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Six University of Sunderland filmmakers are ready to take the movie industry on after receiving months of intensive guidance from Lord David Puttnam.

This year’s Puttnam Scholars – the University programme named after the Oscar-winning producer – have been creating, developing, and honing their skills since February this year.

This is the third year the film producer and former Government minister has launched his unique scheme with the University.

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But with the outbreak of Covid-19, the group of six were faced with a unique challenge – creating films in lockdown.

As the pandemic took grip, Lord Puttnam asked his apprentices to make a movie using their iPhones and laptops to reflect their isolation experience. While some chose to make documentaries, others opted for comedy or drama.

Short clips of some of the films can be seen here.

The six films were showcased online earlier this month from Lord Puttnam’s studio in Ireland and the intention is to enter the films in festivals as a chronicle of the UK’s time in lockdown.

Luke Smith, 23, from Red House in Sunderland, recently completed his Masters Degree in Media Production (TV and Film).

He said: “The whole experience has been something of a whirlwind. At first it was very intense, and I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, wondering if I was good enough.

“But that is the amazing thing about Lord Puttnam – he makes you feel like you deserve it, that you are good enough.

“He would always respond to my questions very quickly and I’ve been able to take on-board all the advice he gave out.”

Luke is now preparing to work on future projects and hopes one day to get involved in making feature films.

Katie Stubbs, 19, from Cleadon in South Tyneside, is currently studying Screen Performance at the University.

She said: “The feedback from Lord Puttnam has been invaluable. I found his lecture on creativity and identity inspiring, teaching me that I need to see a little bit of myself in everything I create.

“Being mentored by someone with his experience is priceless, it made my future seem so real, as though I was being pushed in the right direction.”

 The programme saw the students taking part in a series of interactive seminars overseen by Lord Puttnam.

This year’s group met with the Labour Peer at the House of Lords, to discuss and launch the programme prior to the pandemic outbreak.

Abboud Mahjoub, 27, from Gateshead, a Digital Film Production student, said: “This experience has made me realise how much I would like to work in a production house once I get started.

“I know now how much work I have to do and what is involved in making a successful career.”

Lord Puttnam, a former Chancellor of the University and an Oscar-winning producer of films including Chariots of Fire, The Mission, The Killing Fields and Midnight Express, has been an inspiring figure to all those taking part in the programme.

Amelia Bourke, 20, from Darlington, is a third year Digital Film Production Student.

She said: “This programme enables me to understand a more sophisticated way of looking at film.

“Lord Puttnam made us ask the right questions of ourselves and how we created – not so much the technical side – but the way you actually make a film.”

James MacNeil, 24, a third year Media Production student, said: “As part of the programme we went down to Westminster and that was actually the first time I had been to London.

“My self-confidence has improved so much and the guidance of Lord Puttnam has been invaluable.”

João Chambel, from Portugal, who is studying Film Production, added: “I was able to get behind-the-scenes knowledge from an experienced name in Hollywood.”

Speaking about this year’s students and the challenges of mentoring them during the pandemic, Lord Puttnam said: “As a mentoring programme, I think the 'Puttnam Scholars' at the University of Sunderland has worked incredibly well.

“By gathering a small number of students together from different disciplines, we've been able to share many valuable conversations about film and its place in our rapidly changing world. But, beyond that, a longstanding dream of mine has always been to bridge the distance between technology and learning.

“Ironically, it has taken the worst of times to drive this goal forward. By thinking creatively about how to deliver lectures, and supported by a CISCO operated video-conferencing facility, I was able to work with individual students - all of whom were forced to stay in their respective homes - from my office in south-west Ireland, and I think we managed to do so in a truly meaningful way.

“This was no more apparent to me than during our final Sunderland session when each student presented the 'isolation film' they had produced.

“We are all working in adverse circumstances, but I think the past seven weeks of remote teaching has shown me that these circumstances are also capable of allowing imaginative and committed students to find enlightened ways of achieving their ambitions.”

Mum's Pride

June is Pride Month, and during this special month we recognise the influence LGBT people have had around the world. 

This week Megan Lunn, Client Marketing Officer in External Relations, writes about why Pride means so much to her and her family.

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On all accounts I appear to have a Hetro-normal life, married to a man with two children between us – why should Pride Month be so important?

In reality we’re staunch LGBTQ+ allies in our household and the annual considerations, contemplations and of course celebrations that Pride month brings, are a big deal for us.  

Personally I’ve had relationships with men and women over years and am a strong believer in loving people not parts. My friendship circle is a wonderful spectrum, and we spent much of our twenties, and early thirties packing our summers full of national Pride events as we did the circuit; Brighton, Newcastle, London, Manchester and more.

My husband, born and bred in South Shields has always been the welcoming type, but with a good pinch of northern gruffness alongside – he doesn’t like big fuss or noise. He’d had little to do with the LGB community until he got to University and it was some years later that he began to really be aware of what TQ+ meant.  He loves our friends and would stand up for them in a heartbeat, but Pride? That wasn’t really his thing. 

Fast forward and now Pride has had a far deeper impact on our family. 

In August 2016 I took my stepson to his first Manchester Pride, he was 16 at the time and was 10 month along from telling us he was trans.  We had the BEST time, it was truly an unforgettable Pride.

