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Drawing out a new career

The University’s annual Degree Show takes place on Friday 12 June.  This year due to the pandemic, the show will take place online, showcasing our talented student artists in multiple disciplines.

We caught up with Kathryn Robertson who graduated BA Graphic Design last year. Kathryn, 26, now works as a freelance illustrator, and tells us about her experiences at Sunderland, her memories of her degree show, and how she has adapted her fledgling business to life and work in Lockdown.

“I graduated from the Graphic Design course in 2019,” says Kathryn. “I liked that the course covered a range of topics that I had not even considered learning as a designer and illustrator, such as motion graphics and computer illustration. We visited London as part of the course, going to various design agencies to speak to and learn from the industry, including advertising giant Ogilvy on the Thames. I was really grateful to have that experience, because it helped me to learn what I wanted to do as a design graduate, which ended up being working for myself.”

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Kathryn launched her own business as a full time freelance illustrator and muralist at The Picture House Studios in Sunderland. She has worked with Sunderland Council and the University, producing large scale artworks, as well as private commissions from bars and cafés – but that came to a sudden halt when Covid-19 struck.

“Working in public spaces had become my main work from August 2019 right up to March 2020. The work came to a grinding halt in March, and so I have adapted back to working mainly digitally and on private commissions, digital illustration and graphic design, as well as selling my own artwork online.

“Recently I worked on a project with Sunderland Culture, where we changed an exhibition of my portraits, Rebel Women of Sunderland, into downloadable colouring-in sheets. I’m very lucky to be able to adapt my work in this way and carry on creating.”

Kathryn also created and sold artworks showing an imagined Sunderland back lane with graffiti proclaiming ‘everything will be alright in the end’ on the wall. The message resonated with thousands of people coping with the coronavirus lockdown, and raised £4,330 for local foodbanks.

The 2020 Degree Show – Sunderland Creatives -  takes place on 12 June at

Kathryn’s 2019 Degree Show work had an impact on the University, and laid the foundation for her future career.

“For my final project I decided to create and work on a collection of different projects,” says Kathryn. “Including a competition entry to a local brewery, an illustrated surfboard I created for The Beam’s City by The Sea Exhibition, and a mural on the second floor of Priestman Building.

“Although the mural in Priestman wasn’t part of my Design Degree show, which was based in The Winter Gardens, that was still my favourite thing to create for the show.

“After graduation you should pursue a path that feels right for you. You don’t ‘have’ to move to London.  There is a design world north of London and you shouldn’t feel like you’ve failed if you don’t make it there. Look into local organisations, in Sunderland Norfolk Street Arts and Sunderland Culture, for example, offer lots of local arts opportunities.

“I’ve made a working life as a freelancer in Sunderland. I can afford a small studio and I have worked with some great local organisations, but I still get commissions from places like London and Manchester. It doesn’t always matter where you are based. So do your best and Good luck!”

Art & Design Degree Show 2020

From Friday 12 June

Join us on 12 June to celebrate the extraordinary work of our Arts & Design Class of 2020 in these extraordinary times.

Though our annual Degree Shows can’t take place on campus this year we are determined to celebrate and share our students' talents and work with the world. will showcase students’ final year work as well as stand out pieces from their entire three years at Sunderland.

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Having a Buddy is a great way to meet new people, familiarise yourself with your campus, boost your confidence and discover the beautiful city of Sunderland.

Simply register for an SU Buddy and leave the rest to us. We’ll look at your interests and area of study so we can match you up with a Buddy that can help you make the most of your experience here at Sunderland – don’t worry, with a helping hand from one of our Buddies, you’ll be an honorary Mackem in no time!

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Lecturer, children’s writer and illustrator Holly Sterling is launching her book today – amid the chaos of lockdown.

Holly, who is also a UK karate champion, drew on her passion for the sport for her latest venture, which is available from Thursday.

Karate Kids, published by Walker Books, is a fun story touching on the lecturer’s own life and experiences.

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But Holly had little idea that she would end up launching the book during a global pandemic.

She said: “It’s very strange to be launching Karate Kids during lockdown. The paperback launch was supposed to be incredibly exciting with lots of school and festival events planned in the build up to Karate being in the Tokyo Olympics 2020.

