CaptureTHE YEAR of the Monkey will be welcomed in style in Sunderland, with the city hosting its first ever Chinese New Year celebrations.

A full programme of events including an appearance by dragons and traditional lion dancing will take place at Keel Square on Sunday Feb 7, with the hope that hundreds of families will turn up and enjoy the fun.

The event is the brainchild of local businessmen Harry Collinson and Ian Wong, who have worked for months to bring together every aspect of the event.

Mr Wong, who runs Asiana restaurant in Sunderland city centre, said that “the time was right to have a sizeable celebration in the city for Chinese New Year.”

“There is quite a large Chinese community in Sunderland, which is growing every year with the arrival of more Chinese students,” he said.

“There are big celebrations for Chinese New Year in other parts of the North East and we felt that Sunderland definitely needed to have one of their own.”

The activities will run from 1pm to 5pm and will include martial arts displays and lion and dragon dancing, with more events to be added to the programme.

The programme is being supported by Sunderland’s Business Improvement District and Chief Executive, Ken Dunbar, said he was “delighted” that the city was holding such an exciting event.

“Chinese New Year celebrations take place all over the world and it’s great news to see that Sunderland are now able to be part of that,” he said.

“It’s a great opportunity not just for a family day out in the city centre but also for people to learn more about other cultures. We hope that this will now become an annual event on the Sunderland calendar.”

Harry Collinson, who heads up Rough Diamond Entertainment and has co-created the event, added that everyone approached had been extremely enthusiastic about the plans.

“Everyone we’ve talked to has been very keen for this to go ahead, including the University of Sunderland, schools, the city council and of course the Chinese businesses in the city,” he said.

“It should be a fantastic day.”

Activities are also planned the day prior to the event at Sunderland’s Museum and Winter Gardens, which will host a family fun day on Feb 6 with a range of activities including Chinese lantern making and stalls selling Chinese crafts.

Cllr Paul Watson, Leader of Sunderland City Council, praised the organisers for creating the event.

“It’s great to work with passionate, local business people like Ian and Harry to be able to stage a weekend of activities like this,” he said.

“We have strong links with China through our Friendship Agreement with the city of Harbin and our international student community is very important to us.

“It is great to be able to showcase Chinese culture and traditions in our city centre to welcome the Year of the Monkey.”