It’s fair to say he’d been struggling to feel comfortable in his skin; school, home and life in general was challenging. That weekend he shrugged it all off, and got to spend 48 hours as himself. The small things really mattered; he was welcomed, he was celebrated, he disappeared into the crowd as others were choosing to be the spectacle, and he learnt more about representations of gender and sex then he had in any classroom - he still talks about how we walked right into a trio of leather clad human pups on our arrival on Canal Street!  

That weekend we shopped for clothes for sixth form; he bought his first suit, he used the changing room in menswear shops; and he used the male toilet for the first time (albeit with the encouragement of the pride community).  On the drive to Manchester we’d made small talk, I tried to give him a low-down on what to expect (his jaw still dropped) and we set some ground rules, he was 16 after all.  On the way back we talked about his transition, what we could do to help and what was really going through his mind. I’m still not sure he’d have opened up so soon if it hadn’t been for that trip. 

The next year we returned, with my husband in tow. My gruff northerner had a special t-shirt printed and had tear-filled eyes as he walked proudly alongside Logan on the march. He’d shown his support before but in that moment, able to shout it loud and proud we all realised just how important it is.  We all partied hard that weekend, but were left with no doubt that Pride has a purpose.

Last year, the day before our daughters first birthday we attended Newcastle Pride as a family. We stood in the torrential rain to celebrate and applaud all those who support the LGBTQ+ community. Whilst this year will be different, Pride is still marked in our calendar and will be permanently until we’re confident that this world will accept Logan as he is, or allow our daughter to confidently grow up loving anyone, or be whoever she becomes. 

Happy Pride Month from the Lunns! 

Professor Lynne Hall, Faculty of Technology, is working with Creative Fuse North East on a research project about the near-future for families and technology.

Please fill in this short survey about families and technology during Lockdown. 

Lockdown, Technology and the Family Survey

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On Monday, May 25 2020 in Minneapolis, USA, George Floyd, a black man in his 40s, died as a police officer held him down in the street, with his knee to his neck.

The incident, which was captured on video, has sparked protests and an international outcry.

Here, Professor Donna Chambers from the University of Sunderland, an expert in representations of race/gender, looks back on the frightening history of race killings in the US and asks when will we truly understand that #BlackLivesMatter. 

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The death of George Floyd has led to the usual cries of outrage and mass demonstrations by the black community in America who are demanding justice. 

The incident is sadly just the latest in a long string of unarmed black men who have died at the hands of white law enforcement officers or vigilantes. 

The outpourings of grief from the family and friends of the deceased, the mass demonstrations and the public cries of outrage and calls for justice after every such killing is reminiscent of the scenes that accompany mass shootings in America where the ubiquitous arguments about gun control once more take centre stage. 

Then time passes, public anger dissipates, the stories disappear from the media and things go back to normal. Until the next mass shooting or the next police murder of another unarmed black man when the cycle begins again….

However, the killing of black people in America dates from the early slavery years in the 17th Century, to the days of the Jim Crow Laws which lasted from the late 19th – mid 20th centuries and which legitimized racial segregation in the USA, to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1940s to the end of the 1960s.

In more recent times while incidents of black people - particularly black men - being lynched by members of the Ku Klux Klan in acts of ritualistic violence, have all but disappeared in the USA, black oppression continues but manifests itself in new guises, whether that be the disproportionate number of black men who are incarcerated, the high levels of unemployment, poverty and homelessness amongst black people, the higher numbers of black women who die in childbirth and today, the disproportionate number of black people who have died from the Coronavirus.

It is true to say that the relationship between the black male community in the USA and the police is fraught and uneasy and is underpinned by historical myths, stereotypes, and racist ideologies about the nature of the black body. 

When this is combined with notions of class and gender, it becomes a very potent and dangerous cocktail which is often more detrimental to black male bodies. In America it seems that being a black man is synonymous with being a criminal.

Recent murders of black men by white police officers/vigilantes which have led to public explosions of outrage from the black community include:

2012 – Trayvon Martin
2014 – Eric Garner; Michael Brown; Akai Gurley; Tamir Rice; Laquan McDonald
2015 – Walter Scott; Tony Robinson; Freddie Gray
2018 – Botham Shem Dean; Stephen Clarke
2019 – Anton Sterling

It was in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and the subsequent acquittal of his white assailant George Zimmerman that #BlackLivesMatter was formed and according to their website their mission is to “eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes”. 

The founders of this movement wanted to create a space for “black imagination and innovation by combating and counteracting acts of violence’. #BlackLivesMatter has now expanded from America and includes branches in the UK and in Canada.

Evidently the killing of black men by the police has a long history in America and it also has contemporary relevance. However, it is important to highlight the role that social media has played in bringing what has long existed in the shadows into the light. 

Indeed, according to Darryl Pincknay “social media have removed the filters that used to protect white America from what it didn’t want to see”.

Returning to the killing of George Floyd, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey stated that “being black in America should not be a death sentence”. 

But sadly, all too often it is.

Visa extensions

On 22 May 2020 the Home Office extended their support for those students who have not been able to leave the UK and return to their home country due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Visa nationals currently residing in the UK will be able to extend their leave until 31 July 2020 if (i) their previous leave expired after 24 January 2020 and (ii) leaving the UK was not possible due to self-isolation or travel restrictions.

Please note if you have already had your visa extended to 31 May 2020, your visa will automatically be extended to 31 July 2020.

If your visa expires between 31 May 2020 to the 31 July 2020 you will need to complete the online form. Please ensure that you have your passport and current visa to hand when completing the form.