“The most important thing, of course, is that we all stay safe and well. 

“Publishers, authors and illustrators are finding new ways to celebrate their books being published this year and different ways to reach and support schools, parents and children during these difficult times.”

To adapt to the times, Holly decided to combine promoting her book with helping children stay busy during the past few weeks.

She said: “I have been creating Karate Kids activity sheets every week since lockdown began to encourage children to keep active, be creative and stay happy. It's been amazing to receive so many examples of completed activities by children across the country and into Europe.

“I've received messages from karate instructors both locally and from across the country who are printing and delivering the activities to their members who don't have printing facilities at home. 

“People's warmth and kindness to each other has been amazing during lockdown, and I'm so happy to be able to play part in a small way.”

The book is a culmination of years of work for the lecturer in Illustration, and draws from her own time as a karate champion, as well as the children she now teaches.
From a mixed ethnicity family – an English mum and Jamaican dad – it has always been important to Holly that her work represents children from all backgrounds.
Karate Kids, which follows a group of children on their way to their karate lesson.

Holly Sterling and her real Karate Kids

During her own time studying, between 2006 and 2009 at the University of Sunderland, Holly indulged her passion for the sport, going on to be named British Universities Karate Champion on a number of occasions, having already been named the UK National Women’s Karate Champion.

Holly was also one of the University’s Elite Athletes, travelling the world to compete for England.

Karate Kids is available HERE.


Tributes have been paid to an inspiring North East nurse who helped launch a series of powerful short films created by University of Sunderland students aimed at raising awareness of serious crimes.

Julie Tekin, a Senior Forensic Nurse for Northumbria Police and its SARC (Sexual Assault Referral Centre), sadly lost her battle with cancer last month, aged just 60.

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Julie had been instrumental in supporting the University project which offered both drama and media production students to work on a live client brief, enabling them to gain practical experience and important skills to promote employability. The project, part-funded by the Police and Crime Commissioners Community Fund, has been running for the past seven years and more than 500 students have taken part in the production of 23 films on a variety of challenging subjects including  male rape, modern-day slavery, the capacity to consent, sexual exploitation, domestic violence, and cyber-crime.

Uniquely, the films have been used to raise awareness among children, health professionals, the police and other university students - making a significant contribution to the lives of victims and helping with awareness raising and subsequent prevention. The project has received widespread acclaim, from the media industry, from forensics experts and those dealing with the victims of crime.

Julie, from Wallsend, worked closely with students over the years, providing both support and guidance, steering them on the correct path to create films with impact. 

Such was her impact with the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries, that earlier this year SARC manager Michelle Sheridan, who initiated this work with the University’s Dr Adelle Hulsmeier, stepped on stage alongside Sunderland academics to collect the Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE) on behalf of the full team, as Julie was unable to attend. 

The awards, hosted by the Higher Education Academy, recognise learning collaborations that capture creative, innovative practice and benefit the student experience.

Dr Adelle Hulsmeier, Michelle Sheridan, Julie Tekin and Nicholas Glean, Senior lecturer in Video and new media

Dr Adelle Hulsmeier, Lecturer in Performing Arts and Programme Leader for Screen Performance, said: “Julie was an absolute asset on the TV Drama projects. Her knowledge and expertise were continuously valuable for both student and staff alike. Moreover Julie was a very good friend, she was kind, passionate and very funny, and it is heart-breaking that she is no longer with us.” 

In her role as a Forensic Nurse, Julie worked at the Northumbria Police SARC based in Newcastle as part of a multidisciplinary team, including counsellors and independent sexual violence advisors (ISVA). The team provides forensic medical examinations, for both women and men aged over 16 years, who have been the victim of sexual violence as well as counselling services.

She had been a qualified nurse for many years with a varied career.  She started working on a gynaecological ward after qualifying, then moved to London to undertake a course in burns and plastic surgery nursing. 

She stayed in London following the course working on a regional burns unit. Julie then moved back to Newcastle six years later and remained ever since. Her career included working in a regional neuro-trauma unit for many years.

