Sunderland
A Sunderland-wide news platform launched at the end of March to shine a light on what it means to grow older in the city.

Led by older people for older people, the We’ar Shining the Light news team – made up of community reporters aged 50 and above from across Sunderland – joined forces to break ageing stereotypes and gather positive stories of later life. Find out more about the We’ar Shining the Light news platform here.

Tech driven improvements at local play park

Tech-driven improvements at local play park
Southwick’s Thompson Park received more than £740,000 in investment to become a modern, interactive play space and home to one of only two interactive football walls in the North East.

The Yalp Sutu Interactive Football Wall is a nod to Sunderland’s city-wide digital transformation and highlights how tech can have a positive impact on so many aspects of our everyday lives for those living, working and playing here. Read the news story in full here.


A connected city for a connected future

Thriving in a digital world means understanding and implementing the very latest advancements in telecommunications to benefit people and places.

The positive impact that smart solutions and their underpinning infrastructure can bring to the city as a whole, whilst also enhancing lives at a community and an individual level, has been demonstrated across our smart city of Sunderland. As 2023 welcomed an array of pilots, testbeds and smart initiatives to continue to drive forward solutions for smarter and better-connected futures.

CCAV vehicle - 5GCAL

The future of self-driving technology
Revisiting the achievements of Sunderland’s 5G CAL pilot and looking forward to the next phase, entitled ‘V-CAL’ (Vehicle-Connected and Autonomous Logistics), a feature in Robotics & Innovation Magazine explored the future of self-driving transport.

Hailing the 5G CAL pilot as a “pioneering example of the wealth of benefits offered by self-driving tech in logistics”, read the full feature from Robotics & Innovation Magazine by clicking here.

Connected North imageA smarter future for a connected north
As representatives from the public and private sector gathered to explore the North’s connected future, three digital leaders from Sunderland City Council joined the line-up at the Connected North event in Manchester on 17-18 April 2023. Explore their thoughts on placemaking and urban evolution, by clicking here.

Sunderland: A blueprint for a connected city of the future
Liz St Louis, director of smart cities here at Sunderland City Council, explained how the city is leading the way in digital transformation in an insightful feature for Smart Cities World in May. Read the feature in full here. 

Solar powered rain buckets imageSolar-Powered Rain Buckets Deployed in Sunderland
In June, we shared an update on the deployment of innovative rainfall sensors, connected to our LoRaWAN network, which enable real-time reporting on rainfall to better understand flooding and realise significant efficiencies. Explore the full case study here.


Technology for good

As smart city leaders, increasing digital inclusivity and reducing health and social inequalities are key factors in building a citizen-centric urban centre of the future.

Sunderland continued to increase engagement with residents, widening opportunities for all and leveraging the power of technology for good into September.

Working in partnership to create mutually beneficial solutions for other, often less influential stakeholders across our smart city, the council continuously improved its services across communities with numerous initiatives boosting digital literacy and accessibility.

Digital health image

£Multi-million funding underpinned digital and health inclusion
A funding announcement confirmed nine projects in Sunderland would receive more than £3.3m in funding from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) programme to underpin Sunderland’s City Plan for a more dynamic, healthy and vibrant smart city.

The first nine projects receiving grants from the UKSPF two-year allocation of £14m, include investment in community digital health hubs to help residents to overcome barriers to digital inclusion, so that they can access relevant information and tools to improve their health and wellbeing. Find out more about the funding announcement in the full article by clicking here.

Microsoft partnership image

Enhancing citizen-centric public services in the digital age
A new partnership between Microsoft and Sunderland started to build on a shared ambition and aligned values, to positively impact the lives of local people and businesses in our vibrant smart city in July.

Bridging the digital divide for residents, this joint commitment is already providing skills training and support for the digital economy – transforming lives across our communities, whilst fuelling innovation and underpinning economic resilience on a city-wide scale. Explore the joint commitment of Sunderland City Council and Microsoft to evolve our smart city, by clicking here.