If your visa has expired after January 24 and you have not yet applied for this extension, please complete the online form following the instructions above.

You will be expected to leave the UK and return to your home country once it is safe and possible to do so.

The Home Office will respond within 5 working days to confirm the request has been approved and your visa has been extended. If you have any additional questions on this process, the Home Office has created a helpline to support those who may require an extension; 0800 678 1767.

International Student Support (ISS) is a team that helps international students with immigration queries through expert guidance and information. They are trained by the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) and are regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC).

You can contact International Student Support via Compass for additional support and guidance on your immigration status in the UK. This includes if you have an upcoming visa expiry beyond 31st July 2020, and therefore don’t qualify for the above allowance, but still have questions regarding your immigration status.

For more information please visit the University of Sunderland’s Covid-19 support webpages.

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This year we mark 20 years of our MA TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Kim Willis, Programme leader MA TESOL, writes about some of the successes of the course which has impacted students' lives across the globe.

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It is just over 20 years since the MA TESOL was first validated, and to celebrate this, the Team asked some of those who have studied with us from around the globe to share their thoughts about the course, as well as their own success stories.  

It has been fascinating to read how their careers have developed over the years and how they have built on the foundation of the Master’s degree in Sunderland, using what they learned on the programme in concrete ways.


Some of our MA TESOL graduates

One of our earlier graduates, wrote: “I particularly enjoyed the Corpus Linguistics module and have used components of it in my teaching ever since.’” Another of our former students was previously a pilot, and now teaches and tests Aviation English, as well as running a website with resources for students and teachers. A further IDL (Independent Distance Learning) graduate started working as a lecturer in Qatar immediately after completing the programme but has recently returned to the UK and has accepted a place on the PGCE English course here in Sunderland in order to take his career in a new direction. This is thanks to his positive experience as a distance learning MA student many years ago.

To find out more about MA TESOL click HERE.

The University’s We Care team has gained its second national accolade in the space of a week – and later this year will be recognised in Westminster.

Last week the We Care Team were highlighted as an example of excellent practice in a briefing from the Office for Students, and this week they have been named as a national finalist for the NEON Widening Access Initiative awards 2020.

The NEON Awards celebrate success in widening access to higher education work. In particular they recognise the students who have progressed to HE from widening access backgrounds, and how they made this journey.

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The We Care team’s submission highlighted their work with estranged students, that is students who have no parental home to go to and no parental contact to rely on, talk to or ask for emotional or financial support.  The work of the team has become particularly challenging – and essential - during the current Covid-19 crisis.

They are currently supporting 128 care experienced and estranged students.

The team’s submission highlighted three of our inspirational young people - Alex Hoey, who is studying BA (Hons) Media Production, Tanika Williams, BA (Hons) Events Management, and Stephen Creighton, who is studying BA (Hons) Physical Education and Youth Sport. You can read their stories below.

Wendy Price, We Care Team Manager, says: “The University is renowned for its supportive and nurturing approach to students, ensuring that everyone regardless of their background has the opportunity to achieve their full potential."

The We Care team

Wendy continued: "I am delighted that we have been shortlisted for a prestigious NEON Award. The support provided by the We Care Team is directly linked to our strategic objective to widening access to higher education.

"Having a dedicated team to support care experienced and estranged students enables us to provide personalised support to each individual student, from the point of initial enquiry to graduation, and beyond. We engage directly with our students to ensure that our support is responsive, fit for purpose and valued.

"Responding to the Covid-19 pandemic meant we needed to review the support we offer to students. We called each individual student to check in and agree an individual support plan. This has included weekly check ins by phone and video calls, storage of belongings, sending birthday cards and food vouchers – and even collecting and delivering prescriptions!

"We know the difference, and reassurance, that this support can provide, meaning that students are able to focus on their studies and achieve the best possible academic outcome."

The 2020 NEON Awards is planned to take place at the Palace of Westminster in October. 

Alex Hoey, BA (Hons) Media Production

Alex Hoey lost his mother to cancer last year, and is now estranged from his father. He runs a small business making costumes for cosplay enthusiasts and is looking forward to his future media career.

"I came to University of Sunderland because I had seen the facilities on an open day. I really liked what I saw and wanted to continue studying media at a higher level. Media is my passion. I see it an art form, and a voice that I can use to express myself.

"The best advice I can give to anyone unsure about coming to university is to not feel trapped. Go to the open days, go and check out loads of options and subjects. If you start a course and don’t like it, you can always switch. No one will make you study something you dislike for three years. The same goes for accommodation, if you can’t handle it and want to live at home, that's okay!

"At the moment I have to just take every obstacle as it comes and live in the moment. I have no clue where the next few years will take me, but I would like a career in the media, and would also like to continue with my business on the side.

"I have amazing friends who are always wanting to hang out, but also respect that sometimes I need time to myself. My friends unwavering support along with the support of the University have been central to me making it through the last year, so I am extremely grateful and lucky.

"I used to visit my mam when she was ill, and I know she was proud of me coming to the University."

Tanika Williams, BA (Hons) Events Management,

Starting university can be difficult for anyone, but for Tanika, who had lost both her mum and dad within two years of each other, it must have been a particularly difficult experience – but she is absolutely determined to make the most of the opportunities her life can offer.

