Two Sunderland students with a passion for education have been selected to continue the legacy of a champion of the North East.

Primary Education students Craig Remmer, 32, and Nicola Robinson, 35, are both in the final year of their studies at the University of Sunderland. The trainee teachers have won this year’s Sir Tom Cowie Excellence Scholarship Award, receiving £10,000 each to support them in their final year.

The award was set up in memory of the Wearside-born entrepreneur who died in 2012, aged 89. Sir Tom was a long-term supporter of the University and believed passionately in its principles of affording those with talent, regardless of background, the opportunity to enter higher education. As part of his legacy, the Sir Tom Cowie Excellence Scholarship Awards were set up to support students to achieve their full potential.

The Scholarship, now in its seventh year, is awarded to a male and female student from the Sunderland area who, at the end of their penultimate year of study have demonstrated an excellent academic record and are on track to secure a First Class Honours Degree or upper Second Class Honours Degree.

Award-winning student Craig Remmer from Seaham, is a single father to his twin boys, aged eight.  He says: “When I was younger I never even thought about teaching, but when I had my two little boys I was seeing how they learnt, and I think that woke something in me.

“The Sir Tom Cowie Award will make a massive difference to me in my final year. Last year I was out on placement 15 hours a day, and then working on the night.  The award is going to free up a lot of my time, and allow me to spend much more time on assignments.  I hope it will help take me to the next level.

“The award will also allow me more time with my boys. I have felt guilty about how much time I’ve spent with them, but they understand why I’m doing this and what it will mean to our family.”

Nicola Robinson, from Sunderland says she is fulfilling a lifetime ambition coming to university – inspired by Sir Tom Cowie.

“I never felt like I was making a difference in any of the jobs I did, and I always knew I could easily be replaced. I wanted to do something more important,” says Nicola.

“I can’t even put into words how much this scholarship means to me and my family. Sir Tom Cowie was someone who really inspired me. He came from nothing, working with his dad in a small shop, and from there built such a massive empire. He was an extraordinary ordinary person.”

Both Craig and Nicola are studying Primary Education at the University of Sunderland’s Faculty of Education and Society.  The University’s Education programmes were named Second in the UK and First in England in the Guardian University Guide 2020.

Professor Lynne McKenna, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Society, said: “I am delighted that seven out of the fourteen Sir Tom Cowie Scholarship award winners have been teacher training students. This award is recognition of the dedication and time commitment required to train to be a teacher and the award of the scholarship supports the winners financially, and enables them to concentrate on their studies. I wish Craig and Nicola every success as they embark on their final year.”

David Gray, FRICS, Chairman of Trustees of The Sir Tom Cowie Charitable Trust, said: “In 2011, I discussed the principle of continuing Sir Tom’s long term relationship with the University of Sunderland through the provision of two scholarships for third year students.

“I am delighted that this year’s recipients, Craig Remmer and Nicola Robinson, are both involved in education. Hopefully, this will ensure that the Charity’s support will assist two final year students with their studies, that will lead to them having significant influence on children in Sunderland in the future.”

Every year the University of Sunderland offers tens of thousands of pounds worth of funding to current students, to help improve their studies, professional practice and employability. DOSH, the Development Office Scholarship scheme, offers students studying at Sunderland non-means test, not-repayable scholarships from £250 to £10,000.