Published on 13 November 2020
The University’s ‘We Care’ initiative, a scheme which nurtures, develops and supports care experienced and estranged students through their university life, won a national NEON award in October. The award came on the back of Sunderland being named University of the Year for Social Inclusion in The Times Good University Guide.
Now the University has launched We Care at Christmas to support care experienced and estranged students at their Sunderland and London campuses.
Ryan Boyle, 29, is currently studying for a PGCE at the university with the aim of becoming an art and music teacher specialising in teaching SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) for young people, aged 15 to 18. Ryan went into care when he was 14, and spent time living on the streets.
“I spent time in care between the ages of 14 and 16,” says Ryan. “I was failed by social services and placed back into a bad family situation, which resulted in no stability and periods of homelessness.
“I struggled a lot with ongoing issues from those experiences, up until a few years ago, when I found love in the form of my amazing wife Erin.”
Now Ryan has settled into family life with his wife Erin, and step daughter Ellen (10), step son Fionn (7) and their son Gabriel, aged 2.
Ryan says: “I’m starting fresh, and I like to think I've always been a compassionate person in a harsh world. That's why I'm training to be a teacher so I can hopefully be a role model for others, as some teachers have been for me.
“For the last two years I’ve been working in the care sector, barely making ends meet. In addition to the low wage and long hours, I had to take a few months off to recover from surgery, which left us in dire straits – we had to survive on statutory sick pay throughout the lockdown which is about £378 per month.
“A friend of my wife's suggested to her that I apply to study for a PGCE at Sunderland, which came with access to a £15,000 bursary paid in monthly instalments if you followed the specialist pathway for special educational needs and disabilities. I was also granted the We Care Scholarship, which is an additional £2,000 across the year to help support my family during my studies, which I’m incredibly grateful for.
“I have to admit that when my wife told me about this I had actual tears of joy. Life had been such a grind for so long though we tried to make the best of it. Not to mention the added pressure of the pandemic.
“My time in care was a horrendous experience that I’ve tried to forget but at least now something positive has come out of it. I give my thanks to the We Care Team for this and I think it’s wonderful that such a team exists because people like me who don’t come from a conventional family have as much right to do well in life as anyone.”
Ryan will be spending Christmas at home with his young family, but many care experienced and estranged students will spend Christmas alone.
The We Care at Christmas appeal is raising funds to support care experienced and estranged students at the University’s Sunderland and London campuses.
For many of these students Christmas will be a time they will spend alone, perhaps without a card, gift, festive meal or companionship. For those students with children, it is a particularly difficult time trying to provide for their children, while making Christmas special.
University of Sunderland Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Bell, has backed the campaign. He says: “Our care-experienced and estranged students are a valued and important part of our University community and now is our opportunity to remind them, in a very practical way, of how much they mean to us.”
If you would like to find out more about the appeal go to the We Care at Christmas Go Fund Me page.