"I have family in Sunderland, and moved here from Greater Manchester in 2016 after losing my dad. Two years before that I lost my mam. Me and my dad were joined at the hip, and losing him was one of the hardest times of my life. I decided to come to Sunderland as I wanted to expand my available possibilities for the future and to give myself a better chance at a good career.

"I am the first person from my family to actually go to university so it was hard getting advice of whether or not to go for it to begin with. So I made the decision for myself to come to university. I’m learning new things every day. It’s a real pleasure to be a part of the University.”

Tanika says she would not hesitate to advise any young person worried about going to university to just to go for it.

“Don’t hold back. There is no better feeling than knowing you’re doing something good for your future, and you will make amazing friends along the way. Even though some of the worst things can happen, there’s always the chance to move on and improve yourself. The University of Sunderland has really helped me realise that.”

Stephen Creighton, BA (Hons) Physical Education and Youth Sport.

After losing his mother to cancer and becoming estranged from his father, Stephen has had what he describes as a “topsy turvy” few years, and now hopes to build a solid foundation for his future.

"My mother died of lung cancer in 2013, and I became estranged from my father in the summer of 2017. Since then I have lived in a combination of a hostel, foster care and supported accommodation.

"For me the best thing about coming to the University of Sunderland is meeting so many incredible people on my course. They are a great group of people, and have made my time here even better than I expected.

"The course was a good fit for me, but one of the main reasons I chose to study at the University of Sunderland is because of the support that was offered by the We Care Team.”

Stephen admits it has not all been smooth going in his first year at University, but it has been worth every minute.

“Settling in was tough for me. I found the environment of university hard because of my past, and being in a new place brought some challenges. I was unsure about whether to go to university or not, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.”

CitySpace Fitness are starting online training groups to help those struggling to motivate themselves to keep active in lockdown.

The programme, which starts on 25 May, will last for five weeks and will consist of personalised training sessions to follow on MyWellness. 

Participants will also receive nutritional support while receiving daily updates and check ins from their designated personal trainer within the CitySpace team.

Small groups of five will be added into a WhatsApp group with their personal trainer to create a sense of community and allow people to work as a team.

To find out more or sign up contact Ryan Campbell at, spaces are limited.

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Although Sunderland cultural venues may be closed during lockdown, great performances, exhibitions and activities are now accessible to an online audience. 

National Glass Centre and Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art on ouir campus, as well as Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, Arts Centre Washington and The Fire Station all closed their doors to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Since then Sunderland Culture, University of Sunderland and Sunderland City Council have been working to deliver arts, culture and heritage online and in innovative new ways.

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“As soon as the venues closed we started working on a plan for our combined digital channels to take interesting and inspiring content – old and new – into Sunderland homes,” said Keith Merrin, Chief Executive of Sunderland Culture.

“Our programmes include activities for families, valuable resources for home schooling, and projects to help socially-isolated older people. We’ve also offered direct support to local artists and creatives while our websites offer a showcase for the city’s venues and artists to a global audience.”

A programme of family activities planned for the Easter holidays had to be cancelled, but a new digital creative challenge for children and families was developed and launched at great speed.

"The Creative Challenges went out on Sunderland Museum, National Glass Centre and Sunderland Culture channels and had more than 2,000 engagements. The challenges are still available on the Sunderland Culture website,” explained Keith.

The museum also acted swiftly to transform a University of Sunderland Fine Art and Design students’ takeover event, which had been due at the end of April.

This event became an online takeover of the museum’s Received Wisdom exhibition in partnership with the prestigious Arts Council Collection. The online takeover featured work by nine university students and two staff, and attracted almost 4,000 direct engagements through Instagram and Twitter.

Arts Centre Washington’s performance programme has also been suspended until further notice, but the venue responded by arranging the broadcast premiere of The Secret Earl of Biddick, a play developed by the venue’s Youth Theatre for the visit of The Tall Ships in 2018.

“While it has been important to us to engage with audiences through our websites and social media, another priority was to continue to support artists. It has been an extremely challenging time for freelance artists and independent companies, and we’ve worked hard to support the artistic community in Sunderland,” said Keith. A survey distributed in the early weeks of the lockdown asked local artists what help they needed.

“The responses enabled our creative industries support programme to be rapidly refocused and we launched a programme of online tutorials and workshops to offer as much help and support as we can. A new area of Sunderland Culture’s website will be dedicated to the support available,” explained Keith.

In one tutorial, 18 Sunderland writers received guidance on writing monologues. The subsequent works will provide paid-for employment for local actors who will record the monologues, which will be shared later this year. Just before it closed National Glass Centre was preparing No Strings, an exhibition featuring artwork from seven international artists working with glass beads in unconventional ways. However, audiences can still see No Strings after a new film and online video tour of the exhibition was put on Sunderland Culture’s website.

“Our curator Julia Stephenson recorded the tour allowing people to enjoy this extraordinary exhibition from the comfort of their own home,” said Keith.

“The online videos we’re producing are part of our proactive plan to take arts and culture into our communities in new ways. Of course, not everyone has access to the internet, so some of our work is being done over the telephone, ” he added.

This plan includes specific work with identified communities, and includes a project with Sunderland Culture’s Creative Age groups affected by dementia, but which will incorporate social-distancing measures. Another project will work with older people through the Age of Creativity Festival, a national, month-long celebration of older people as creative audiences, participants, volunteers and artists. The festival has moved online. And after the success of the Easter challenge, Sunderland Culture’s learning and participation team is developing a new six-week Discover Arts Award for Children and their families.