Following the birth of her first child, she pursued a career in community nursing and remained as a district nursing sister until 2010. She was then seconded to the palliative care team as a Macmillan clinical nurse specialist until 2013, before moving into forensic nursing.

Julie’s funeral was held last month with close family at Tynemouth Crematorium.  There are plans to celebrate Julie's life once the restrictions around Coronavirus are lifted. 

There are no flowers, but donations are being asked to go to the Complementary Therapies Freeman Road Hospital Cancer Care Unit:


A Sunderland graduate who began her business on a £90 budget turning it into a multi-million pound fashion empire is about to launch a raft of new firms.

Alice Hall’s meteoric rise as a successful entrepreneur led to her making it on to the prestigious Forbes Under 30 European List, the same year she was named the University of Sunderland Alumni Achiever of the Year 2018.

Within 10 years of graduating from Sunderland, Alice turned her ‘accidental’ enterprise Pink Boutique into a fashion empire.  

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She has now left the business and has been working on a new venture, the Rowen Group, which takes its title from her middle name – the parent group for a collection of diverse businesses.

Alice will start with three businesses, two in the food e-commerce sector and the third in interior design, but says she’s keen to have more firms within the Rowen Group in the future.

In a recent interview with the ChronicleLive, Alice said: “I’m so excited to be creating new jobs in the region and hope to support other businesses too. 

Rowen Group will act as the ‘engine room’ for a series of businesses, providing all the infrastructure, HR, marketing, warehousing and fulfilment they need.”
Alice has created a food allergy company called Allergy Box and a firm called LowKal, which will sell health snacks online.

The third business, Rowen Homes, will see Mrs Hall put her creative interior design talents to use, having taken a part-time diploma since leaving Pink Boutique.

All of the businesses will be based at Rowen Group’s new offices at Baker’s Yard in Gosforth, the former Greggs Bakery site, which are due to be completed next month.

Work is currently being carried out at the Baker’s Yard site, which developers Adderstone Group have been converting to attract new businesses, to create offices for Mrs Hall in a section of the yard called the Stottie Shed.

New jobs, including digital specialist roles, are also being created by Mrs Hall, who has already taken on four new staff members after carrying out interviews via Zoom.

Alice has kept her links with our University through regular talks and presentations after graduating with a journalism degree in 2009, having specialised in beauty and fashion magazine  journalism.

Her advice to others venturing out on their own is: “Be determined and resourceful with your own time and skills. Use every minute of every hour that you can to work on your business. If you don’t know something; Google it, learn it, don’t use that as an excuse.”

When awarded the Alumni of the Year title – a prestigious competition which runs annually with alumni and staff members nominating a graduate who has excelled in their field of expertise, Alice said: “I’m absolutely delighted to receive the Alumni of the Year award."I think my degree gave me such a solid grounding to set up my own business, I have noticed all of those skills I learned when I was at Sunderland emerge.

"It's such an honour and such a privilege.”

Pro Vice-Chancellor Graeme Thompson, said: “Alice has been a wonderful ambassador for the University and for the North East where she grew up. Her entrepreneurial flair, ambition and leadership skills have seen her transform her business year on year, from humble beginnings into the multi-million pound empire it is today.

“Not only has she created jobs and investment in this region for dozens of people but continues to support other aspiring entrepreneurs, hoping her story can inspire future business leaders to take a leap of faith just like she did.

“We are very proud that Alice has been recognised for her achievements since graduating in journalism by being named our Alumni Achiever of the Year.”

Rise to success

Alice Hall says she is the classic ‘accidental’ entrepreneur. Struggling to pay her bills she bought a pack of six dresses for £90 to sell online. She borrowed half the money from her mum Julie Blackie and when they sold, she bought two packs, and when they sold, she bought four, she kept doubling up and the rest, they say, is history.

Alice graduated from Sunderland with a journalism degree in 2009, having specialised in beauty and fashion magazine journalism.

But as the recession bit and she struggled find a suitable reporter role, she took a job as a cover supervisor at a North East high school. 

Having also taken on a mortgage she still found herself struggling to pay the bills and took on two other jobs to help make ends meet.

But the stress of living off 5p noodles made her determined to provide for herself. She says it was stressful but a good thing for her to go through, fuelled by a craving inside to start her own business.

