The city’s unique historical connection to Washington D.C has been the basis for its Friendship Agreement and strong partnership with the American capital. This has seen partners forge close links in areas from business and IT to education and the arts.

As part of this on-going relationship Sunderland partners have been working on a joint project with the BSA Foundation in Washington DC, to enable students from the city to work collaboratively on-line with their counterparts in the American capital to share and develop new digital skills.

Sunderland College (Next Gen programme) and Sunderland Software City (Go Reboot programme) have partnered up with the ‘Girls who Code’ programme in Washington DC to put the learners in direct contact and to allow them to share their work, knowledge and experiences.

Students in both cities have already been involved in their first ‘student-to-student’ video conferences.

Hosted by Sunderland College, the video conferencing first saw students from the city present their portfolios to their counterparts in America, who provided feedback and asked questions.

This week it was the turn of the students in Washington D.C who showcased their work in advance of their graduation presentations, with students in Sunderland now asked to provide the feedback and questions.

Leader of Sunderland City Council, Councillor Paul Watson said: “Sunderland is very proud to be the only non-capital city to have a Friendship Agreement with Washington D.C Since we signed it in June 2006 our two cities have worked together on a range of projects in key areas.

“In Sunderland we are also proud of our proven track record in software and technology including our many successful businesses and of Sunderland Software City as a key partnership initiative based here in our Software Centre.We are also delighted to be the nation’s lead in the Digital Challenge for using technology to improve people’s computer skills.

“This project is a great example of how our international partnerships can create opportunities to benefit young people in both our cities, and support us in our goals to create a thriving software and technology cluster.  We are delighted to support this project as much as we can to help students in both our cities share and develop their skills working together in such an innovative way.”

The digital partnership has been developed by Sunderland City Council’s International Team through Sunderland College’s NextGen programme which has been in place for two years.

Designed with the help of high-profile companies including Sony, Microsoft, Ubisoft Reflections, Double Negative and Framestore, the course was developed by NextGen Skills Academy along with partner organisation AIM Awards to provide one of the only courses in the region providing accredited training in games development, animation and visual effects.

It is taught from the state-of-the-art NextGen Studio based at Sunderland College’s Arts Academy at Bede Campus, which replicates a real world working environment.

Sunderland College’s curriculum leader for digital design, Mike Jaques said:”From the outset of this programme, our students have been given some incredible opportunities which has not only promoted and strengthened their technical skills, but has also opened up a digital forum allowing in-depth conversation and collaboration.

“To be part of this project and to link-up with the American capital is a privilege. It reflects our commitment to work with the digital and tech sector on both a local and international scale.”

Sunderland College student Zara Huitson added: “It is amazing to work with younger people to help inspire them and give an insight as to how we, as Next Gen students, are tackling making games, working to achieve industry standard projects and learning to improve our talents.

“There is a definite gender gap in this career choice so it’s very exciting to speak to other girls from around the world who are creating brilliant content. The ‘Girls who Code’ programme has been very beneficial and has helped us to develop our digital and communication skills.”

The ‘Girls Who Code’ training programme has locations across the United States and seeks to help girl students develop a career in technology. the BSA Foundation sponsors a classroom in Washington DC.

Executive Director of, Chris Hopfensberger, said: “The technical skills that ‘Girls Who Code’ provides are obviously the core of the programme, but the opportunity to connect and build a community of women in tech is maybe even more important and inspiring. The Sister Cities connection has helped grow the students’ community on a global scale.”

Washington DC student Nidhi Allani, a 2016 alumna of the training added: ” The ‘Girls Who Code’ programme  provided me with a community of like-minded girls who deal with the same problems I’ve had to deal with.

“After seven weeks in this programme I am proud to call myself a programmer. I will go on for the rest of my career with this vital skill that has become such an integral part of our society.”