"I’m grateful to our teams for the hard work they’ve put in to make so much artistic content available online and through social media so quickly. But there is more to come with some really exciting and innovative developments arriving soon,” said Keith.

"For instance, we’re also working on a new offer to schools, families and young people which will launch soon on our website,” he concluded.

Sunderland Culture Sunderland Culture was set up in 2016 to bring together the cultural programmes of Sunderland City Council, University of Sunderland and Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust into a single, independent, resilient delivery model and realise the ambition of a city brimming with creative potential.

Sunderland Culture works in National Glass Centre and Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, Arts Centre Washington, The Fire Station and delivers programmes of cultural engagement and events across the whole city. It works across the city to ensure the power of great art, culture and creativity is harnessed for the benefit of Sunderland, its residents and visitors.

Sunderland Culture’s mission is to improve life for everyone in Sunderland through culture. In spring 2017 Sunderland Culture was successful in its bid to be one of 16 pilot areas for the Great Place scheme, jointly funded over three years by Arts Council England and National Lottery Heritage Fund with funding made possible by National Lottery players, to put arts, culture and heritage at the heart of communities. On April 1, 2018, Sunderland Culture joined Arts Council England’s National Portfolio.

Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens have announced a contemporary collecting project asking residents to share photographs of their experience of life during the Coronavirus outbreak.

The Museum seeks to collect images - that capture snapshots of feelings and experiences at a time when many local lives will have been put on hold or turned upside down - to store as a record in its archive and as a resource for future generations, chronicling this extraordinary period in our history.

Residents are being asked to send up to three photographs that sum up their experience of life during this difficult time – from those working harder than ever on the front line to those adjusting to working at home, from home schooling to new hobbies, from empty unspoilt beaches, closed shops and parks to queuing for shopping, from social distancing to poignant moments of sadness, love, bravery and incredible kindness.

Entries can be submitted via email to until 20 June 2020. For more information visit:

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A selection of images will be showcased in an online gallery on the Museum’s website and some will also become part of the Museum’s collection.

Jo Cunningham, Collections Manager at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, said:  

“Over the past few months, Covid-19 has changed lives across the world and dramatically reshaped cultural and social norms. 

“As a museum, we feel it is important to capture this major moment in our history and reflect upon the impact that coronavirus is having on Sunderland and its residents.

“We’re calling upon the people of Sunderland to share their favourite images from the past few months covering a broad range of subjects such as nature, family, food, work, art, or experiences including reflective, hard-hitting and optimistic.”

“Many years from now, these photographs will become first-hand historical accounts of events as they happened, showing how the outbreak changed the way we live and telling stories of resilience, creativity, and hope.”

Councillor John Kelly, Cabinet Member for Communities and Culture at Sunderland City Council, said: “These last few weeks have been an incredibly challenging time for everyone in our city, and it’s only right that we should document this significant period in our history for future generations.

“Many of us will have taken photographs during this time, whether of the colourful rainbows popping up everywhere,  the amazing acts of kindness that have brought our communities together, the weekly clap for carers, or the heroic bravery and selflessness of our NHS, social care and key workers, who have kept our key services running and our city moving in these unprecedented times.

“It’s very important that we capture these memories, as these will become the historical records of the future, so I would urge everyone to pick up to three images that sum up their experience of the last few weeks and send them to Sunderland Culture.”  

Photo entries are welcome from all ages and abilities and will not be selected based on photographic quality or technical expertise. 

Entries can be submitted via email to until 20 June 2020. For more information visit:


Bariatric specialists at a Sunderland research centre have welcomed national calls for a more robust approach to tackling obesity during the current pandemic.

Current data suggests people with obesity develop more severe Covid-19 symptoms, coupled with a higher death rate (58 per cent in patients with a BMI of 40). There are now calls for an increase in bariatric surgery to avoid unnecessary suffering, save lives, develop a healthier population and protect the NHS. 

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The Helen McArdle Nursing and Care Research Institute (HMNCRI), which sits within the University of Sunderland’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences, focuses on research in areas including bariatric surgical care. Academics there, who are part of the British Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Society (BOMSS) have supported a letter to the Prime Minister this week, asking for urgent action by the NHS to rapidly introduce effective treatment for severe obesity.

The Prime Minister has announced plans to launch an anti-obesity strategy after believing his weight was partly the reason he ended up in intensive care with coronavirus.

BOMSS National Research Lead, Dr Yitka Graham, is Head of the HMNCRI, an Associate Professor in Health Services Research, and is part of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity Stigma. She has carried out extensive research into bariatric and metabolic surgery for adult obesity, holding a research post in one of the UK’s leading Bariatric Surgical Unit at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust for the last eight years. 

Dr Yitka Graham

Dr Graham explained: “The decision to have weight-loss surgery is not an easy one to make, and usually follows when other methods of weight-loss have been attempted but have not achieved significant weight-loss.  

“Bariatric surgery is an intervention that requires life-long changes which impact all aspects of peoples’ lives. It is not a ‘quick fix’ and many people are judged for taking what is wrongly seen as an ‘easy way’ of weight loss, which is simply not true. It requires strength and life-long commitment.  In this current pandemic, bariatric surgery is a weight-loss option which has potential to save lives in more ways than one. It’s more important than ever to support people living with obesity.”

