In what has been a year like no other, University leaders today praised students and staff for uniting “like never before”.

Sir David Bell, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland, highlighted the “resilience, commitment and adaptability” shown by the University community during a challenging 12 months.

It comes as part of a day of reflection to mark the anniversary of the UK’s first Covid lockdown.

Prominent buildings and landmarks across Sunderland and the North East will be illuminated tonight to mark the occasion.

The University has played a key role in the pandemic efforts during the past 12 months, including:

  • Seeing 40 qualified nurses sent to frontline NHS hospitals across the North East days after graduating
  • Designing and manufacturing thousands of coronavirus-proof door openers for businesses across the world
  • Overseeing student doctors and nurses as they took part in vaccinating thousands of people across the North East
  • Donating a fully equipped training ambulance to the North East ambulance Service (NEAS) to assist in the effort
  • Volunteering to help drive vulnerable members of the community to vaccination appointments
  • Distributing Christmas gifts and supporting international students unable to return home to their families
  • Lending an advanced specialist piece of diagnostic equipment for help with testing to a North East hospital

Sir David Bell said:When I look at what the University – and by that I mean our students and staff – has achieved in 12 months, I am amazed by the resilience, commitment and adaptability we have seen across our community.

“It began with the pride I felt as we made our contribution to combatting COVID.

“It all started when I watched in awe as our graduating nurses headed onto the NHS frontline last April, right at the height of the pandemic.

“Since then there have been so many inspiring stories – too many to tell – of students mobilising to help, support, and care for members of the University community.

“The international students – unable to travel home – supporting each other; trainee teachers helping to home-school children of staff members; Team Sunderland organising online fitness classes to make sure we could stay moving.

“Money being raised at Christmas to support our students who had experience of care or were estranged from their families; and, even now, the trainee paramedics who are taking the vulnerable to vaccination centres – the list goes on and on.

“We also witnessed staff working on the frontline to look after and teach the students who remained here, coming onto campus day-in and day-out when most of their colleagues were working from home.

“It was this willingness to support – this all-encompassing embrace as a life-changing institution – which earned us the title of University of the Year for Social Inclusion in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021.

“When we all eventually return in person, we will bring back with us very different experiences of the past year. Yet, I know that we will be kind and thoughtful to each other, in precisely the way that has characterised our response to this, the most extraordinary year of our lives.”

John Mowbray, Chair of Board of Governors at the University, said: “Governors have been impressed and very proud of the way staff and students have responded to this pandemic.

“They’ve adjusted and reacted to everything thrown at them in a calm but organised way. It’s been an impressive reaction to the unexpected.”