Photograph of new Sunderland City of Smart website on a desktop computer

A smarter online space for our evolving smart city
Our brand-new website launched in September to better engage residents, businesses and visitors in our smart city journey.

We wanted to evolve our online space to create somewhere that not only showcases successes, but highlights challenges and most importantly, presents opportunities for individuals and businesses to get involved and grow alongside our smart city.

We pulled together a blog which showcased what’s new on our improved smart city website. Read in full to make the most of our new site features by clicking here.

And you can explore our brand-new smart city website by clicking here.


Smart services for residents and smarter experiences for all

Engaging with Smart Cities is not only about benefiting from the technology and infrastructure, but also actively participating in the development and improvement of the city.

New initiatives continued to enable personal and business growth spanning education, health services and leisure, as we build a connected city of the future.

Stadium of Light in Sunderland

£5.7M boost to revolutionise sports and esports experiences
Over £5.7M in grant funding from the Open Networks Ecosystem (ONE) competition was announced to revolutionise the way people experience live sport at the Stadium of Light and esports at the British Esports National Esports Performance Campus in Sunderland.

Next generation technology will enable more engaging interactions, enriching the future of live-streamed football and live global esports events, right here in Sunderland. Find out more about the funding announcement in the full article by clicking here.

Totalmobile partnership set to transform care and support service across city

Partnership to transform care and support service across city
Totalmobile announced a partnership with Sunderland City Council’s trading company Sunderland Care and Support (SCAS) and Boldyn Networks in September to transform the council’s care and support delivery across the city with a number of cutting-edge products.

This collaboration is supporting the transformation of care and support services across Sunderland, enabling more hands-on time for caregivers. Read the full article to discover how the new software suite is supporting the optimisation of the Care and Support service available to Sunderland’s residents.

Competition launched for young people to create Culture House in Minecraft
Culture House Sunderland is set to open its doors in 2025, and we called on young minds to help shape its vibrant future in September.

The Creating Culture House in Minecraft competition is a unique opportunity for young people across our smart city to unleash their creativity and contribute to the development of Culture House Sunderland. Find out more about the Minecraft competition by clicking here.


Placing Sunderland at the forefront of innovation

Appearing alongside smart city powerhouses from around the world at the beginning of November, Sunderland stood out among global contenders to secure well-deserved acclaim for its digital transformation as the only UK finalist at the World Smart City Awards 2023.

Outshining competitors from around the world, Sunderland has not only solidified its reputation as a national digital leader, but is also now firmly positioned on the global smart city landscape.

The journey to this remarkable achievement has been marked by visionary initiatives and cutting-edge projects that continue to rapidly shape Sunderland’s smart future – many of which are featured in this blog.

From innovative urban developments to educating the next generation of digital leaders, an array of smart initiatives are not only revolutionising the way our smart city operates, but are also setting new benchmarks for smart cities worldwide.

Liz St Louis of Sunderland City Council speaking on panel discussion at Smart City Expo World Congress 2023

Sunderland’s smart view from the world stage
Reaching the final in Barcelona of the World Smart City Awards in November was an honour, and it was a privilege to be the only UK city there to share Sunderland’s smart city progress on a global stage.

Attending the event were numerous partner organisations, alongside Patrick Melia, chief executive at Sunderland City Council, Liz St Louis, director of smart cities and enabling services at Sunderland City Council, and Charles O’Reilly, commercial director smart places, Sunderland, at Boldyn Networks. Explore their insights and experiences in this blog.

5GIR funding announcement image

£3.7M grant to harness power of 5G across region’s key sectors
The North East was named as one of the Department for Science Innovation and Technology’s (DSIT) 5G Innovation Regions (5GIR) in November.

Led by Sunderland City Council, the seven North East local authorities (LA7) are to receive over £3.7million to support 5G and advanced wireless connectivity projects across the region.

Sectors set to benefit from this funding include transport and logistics, creative industries and agritech across rural industries. Find out more about the innovative funded projects and how they will contribute to the region’s digital evolution here.