The lightbulb moment came when she found a UK dress wholesaler online and saw that she could improve the styling to make it more appealing to buyers, channeling her passion for design and fashion from her university days.

Operating out of her living room, Alice then spent her lunch breaks rushing to the Post Office weighed down with parcels for her eBay buyers. Now, six year on, Pink Boutique ships out more than 4,000 products a day from a 60,000 square foot factory in Newcastle and employs more than 60 people. 

Her reward for steering her company to such growth led to Pink Boutique being named Number 12 in the Fast Track 100, which lists the fastest growing and most dynamic firms in the UK. She received an invite to meet with Sir Richard Branson last year, just before the birth of her first child.

Alice equates the success of the business to its launch at a time when social media and particularly Facebook, were growing as business platforms. She introduced innovative marketing promotions and knew her market from the start, with customers predominantly being women shopping for nights out. 

Alice hopes that her own story can inspire other budding entrepreneurs with ambitions to launch their own companies, who she’s keen to nurture.

Andrew Ingleby, Immigration Compliance Administrator and BA Media & English Linguistics graduate (2007) writes about how the Stonewall Riots ignited gay rights in the US and then worldwide.

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The first pride was a riot!  

Not just a statement of excitement, the movement of pride parades and marches started with the Stonewall Riots in June 1969. 

Like many countries of the world in the 1950s and 60s, being gay was illegal in America and very few establishments would welcome LGBTQI+ people; and if they did they were often raided by the police.

On the 28 June 1969, the Police raided The Stonewall Inn in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, New York. At the time a standard raid consisted of customers being lined up and IDs being checked, with men dressed as women being taken to the bathroom by female police officers to verify their sex. They would then be arrested. 

However, the raid did not go to plan, as the patrons began refusing to follow the standard procedure, and tensions grew. Violence broke out, and started a gay liberation movement which would lead to a world-wide phenomena; the pride parade.

The 2015 movie ‘Stonewall’ follows the life of several fictitious and real-life characters at the time of the Stonewall Riots.

Enjoyed by millions of LGBTQI+ people and allies, Pride events are a chance to remember those who fought for our rights, and show the world how proud we are.

Throughout the whole of June, people across the world celebrate the LGBT+ community.

Known as Pride Month, many different events take place across the globe to celebrate the impact and influence that LGBT+ people have made and continue to make. June is pride month, encompassing Gay Pride and LGBT+ and celebrates all sexual diversity and promotes their equal rights and raises awareness about issues the community faces  Pride month 2020 will be different due to social distancing but it will still be a time for queer celebration visibility and a move all else, protest.

Though Pride month might have become synonymous with parades, festivals and revelry, it is at its heart an opportunity to remember the LGBT+ trailblazers who came before us, and to continue their work fighting oppression.  With coronavirus challenging the queer community in unique ways, parades will be replaced by virtual gatherings, protests by online activism efforts. But now more than ever, it is vital we remember our history, and continue to oppose hate wherever we see it.

Team Sunderland hosted their annual Sports Ball on Friday online due to the current climate.

The ceremony took place on the Team Sunderland Facebook page and was streamed to students to enable them to celebrate a successful year of sport for the university despite the season being curtailed prematurely.

Men’s Football took The Peter Fidler Award for Team of the Year while Cameron Park (Sport and Exercise Sciences) picked up his second successive Sportsperson of the Year award.

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Taekwondo star Cameron, who beat off competition from Karate’s Sufie Kudien and Badminton’s Wilson Ngie Ding Lau, said: "I’m still completely shocked that I won. With winning the same award last year, I didn’t think I’d be in the running again.

"I’m so grateful to be named Sportsperson of the year, I have to thank the university and Team Sunderland for everything they do to support me.

"It makes me even hungrier to get back to competing again."

Elsewhere Karate were rewarded for their fantastic performance at BUCS Nationals, where they won silver in the Team Kumite, with the Performance of the Year award.

Salim Salim, part of the silver medal winning squad said: “I would like to thank everyone involved in making it happen.

“We were very close last year as we were knocked out on the semi-final stage. This year, we wanted to get a medal in the event as we had put in so much work during training and we did just that.

“It was truly a special moment for all of us as a team.”

