“There’s always someone worse off”

When he’s not studying his PhD, lecturing or taking care of his three children, Peter Asuata alongside wife Aimee is running a food bank at the church where he works as a pastor in Sunderland.

The two food banks they help run at RCCG Living Faith Church in North Bridge Street, Sunderland, continue to stay open (Wednesdays 5.30am and Sundays 11am) as long as possible during the coronavirus outbreak, supporting those in greatest need. They are also appealing for donations.

Peter’s incredible work ethic comes from his mother and humble upbringing in a small Nigerian village which he believes shaped the person he is today, dedicated to improving life of others.

“Wherever you are, look left, look right, there will always be someone who is worse off than you. As a Christian I have a responsibility to help others in need, because that is the core foundation of Christianity, and never has there been a greater need than right now,” says Peter. “We run two food banks a week at RCCG Living Faith Sunderland and we want to help as many families as we can escape hunger and poverty. All sorts of people come through our doors, those struggling with substance misuse or homelessness, asylum seekers as well as families struggling with the impact of Universal Credit and now the coronavirus, we never turn anyone away irrespective of their race, religion, or background.”

Having lived in London for few years, then moving to The Netherlands to join his wife Aimee for several years, Peter then came back to the UK with his family in 2014 to study a Master’s in Business management (MBM) at the University of Sunderland. After deciding to further his studies with a PhD in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) focusing on the North East of England. Peter explained: “I chose Sunderland because I felt my family would benefit being away from the hustle and bustle of the Capital”.

While his PhD will be completed in 2021/2022, looking at the role of regional companies in giving back to society, Peter has landed the role of an academic tutor in the University’s Faculty of Business, Law and Tourism, alongside his community work as Pastor at the RCCG Living Faith Sunderland.

He is so dedicated to helping others, that Peter has managed to negotiate with some of the area’s major food outlets and supermarkets for collections of  food that would otherwise go to waste, such as Aldi, Greggs, KFC, Tesco etc. He and Aimee then hand out the provisions during the week to people who have used up their allocation of food bank vouchers and to the homeless. The pair also provide home cooked meals for people at the church community centre, even delivering parcels to families who might otherwise struggle to get to the venue in North Bridge Street, at the right time.

“We had a lady, an asylum seeker, who has four young children, but was unable to get to the church, so we put a parcel together and dropped it off at her home, she was incredibly grateful.”

He added: “I often get asked how I navigate my day, this really comes from my upbringing. I grew up in a small village, to a single mother, with four other children. We rose at 4am, sold goods to buy breakfast, then went to school for 7am, finished lessons at 2.30pm and were back selling items until 8pm to help buy dinner. That work ethic is in me. You had to take responsibility for yourself from a very early age.

By age 15 I was living alone, paying my own rent and paying my own way.

“I loved doing it, because whether I like it or not, at every point in our lives there are people who are always worse off than ourselves. I feel like I have this platform to help people, so why wouldn’t I do it?

“I hope I am a good role model for my children, Aimery 14, Peter Jr, six, and Aimee-Rose, three. They all help out at the church, where we have a mission to feed the people of Sunderland’s community spirit, soul and body by providing food, clothes and health awareness.”

Asked what the future holds, Peter says he hopes to use his PhD to become a senior lecturer at Sunderland and also work with local companies to promote the benefits of CSR. He hopes to open a charity shop, which further supports the work of his church, raising more funds to continue its community work.

He also added that his own family love the area and are happily settled here. After 13 years of teaching, Aimee, in her 30s, is also changing careers, and studying a degree in Social Work at Sunderland to further boost their passion for community work.

What advice does Peter give to other students on their own journey at university?

I always tell students once they’re registered and settled in, to go out there and look for volunteering work. That is very important and great for your CV and self-development.

“It’s also how I landed my academic tutoring role. I was trying to get a teaching/lecturing job but was hitting a block and was told I didn’t have the experience. So I decided to volunteer as a teaching assistant twice a week with the University of Sunderland last year. This eventually led to my academic tutoring role that I now have.”

He added: “If you can see beyond the present and what you can get now, volunteering is very good, it gives you opportunities where you’d least expected it.”

Associate Professor in Cultural Management, Dr Derek Watson, said: “Peter is an exceptional student, parent and contributor to the community. His impact at our University have been tremendous in terms sharing his learning journey and global insights with fellow doctoral students, academics and businesses.

“Furthermore, Peter is testament on how to successfully balance our work-life commitments and his actions are certainly an inspiration to our learning environment.”