According to BOMSS, bariatric surgery produces beneficial improvements in type 2 diabetes within days of surgery, significant weight loss within 12 weeks and ongoing continued health improvements including remission of type 2 diabetes in 70% of patients, reduction in the number of heart attacks and strokes and increased life expectancy.  

Mr Kamal Mahawar is Chair of the Patient Safety Committee for BOMSS and a Consultant Bariatric Surgeon at Sunderland Royal Hospital, and is also a Visiting Professor at the University and a Member of the External Advisory Board of the University’s HMNCRI.

a man wearing a suit and tie
Mr Kamal Mahawar

Mr Mahawar said: “Bariatric surgery has been postponed across the world as a result of Covid-19.  We need to look at how we can safely restart this surgery in the UK. With an in-hospital mortality rate of 0.1% in the UK, bariatric surgery is one of the safest surgical interventions known to mankind. It reduces mortality, cancer risks and improves a number of other health conditions related to obesity such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. It is also cost effective and generally pays back for itself in the first few years owing to improved health status.”

Sarah Le Brocq, Director of Obesity UK and someone living with obesity, said: “People living with obesity are faced with stigma and discrimination on a daily basis. Society doesn’t understand the complexities of obesity and are told the solution is ‘eat less, move more’. This is absolutely not the case, there are over 100 factors that contribute to why someone lives with obesity (Foresight Report 2007). Bariatric surgery is a tool that can help people manage their weight, but it still requires life-long changes and is absolutely not a ‘quick fix’.

“Obesity UK hope the Government will increase access to weight management services in the UK, so people living with obesity can get equitable access to support.”

David Kerrigan, President of BOMSS, said: “Bariatric surgery is recognised by NICE as a cost-effective healthcare intervention and   offers strong and sustained weight loss and improvement of obesity-related diseases. It should not be perceived as a ‘quick fix’ in terms of an easy solution for people living with obesity, but in terms of having potential to provide an intervention which is by far the most effective treatment for obesity that we have in the fight against the suffering and death being wreaked by Covid-19.”

In his letter to the Prime Minister, David said: “We would welcome your support in pushing for prioritisation of effective NICE-approved treatments for obesity and in particular bariatric surgery during the forthcoming NHS restart, along with rapid expansion of the number of procedures commissioned.  BOMSS believes that as a minimum the UK should be carrying out 20,000 bariatric procedures per annum and that we have the manpower and infrastructure to deliver this.”

He added: “We would be delighted to assist you in any way to secure your goal of improving the health of the British people afflicted by the dual modern curses of obesity and Covid-19.”

The Prime Minister reportedly admitted he weighed 17½st when he was taken to hospital with coronavirus last month. At 5ft 9in tall, this would mean his Body Mass Index (BMI) was 36, which is in the obese range. Statistics show that being overweight increases the risk of hospitalisation from Covid-19. Since his illness, Mr Johnson is believed to have lost a stone.

Under his plan, the Government will invest in "preventative and personalised solutions" to help people lose weight and live more active lives.

Read more about the work Dr Graham has done around bariatric research:


Final year student teachers from the University of Sunderland are submitting their final assessments and preparing for life in the classroom.

So, on National Thank a Teacher day – Wednesday, May 20 -  schoolchildren, academics and educators pay tribute to those in the profession who continue to work tirelessly to support our young people.

Professor Lynne McKenna, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Society, said: “Teachers, leaders and school support staff across the UK have demonstrated exceptional professionalism during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

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Professor Lynne McKenna

“The nation united in a new found respect and admiration for teachers, who very quickly opened schools to provide education and care for key workers, developed and extended the pedagogy of learning and teaching by moving their teaching online, and generally went above and beyond to support children and their communities. 

“The stories of teachers delivering packed lunches to their pupils, making a weekly telephone call to children to check in with them and supporting individualised learning proliferated the news. 

“Many of our teachers have also been home-schooling and caring for their own children while preparing, teaching and marking work during this time. Of course, none of this was surprising or viewed as out of the ordinary or exceptional by those of us involved with the profession.  

“As an educator with over 34 years’ experience, I have always believed and very much championed and celebrated the high levels of professionalism amongst teachers. 

“Teachers do an extraordinarily important job every single day, not just in the middle of a crisis and we celebrate and thank them all today on National Thank a Teacher Day.

“As our student teachers meet with their tutors this week to go through their Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) evidence reviews, I am confident that the standard of ‘Professionalism’ required will be achieved. 

“We are extremely proud of our student teachers, many of whom are now turning their attention to their first teaching post. They will be entering into the profession at a time when teaching will look very different to previous years but will be never more important and hopefully viewed with increased appreciation. 

“I thank them all for choosing to enter this wonderfully rewarding profession and wish each and every one of them every success in their future careers.”

Sir David Bell is the Vice chancellor and Chief Executive of the University.

He said: “Day in, day out, teachers do a magnificent job in educating the next generation.

“During this period of lockdown I’m sure that many parents have come to appreciate even more the great job that teachers do.

“We began Teacher Training here in 1908 and currently our Education courses are ranked 2nd in the UK. If you are a prospective teacher, come and join us at the University of Sunderland.”

You can watch a video of Sir David Bell personally thanking teachers HERE.

John Howe is the Headteacher of Seaburn Dene Primary School in Sunderland and completed his teacher training programme at the University.

He said: “While the profession is perhaps currently getting more attention the normal, the fact is teachers have always known how important their role is.