Vice-Chancellor Sir David Bell appeared on the stream to present his Club of the Year award and selected Men’s Football and Netball as joint winners.

Meanwhile James Clark was recognised for his role in leading Men’s Football’s 1st team to a league and cup double with the Coach of the Year award.

The ceremony also paid tribute to two members who passed away this year, Thomas Jackson of Snowsports and Tom Brooks, the Men’s Rugby coach.

It was one of Brooks’ player’s, Mohammed Tarik, that picked up The Ainsley Charles Award for Most Improved Individual.

Tarik was a complete rugby novice before this year and was rewarded for his hard work and dedication with the award.

He said: “I didn't think I would win, I'm not going to lie, as there were definitely others who were deserving of the award but it’s awesome that I won.“It shows that just taking part in everything and anything such as training sessions and games against other universities does help with team building and learning more about the sport.

“I personally don't think I would have won if it weren't due to the efforts of the team and coach, Tom Brooks, that taught me everything about the sport.”

Men’s Badminton and Women’s Futsal were recongised for their league and cup wins respectively with the Most Improved Team of the Year award while Men’s Basketball were awarded the Special Recognition award.

The ceremony can be re-watched on the Team Sunderland at University of Sunderland Facebook page or follow this link to YouTube


Royle Family stars Ricky Tomlinson and Ralf Little head to Sunderland this week in episode 5 of Ricky & Ralf's Very Northern Road Trip.

The famous duo visited the University's National Glass Centre in November last year, and tonight on Gold you can see their visit to our region.

Ricky & Ralf's Very Northern Road Trip is on Gold at 8pm tonight,

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Filmmakers of the future

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.

World Environment Day

The theme for World Environment Day, 5 June 2020 is biodiversity — a call to action to combat the accelerating species loss and degradation of the natural world. One million plant and animal species risk extinction, largely due to human activities.

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What is Biodiversity?

Biodiversity, or biological diversity, is the variability of living things that makes up life on Earth. It encompasses the 8 million or so species on the planet – from plants and animals to fungi and bacteria – the ecosystems that house them – such as oceans, forests, mountain environments and coral reefs – as well as the genetic diversity found among them.

Healthy ecosystems, rich with biodiversity, are fundamental to human existence. Ecosystems sustain human life in a myriad of ways, cleaning our air, purifying our water, ensuring the availability of nutritious foods, nature-based medicines and raw materials, and reducing the occurrence of disasters. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – the latest in a string of zoonotic disease outbreaks – shows that the planet’s health is linked to our health.

The global economy is intricately tied to biodiversity. Services provided by biodiversity are worth an estimated US$125-140 trillion per year, more than one and a half times the size of global GDP. The food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink come from nature.

5 main reasons for biodiversity loss stem from our activity

1)    Land-use change - Our demand for food and resources is driving deforestation, changing patterns of land use, and destroying natural habitats across the globe
2)    Over exploitation of plants and animals - is threatening the very existence of creatures great and small
3)    Climate emergency - Climate change and the increase in extreme weather drives habitat loss and degradation
4)    Pollution – this can have devastating effects on freshwater and marine habitats
5)    Invasive alien species - acting as parasites or competitors, altering habitats, crossbreeding with local species and bringing diseases

The good news?

We can reverse the trends of biodiversity loss. We must conserve and restore wildlife and wild spaces, change the way we produce and consume food, promote environmentally friendly infrastructure and transform economies to become custodians of nature.

The world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown early action and solidarity to tackle pressing issues that threaten our societies. As countries start to plan ways to build back better, getting nature at the heart of all decision making for people and the planet must be our top priority.

How can you help?

Below are some simple tips that can help reverse the loss of biodiversity.

•    Change your diet to more environmentally friendly foods, especially your main protein sources
•    Leave some wild green spaces in your garden where pollinators and ground dwelling insects can thrive
•    Create a compost in your garden or windowsill and grow some of your own produce
•    Explore how to buy locally produced products and foods
•    Minimise the use of household chemicals that can have toxic effects on soil and groundwater. Instead, experiment with natural products, such as vinegar and plain old soap and water

Further information about World Environment Day can be found HERE.

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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