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Packing for University is in the bag

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Published on 31 March 2023

Wendy Price OBE (left) and Zara Clench and the Madlug pack-away travel bags
Wendy Price OBE (left) and Zara Clench and the Madlug pack-away travel bags

Young people leaving care sometimes arrive at university with nothing but black bin bags in which to transport their belongings, immediately marking them out as different and potentially stigmatising them. 

Now, a specialised team at the University of Sunderland have teamed up with specialist bag manufacturer Madlug to ensure that no care-experienced student ever has that issue again.

The University's We Care team has teamed up with Madlug to provide two free pack-away travel bags for our current care-experienced applicants joining the University from September 2023.

Online retailer Madlug (Make A Difference Luggage) supply products such as backpacks, luggage and laptop cases, and employ a ‘Buy one, Wear one, Help one’ approach. With every bag purchased, a pack-away travel bag goes to a child in care.

Madlug want to show every child in care that they have huge value, worth, and the right to move with dignity. This is an attitude and aim shared by the University of Sunderland, demonstrated by its dedicated We Care team, led by Wendy Price OBE, Head of Widening Access and Participation at the University.

Wendy explained: “This initiative means that at the early stages of the student journey, we can demonstrate to our applicants that the support we provide is truly student-focused. Sending two Madlug bags to each care-experienced applicant will help us build relationships, and to support them through the application process and beyond. It also means that everyone leaving care to join the University of Sunderland can do so using their Madlug travel bags and know that they will receive ongoing support once they arrive.

“Some students don’t have anyone else to support them with the transition to university, so we’re available to offer practical support such as helping them to move in, welcoming them to their new accommodation and showing them round the University and city. We also provide social events so that they can meet other care-experienced students and build their own support network.

“I hope that these Madlug bags will be a lovely surprise for our applicants, showing that both the University and Madlug are proudly supporting them with the next step of their journey.”

Madlug are really enthusiastic about supporting the We Care team’s initiative and said: "We are proud to provide the University of Sunderland with our pack-away travel bags, which not only offer practicality and durability, but also represent the huge value and worth of the care-experienced young people who inspire our work every day. It is an honor to support the University's commitment to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students and reinforcing that every young person in care deserves to move with dignity."

The We Care team provide dedicated and individualised ongoing support to care-experienced students throughout their university experience and beyond. Wendy and the team work tirelessly to ensure our students receive the best possible support to thrive at university.

It was one of the University's care-experienced students, Zara Clench, 21, in her second year of a Health and Social Care degree, who initially suggested the We Care Team contact Madlug about their travel bags. 

While in her first year, Zara contacted Madlug about potentially receiving a bag – which they responded to with gusto. Since then, Zara has become somewhat of a ‘brand ambassador’, using her Twitter platform to spread the Madlug message far and wide. Zara has over 25 Madlug products, and counting, which has supported, in no small way, the ‘Buy one, Wear one, Help one’ mantra of the business.

Zara said: “Many young care-experienced people have to carry their belongings in black bags during moves, this is horrible and enforces to them the idea that their belongings are trash – which is obviously never the case. The Madlug travel bags will mean they can move to Uni with dignity.

“I think it's amazing that people hoping to come to the University of Sunderland will receive Madlug bags as it will break the ice for them and allow them to get to know about the We Care team and what they do.”

Zara went into foster care at age 13, due to problems in her home life. She has had the same foster carers ever since and still remains close to them.

Zara said: “As a care-experienced person, the support from the We Care team was really important to me - especially as I'd moved so far away from anyone I knew. It was really nice to be able to have biweekly check-ins and just to have a friendly face I could go to if I needed a pick me up.

“Often care-leavers moving to Uni lose all support networks and it can be hard for them, especially if they don't know anyone where they've moved. That's where the We Care team meet-ups really help; it gives us the opportunity to meet other students and other people who have been though similar experiences.”

The University of Sunderland previously collaborated with Madlug for its We Care at Christmas campaign. You can find out more about the support the We Care team provides here

Wendy added: “We provide a wide range of support to care-experienced students including a bursary of £2,000 per year, regular meetings with the We Care team and a named contact who will support them to graduation and beyond. Every student will receive ongoing support such as birthday cards and Christmas gifts, free graduation package including gown hire and photos, and personalised support to help them reach their full potential during their time at university.”