“We have, are, and will continue to support the next generation whatever the circumstances might be.”

Several of Seaburn Dene’s pupils paid tribute to their teachers today. You can watch the video HERE.

Colina Wright is the new CEO of Sunderland Students' Union.

"It's a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together"

So, my name is Colina Wright and I'm the new CEO at Sunderland Students' Union.

I can't tell you how proud I am to be here, but changing jobs during a global pandemic is definitely something I'd think twice about doing again! Fortunately when the team is as supportive as they are at Sunderland SU, it certainly helps.

Having worked within Students' Union since undertaking my Bachelor's degree, more years ago than I care to remember, this is my first CEO role. I wholeheartedly believe in students' journeys and am passionate about making a positive difference to those students that engage with the Union, obviously I'd hope that to be as many of you as possible.

I am inspired to take Sunderland SU from good to great and to involve as many people in that transition as possible. This is your Union and I want you to feel as though your opinions matter. I can't believe it's only my 5th week but during that time I have spoken to the current Presidents and a couple of the incoming team, all the Union staff and Student Trustees about their perceptions of the strengths and developmental areas of the SU. I believe it's hard to carve a future until you've got an understanding about the past and can focus of some of the changes I'd like to introduce; I have used these conversations to ask people for their advice and hope this continues with you...

I was introduced to the University's Senior Leadership Team very early on and I think that says a lot about their investment in our future. I have been in more meetings than I care to remember but have had the opportunity to hear about how the University is managing the current situation whilst trying to minimise the impact on you as best as they can. I have spoken to our Part Time Officers and a selection of School Coordinators to discuss the things that matter to students and have participated in meetings where student feedback has been discussed directly with Abigail Moriarty, the Pro Vice Chancellor.

I can't wait to finally come onto campus and meet you face to face ... when it is safe to do so! I really want to make a difference! In the meantime I have a favour to ask... will you please get in touch and let us know your hopes and fears - this could be about your studies, the current situation, returning to University, engaging in societies, whatever - and provide a few ideas of what you'd like to see the Union doing more of.  If you take the time to do that, I promise I'll review your responses and collectively feedback on what we can and can't do. 

Life is tough my darling but so are you!
I'll let you into a secret, I thought about dropping out of University around Christmas in my second year. I honestly would not have made it through without my Students' Union. I got involved with a fantastic project - raising the aspirations of young girls in an deprived area of Sheffield in an attempt to reduce teenage pregnancies and encouraging them to see their value and consider University as an option; having that opportunity still means the world to me, and possibly them too!
All too often I hear from students that have engaged with their Union late on in their studies saying they wish they'd known we existed sooner. My challenge is for you to get to know about us and get involved now, we are here to help you develop your self confidence, meet new people, try new things. Nothing would excite me more than Sunderland SU working with you to help you become the best version of yourselves and enhance your University experience... so what are you waiting for?

If you have any questions for Colina please send them to:

Working from home has become the 'new normal' during the Covid-19 pandemic - but how do you cope with the challenge of starting a new role during Lockdown.

2013 BA (Hons) Public Relations graduate Jade English started a new role as Communications Officer at the North East Active Partnership earlier this month, and faced the challenge of not only starting a new job, but also of finding new ways of engaging people in sport and fitness during the pandemic.  Jade writes about the challenges - and advantages - of starting a new chapter in her career during Lockdown.  

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In March I was made redundant from my Marketing Officer role (not due to Covid 19). I applied for a few jobs, but one stood out. Communications Officer with the North East Active Partnership (formerly Tyne & Wear Sport and Northumberland Sport). Their role as an organisation is to provide support to those who plan and deliver sport and physical activity in Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, with the aim of increasing the number of participants. I was intrigued by the job description. A role like this within an organisation that is all about encouraging people to become active (which is something I’ve been doing alongside my comms role for the last 18 months since I qualified as a personal trainer), would mean I could combine my passion for physical and mental wellbeing, with my love of working in marketing and communications. This was too good an opportunity to miss. 

I applied for the job and was invited to interview. Then Lockdown struck. My interview was put on hold and I was unsure as to where I’d stand in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, with many companies freezing recruitment for the foreseeable future. Then I was asked if I’d be happy to do my interview via video call. It wasn’t something I’d done before but was certainly willing to if it meant I had a chance of getting the job.

Fortunately for me, the Zoom interview went well and the following day I received a phone call – I was offered the position and they wanted me to start in a just couple of weeks! This meant I’d be starting a new job, with a new company, as part a new team, all from home. A concept that seemed strange, but exciting. “Would I be able to do my job in the same way? How would I get to know the team? Will the way I do my job be affected? Would I still get the same level of support?” I had all these questions whizzing around my head. But I was soon put at ease when I met my new manager from a distance, as he left my laptop on my doorstep. We had a chat about everything. He explained that it was a new experience for them as well as me and reassured me that we can only do our best during times like these. 

My first week was similar to how things would have been pre-lockdown. Induction, health and safety, housekeeping, procedures and policies, but all via Microsoft Teams rather than in the office. I even had one-to-one video calls with most of the team so I could get to know them and learn more about their roles in the organisation. In hindsight, this has probably served me better. It’s rare that you get the chance to sit down with each and every single member of the team when you start a new job, so it’s been great to learn so much about the organisation and how my role fits in.

