We’ve been speaking exclusively with Sunderland City Council’s Liz St Louis – Assistant Director of Smart Cities – with the city leading the way, showcased by their recent Smart City of the Year title…

Sunderland was named Smart City of the year for 2020 by Digital Leaders UK, what innovations led to you receiving this award?

We try to approach our developments a little differently and aim to achieve transformational work that looks beyond the boundaries of ‘what’ can we do and instead focus on ‘why’ we need to do it.
Winning the title of Smart City of the Year, recognised Sunderland as a progressive and determined destination in which we have prioritised digital transformation for the wider benefit, providing an array of services and creating opportunities for communities and businesses alike.

Our ambitious plans have forged many technological partnerships between the council, businesses, educators and other specialists; all of which are enabling digital growth across the city. We know that our sustainable and smart technologies will enable the city to overcome both economic and social challenges for years to come. Seeing that our collaborative efforts are being recognised at a national level shows the wider impact of our fast-paced digital agenda.

From the outset, we have driven projects across Sunderland to embed an augmented digital infrastructure, which will continue to be key to our recovery from the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Smart City’s implementation to date, include upgrades to vital digital infrastructure and connecting the city through the continuing rollout of free ultrafast public Wi-Fi, featuring download speeds surpassing the first 5G cities.

In addition, the confirmation of multi-million pound investment through the 5G Create funding and Getting Building Fund (GBF) is welcome news to the region. These projects will provide a boost for the manufacturing sector, exploring connected automated logistics (CAL) and the use of 5G technology by UK tech innovators to explore new opportunities in North East England to facilitate next generation digital connectivity.

Could you share some of the exciting innovations being developed at the National Assistive Technologies test-bed?

Sunderland’s digital ambitions are driving the city forward to remain at the forefront of research and development around Assistive Technology and telecare solutions.  Our Social Health Enabling Independent Living (SHIELA) App’s innovative use of assistive technology saw us gain recognition from the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard winning the 2020 Civic Innovation in Technology Award (Europe).

This is really valuable recognition of our approach to enabling residents to live independent lives and have a choice in how they do this. SHEILA has transformed adult social care across the city, with over 1,400 homes across Sunderland now equipped with AT. The real impact out in the community, for families and the significant improvement to individual’s lives is immeasurable.

We have been developing technology enabled care as a core element of the social care offering in the city. Social care practitioners began working with families to explore the use of familiar household technologies and home automation systems to enable independence and build confidence for people whose disability or long-term health condition was beginning to impact on daily living. The service is now well versed in helping families to use GPS and other IOT devices to identify when a family member needs assistance and provide the response that is required to keep them safe

What are some of the core opportunities for those working within the built environment on digital projects in Sunderland?

We are collaborating with numerous partners to ensure modern methods of construction and smart technology are fully integrated to provide a sustainable, green place to live, work and play. Riverside Sunderland, is a sustainable new urban quarter for Sunderland, presenting opportunities for partnerships, community involvement and benefits for residents and businesses.

1,000 sustainable new homes will provide the perfect launchpad for modern urban lifestyles. 1 million square feet of modern offices, commercial premises and other employment space, are creating exciting new sites for businesses to grow. And with amazing views across the city, of the river and the bridges, and out to sea; there is no regeneration site to match this location in the UK.

Sunderland rolled out ultra-fast free public-wifi, what has been the impact of this investment?

We have always expressed our intention to provide ubiquitous connectivity for all, leaving no one and nowhere behind, and this continues to ring true in all of our projects and future planning.  Providing access to more ultra-fast public Wi-Fi has elevated opportunities within so many different contexts, from community hubs, healthcare (such as the SHEILA app I mentioned earlier) to education and extending digital means and EdTech enhancements in the classroom to the sheer convenience and reliability of the connectivity when out and about across the city.

How has Sunderland employed the use of smart city technologies within traffic management?

Our investment in intelligent traffic mapping in the city centre, alongside a commitment to public safety and environmental sustainability, continues to drive the development of our urban traffic management projects.