Wearmouth Bridge and Sunderland skyline

Podcast: Sunderland’s connectivity credentials
The recent SmartCitiesWorld podcast, featuring Liz St. Louis from Sunderland City Council and David Conway from the University of Sunderland, delved into Sunderland’s remarkable strides in establishing seamless connectivity for residents, businesses and educational institutions.

Sunderland’s smart city vision centres around harnessing digital infrastructure to create an interconnected ‘network of networks’ that enriches lives and opens up opportunities. The primary objective is to ensure that Sunderland continues to evolve into an inclusive, connected and technologically advanced urban hub.

This vision places a strong emphasis on leaving no one and nowhere behind on our transformative journey, and you can explore all the details in the podcast, here.

LOTI’s Learnings from Sunderland City of Smart
LOTI, London local government’s innovation team, recently visited Sunderland to explore our smart city advancements.

Particularly interested in connectivity and innovation, members of the LOTI team, accompanied by representatives from London boroughs, embarked on a journey to Sunderland to share best practice and learn from our ambitious smart city journey. Discover the LOTI team’s experience of their trip to Sunderland by reading their blog, here.


Education in focus

Expansion of EduROAM to bring seamless Wi-Fi connectivity
Sunderland City Council, the University of Sunderland and Boldyn Networks announced a new partnership to expand EduROAM to the city’s outdoor Wi-Fi network, enabling seamless, secure connectivity for students, educators and researchers.

Find out more about how this project will provide superfast internet accessibility across Sunderland, allowing members of the university and global educational institutions with EduROAM credentials to automatically, and securely, connect to the city’s public Wi-Fi. Read the full story by clicking here.

Eduroam at St Peter's Campus

Students in Sunderland learn about their Smart City
In October, we welcomed a group of enthusiastic students from Sandhill View Academy to Sunderland City Hall, to learn more about our smart city of Sunderland.

We delivered a day-long session in partnership with Boldyn Networks and Sunderland Software City, which was facilitated by the Sunderland Smart City team.

Packed with engaging, immersive sessions, the students saw first-hand how the innovative world of technology is making a difference across Sunderland. Read the blog in full to explore all the details, here.

Inclusive activities helped to bridge the digital divide
Sunderland City Council recently hosted a series of events as part of Good Things Foundation’s National Get Online Week.

In a world increasingly connected through the internet, it’s vital that everyone has the opportunity to develop essential digital skills and access online resources. That’s why the new ‘Tech Mates’ initiative has been designed to support council staff to get online for the first time and improve their digital skills.

Find out more about this and other digital inclusion projects which are bridging the digital divide in Sunderland, ensuring that all residents are empowered to be a part of our Smart City through digital literacy and connectivity.


Event insights wrap up a successful year

Transforming Cities with Smart Tech: Insights from Expo Sunderland
The ‘Expo Sunderland: Delivering Future Cities’ Forum took place over two days in November and brought together innovators and thought leaders from around the country.

This incredible event captured knowledge to drive positive change and explored how we create cities of the future. Among the sessions across the two days, our team had the privilege to lead the discussion on the regeneration of cities through smart technologies. Explore insights from the event here.

Unlocking the Potential of Data:
Insights from the Data Innovation Showcase

Data drives decision-making across all industries – and underpins our smart city activity in Sunderland.

Sunderland Smart City’s Mo Chowdhury recently presented at The National Innovation Centre for Data’s Data Innovation Showcase, a dynamic two-day conference at The Catalyst that delved into innovation, data’s transformative potential, and its broad-reaching impact. This blog shares insights from the conference to shine a light on vital learnings.


Our smarter future

As we look forwards into 2024, here’s to another year of progress and innovation across our smart city – enhancing the lives of our residents, providing opportunities for our businesses and inspiring visitors to our smart city.

Stay up-to-date with our rapid digital transformation journey into 2024 and beyond by visiting our smart city website, and share this link so that others can sign-up for free to receive our regular updates.