Graduate Jade English

As Communications Officer it’s my role to lead on internal and external marketing and communications. I am tasked with the identification, creation, distribution and promotion of all communications – this includes press releases, branding, social media, photography and videography, websites, events, printed and digital materials. It’s my job to raise awareness about the work we do, and to ensure the charity has an increased level of engagement with partners, as well as making stakeholders, partners and the general public aware of any opportunities in the sports and physical activity sector. My role was created following the amalgamation of two separate active partnerships which we’re now in the process of rebranding, therefore has a lot of scope to progress and really make an impact which is super exciting.

During Lockdown, the role of the organisation very much remains. Recently we delivered over 2,500 activity packs to families across the region to encourage them to remain active during Lockdown. However, the way in which we work has adapted. For instance, as part of my role I’d usually be out and about, gathering content from various projects and events. Due to the current situation I’m unable to do that, so I’ve worked closely with the team and introduced some processes which mean we’re still able to obtain good, compelling content but in a way that is safe for everyone involved. 

I’m now starting my third week of working from home in my new position and I feel like I’m part of the team already. I’ve switched induction meetings in the office for video calls via Teams and have used screensharing to be guided through systems rather than sitting beside a colleague and watching them do it. We have a video call every morning and catch up on everything from work projects to what we’re watching on Netflix. The management team are supportive, flexible and there is a great spirit of trust - we don’t need to ‘clock in’ at a certain time, as long as our work is done to the best of our ability, that’s all they ask. All the questions I was asking myself prior to starting the role from home, have been completely alleviated. We’re able to start earlier and finish earlier, those with children are able to split their day and work in the evening, and we’re able to take longer lunches if we want to get out for our daily exercise during the day. 

Which brings me on nicely to my top tip for keeping fit and healthy in lockdown, which is - just keep moving. It’s as simple as that. Be it walking, running, cycling, skipping, virtual yoga classes, live Instagram HIIT workouts, or PE with Joe Wicks. Keeping fit and healthy doesn’t always mean hardcore workouts every single day – do what feels right for you. Move intuitively. Don’t guilt trip yourself that you should be doing more because you ‘can’t get to the gym as usual’ or because you see your friends doing home workouts on social media. If you’re moving, staying hydrated, eating a balanced diet and getting a good amount of sleep then you can’t go far wrong.  

See more from Jade and her top tips on maintaining good physical and mental wellbeing by following @Peakmindfulbodytraining on Instagram and Facebook.

For more information on the work being done by North East Active Partnership, visit: or 

Our We Care team’s tireless work to support students without family support has been highlighted as an example of excellent practice in a briefing from the Office for Students. The briefing note looks at the practical steps universities and colleges are taking to help students without family support during the pandemic and beyond.

For students with no family home to go to and no family member to rely on, talk to or ask for emotional or financial support - the COVID-19 pandemic is particularly challenging. The University’s We Care team is supporting 128 care experienced and estranged students during the current health crisis.

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Wendy Price, We Care Team Manager and her small team, are the dedicated contact point for care experienced and students estranged from their family, offering support tailored to help students how and when they need it.

Wendy commented: “During lockdown we have been in regular contact with our care experienced and estranged students. Some have no option but to stay in student accommodation, so this has been a worrying time for many of them. We have been checking to make sure they are managing with online study, are keeping engaged and active, and offering practical support and help with money worries. I am very proud of the students we are in contact with, who are coping really well in difficult circumstances.”

Fran Carey, Director of Home Student Recruitment, added: “I am so proud of Wendy and her team who are genuinely committed to helping the students here at Sunderland, who do not have family support. As a highly skilled and experienced widening participation practitioner, Wendy is a sector leader, and celebrated her 20th anniversary at the University last week. To have this work recognised as an example of best practice by the Office for Students is testament to Wendy’s leadership, the work of the We Care team and the University’s values. Helping students to overcome their, often significant, challenges and reach their potential is rewarding to see and life changing for the students, but does not happen easily – well done!”

Eddy, BSc (Hons) Psychology with Integrated Foundation Year, shared his lockdown experience and tips for keeping well HERE. He said: “During this time I have personally received a huge amount of support and contact from the We Care Team who have kept in regular contact via email, telephone and Facebook. It has really been helpful, not only to my positive mental health but they have also promoted healthy physical exercise via fun informal exercise classes via conference call.”

More about the Office for Students’ briefings

Working with universities, colleges and other stakeholders, the Office for Students (OfS) has produced a series of briefing notes on the steps universities and colleges are taking to support their students during the coronavirus pandemic. The reports are designed to share ideas and reflect how universities are responding to the rapidly evolving situation.

The briefing note on students without family support highlighted the University of Sunderland’s financial support for care experienced and estranged students:

The University of Sunderland has added to its hardship fund and is prioritising applications from care experienced and estranged students. Personalised support (including financial support) has been offered to care experienced and estranged students, and the university will continue to be in touch with them over the coming weeks. It has increased its ‘We Care’ scholarship (for care experienced and estranged students) from £1,500 to £2,000. This means each scholarship student will receive an additional payment of £500 in July 2020, when they have said they will most need the money. The university is also sending supermarket vouchers to students experiencing financial hardship.

Some students who do not have their own laptops are being loaned university laptops (which are being couriered directly to them) for their academic studies. Final year students can also use them to apply for jobs.

You can read the full briefing note HERE.

To contact the We Care team email or call 0191 515 2216.