Systems leadership at the heart of £20m investment into skills, innovation and housing ecosystem

With exciting news of a £20 million investment into a world-class training centre and housing eco-system, the city of Sunderland is proving itself to be a place where key organisations are working together to create a brighter future. 

Leaders of Sunderland College and Sunderland City Council have long held a vision to develop a strategic approach to skills, innovation and economic productivity within the energy, construction and housing industries. Over time, this vision has progressed into advanced stage designs with several partners including the Ministry of Building Innovation and Education (MOBIE). 

Culminating in the creation of a vision for a new Housing Innovation and Construction Skills Academy (HICSA) that will support the development of an eco-system to build sustainable homes at Riverside Sunderland, Sunniside and across the city, leaders of both organisations galvanised Government support, collectively and independently meeting with officials from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, as well as the Department or Education. In doing so plans were shared about the potential for new ways of working to address the recognised skills shortages faced within the construction and housing industries, and to meet demand for green jobs.  

After funding was announced in the Autumn Budget, this long-awaited vision can become a reality. 

The uniqueness of HICSA will be its positioning as a regional gateway for business, industry and education. Once these cutting-edge facilities are built at the Sheepfolds site as part of the Riverside Sunderland regeneration project, Sunderland College will move its construction provision from its City Campus in Park Lane to HICSA where it will deliver education and skills linked to traditional trades, retrofit, digital and modern methods of construction (MMC).   

As a key partner of Sunderland College, MOBIE, founded by former college student, architect and TV presenter George Clarke, will also co-locate in HICSA to ensure this new ground-breaking facility supports the development of the college’s dual-qualified industry practitioners and the upskilling of the city and region’s future designers and construction specialists.  

The new facility will enable Sunderland to build the skills-base to upgrade homes across Sunderland and the wider North East region using modern construction methods, low carbon, renewable energy and smart technology. It will position Sunderland at the heart of the UK’s net zero ambitions, enabling the city to capitalise on the move towards modern methods of construction and sustainable housebuilding, something the council is aiming to deliver through its exciting plans for 1,000 new homes that will rise from the ground at Riverside Sunderland and in a new creative community at Sunniside. 

Ellen Thinnesen, Chief Executive of Education Partnership North East, of which Sunderland College is a part, said:  

“Our vision for HICSA was always about thinking differently as a college of the future, and creating a unique employer led curriculum with technical skills and innovation front and centre. 

“HICSA is aligned not only to the intent of further and technical education reform, but also the priorities of carbon neutrality, green jobs and the Government’s levelling up agenda. Without Sunderland City Council and departmental Government support, HICSA would not be possible. 

“I am deeply grateful for the Council’s visionary commitment and approach to true partnership which is rightly focussed on Sunderland’s whole ecosystem. I especially look forward to shining a light in the coming weeks on our partners who we will be working though codesign and codelivery to make HICSA a reality.” 

Patrick Melia, Chief Executive of Sunderland City Council, added: “Building a dynamic city relies on not only its physical transformation, but the development of skills that will support the ongoing regeneration of the economy.  We are hugely ambitious for Sunderland for its people – and through HICSA, we are developing a new eco-system that supports the physical transformation of Sunderland, creating aspirational new homes at the cutting edge when it comes to their environmental credentials, as well as advancing the skills of our people.  This is a true partnership that will deliver for Sunderland on a number of levels.” 

George Clarke, Architect, presenter and Founder of MOBIE added: “High quality homes are at the absolute heart of a successful society and a thriving economy, and by building them locally, Sunderland can maximise the benefit to the city. 

“Training up the next generation in modern methods of construction is critical to ensure we are at the forefront when it comes to delivering on the future needs of the UK.  We are a city of makers, and HICSA will ensure that Sunderland becomes a known-leader in MMC.” 

Sunderland College is part of Education partnership North East, a leading regional further and higher education college situated entirely within the North East of England. For Sunderland College, HICSA allows significant expansion of its construction and digital skills provision, along with the opportunity to work more closely on technical education with employers, schools, academies and university partners. It will also enable rapid expansion of the college’s advanced manufacturing and engineering curriculum as space becomes available at its Park Lane campus, when construction students eventually relocate to HICSA. 

HICSA is incorporated into the Riverside Sunderland Masterplan, which sets out a development framework for this transforming urban quarter, comprising the former Vaux Brewery site, High Street West, Keel Square, Galley’s Gill, Farringdon Row and Sheepfolds.  The Sunderland Future Living Expo – an event that will culminate in a Festival in 2023 – is also part of the plan, helping to engage and inspire industry and local people in the delivery of innovative homes on the site, and positioning Sunderland as a world-class place to live, work and play. 

Take a virtual tour of the proposed HICSA at 


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