Published on 11 July 2019
Jack Cunningham, 21, has spent the last three years juggling his Politics with Sociology degree at Sunderland, with his responsibilities as a ward councillor.
Winning by just 11 votes in 2017, Jack was elected as councillor for the Hetton Downs Ward of Sunderland Hetton Town Council, and as a fresh young face he certainly had a lot to prove. However, it didn’t take long to use his determination and tenacity to make a difference in his community where he grew up. Whether it was helping with improvements to road resurfacing, navigating families through their Universal Credit woes or fighting to protect vital health services at a local walk-in centre, Jack has become an asset to his local community.
Their appreciation for all his hard work was demonstrated when in 2018 he was elected for the Copt Hill Ward on Sunderland City Council serving the community both locally and at a district level.
He bases his success on the knowledge and experience he was building at university, putting his learning into practice.
“Sunderland gave me all the information I needed to understand the inner workings of local government and national politics, the sociology gave a greater understanding of social inequalities people are facing, especially in the ward where I grew up where austerity is everywhere,” Jack explained. “It’s why I wanted to make a difference and put myself out there to represent my community and fight on their behalf. I’m incredibly proud to have achieved a First Class degree.
“I also felt young people needed a voice and I just hope I’m putting their issues onto the local agenda of the council.”
Jack has been a member of the Labour Party since he was 14 years old, fuelled by the austerity he witnessed in his local community.
Though Jack points out that he represents all ages and backgrounds, he does believe that young people are becoming more politicised.
“The austerity agenda has led to more young people thinking in-depth about politics,” he says.
“My experience is that most of us want a fairer and more equal society, and especially in a region like the North East, where there can be fewer opportunities to get on. I don’t think your age should be an issue, it’s what someone can give to a role and what expertise they have that matters, not age.”
Asked if he found juggling his studies with the ward councillor duties difficult, he says: “They were a great distraction from each other actually. I like filling my time with something productive, and that helps people, so when one got stressful the other was a release for me.
“Providing you’re organised and allocate time for both, you can make a success of what you’re doing. That’s what I would advise any student in my position.”
Jack now plans to continue with his community work as a ward councillor, and is also applying for graduate jobs. However, he insists it is politics where he wants to make a difference.
“I’ll stay in local politics as long as I can make a difference and as long as people want me there.”
He added: “The University had helped open my eyes and broaden my horizons, it makes you look more critically and interpret the world in your own way.
“I have loved every minute, and am grateful that someone from my background has had this opportunity.”
Jack received his received his Politics and Sociology degree at the Stadium of Light, during the summer graduation ceremonies, where thousands of students received their degrees.