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“My Christmas message to all students: We can leave this world a better place”

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Published on 20 December 2019

Rev Chris Howson
Rev Chris Howson

Here the Reverend Chris Howson, Chaplain to the University of Sunderland and Anglican Priest at Sunderland Minster, gives staff and students his annual Christmas message

For my seasonal message, I would like to tell my favourite Sunderland Christmas story. 

The Architect Frank Caws was born in 1846 on the Isle of Wight.

In 1867, after building the magnificent Seaview Pier on the island, he decided to make a name for himself in the up and coming town of Sunderland.

His buildings are now the most loved in the city and include the Elephant Tea Rooms, Corder House, Sydenham House and the beautiful terraced Holmlands Park in Ashbrooke.

As well as his architectural activities in Sunderland, Frank was also involved with social improvement in the area. In 1871 he was involved with establishing the YMCA in Sunderland.

On a cold Christmas day of 1901 - so the story goes - Frank found a nine year old, barefoot and ragged match seller sheltering on the stairs of his office on Fawcett Street and decided there and then to do something about it.

Frank solicited support from his professional friends in Sunderland and the Waifs Rescue Agency & Street Vendor’s Club was formed as a charity with premises in Lambton Street.

The doors were opened on January 2 1902 and Frank was the Secretary until his death in 1905. The Waifs Rescue Agency & Street Vendor’s Club was later renamed the Lambton Street Youth Centre and it continues into the 21st century as 'one of the oldest youth centres in the world'.

When we begin to worry about the problems around us – increased child poverty and the increasing gap between rich and poor – think on this Christmas story.

Frank Caws strong faith, big heart and his ability to work collaboratively with others had a lasting impact on this city. Perhaps this Christmas time we need to wake up and see what is happening on our very doorstep and decide to do something about it.

My hope for our University is that we can instil in all our students a sense that they can leave the world a better place than they found it.

This Christmas do something beautiful – do something that even surprises yourself – bring God’s love into the world with your words and deeds, and as the miners’ memorial banner in Durham Cathedral says “Let’s strive to make each tomorrow better than today”.