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Spring 2021 •

Issue 22




Northumbria secures funding for projects addressing the challenges of Covid-19.

Success hasn’t come easy for Northumbria alumni and Trunki inventor Rob Law.

Quicker, cooler laundry cycles could reduce could help to reduce pollution from clothing microfibres being released into the ocean.

Turn to pages 12-13 to find out more.

Read his inspiring story on page 16.

Turn to page 25 to read more.

Northumbria soars in rankings


Northumbria University’s growing global reputation for academic excellence has been reinforced after multiple successes in national and international league tables. After a significant rise of 20 places in just one year, Northumbria is now ranked in the top 30 universities in the UK in The Guardian University Guide 2021. The Guardian’s guide focuses on the issues which matter most to young people who are considering studying at university, analysing how highly courses are rated by current students, how satisfied they are with the quality of teaching and which university provides the best chance of securing a career after graduating. Having climbed to 27th place overall, Northumbria also saw improvements to its scores in relation to student satisfaction

and achieved the best score in the UK in the value-added measure, which examines how a student’s academic performance improves during their time at university by comparing their entry-level grades to their final degree results. The University also features in the top half of many of The Guardian’s subject tables, appearing in the top 10 for Health Professions, Electronic and Electrical Engineering and Building, Town and Country Planning and in the top 20 for Nursing and Midwifery, Architecture, Design, Journalism and Law.

Northumbria also became the top-ranked UK university in Times Higher Education’s Young Universities Rankings 2020, which lists the world’s best universities founded in the last half-century. In recent years Northumbria has risen steadily through Times Highers’ rankings and climbed 17 places in the last year to be ranked 80th overall and the highest ranked university in the UK. The Young University Rankings focus on research productivity, citations and reputation; international outlook; the income universities generate from industry, and the teaching

experience they provide. Northumbria improved its score in all categories, with notable improvements in the areas of international outlook and ranking within the top 40 globally for research citations – a measure of how often research is cited by other academics and a key indicator of the quality of research being undertaken. Continues on Pg. 2




Northumbria University NEWS • Spring 2021




Driving business growth with Northern Accelerator, Page 9


BIG INTERVIEW Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods talks about her new role as Chair of the Board of Governors at Northumbria University, Page 11

Page 15





Academics win Government backing to develop antiviral coating suitable for use on everyday surfaces,

Celebrating success against the odds – the Class of 2020 finish with a flourish,

Page 22

First ever map of world’s glacier rock coverage developed at Northumbria, Page 27

Page 28-29

BUSINESS AND LAW Discovering the impact of Covid-19 on job losses, Page 34

SPORT Developing leaders on and off the pitch, in partnership with Aldi, Page 36

Keep up to date with the latest news from Northumbria University at

Northumbria soars in rankings – continued The University’s success in the Young University Rankings follows on the heels of its achievement in the QS World University Rankings, an annual publication of the top global universities. While most UK institutions saw a drop in their position, Northumbria was one of a handful to climb the league, moving into the 651-700 bracket - a significant improvement on 2018 when it was ranked between 751-800. And finally, based on the latest Graduate Outcomes survey, Northumbria is now ranked in the top 15 in the UK for the

number of graduates entering into highly skilled employment, and is second in the UK for enterprise, based on the turnover of business start-ups (HEBCIS 2018/19 report). Well recognised for the support it provides to students and graduates wanting to start their own businesses, over the last decade the University has supported the creation of around 300 businesses which now employ more

than 1,000 people and turnover £84 million per year. Prof Andrew Wathey CBE, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Northumbria University, said: “Our continued improvement across a number of global league table rankings confirms that our strategy to invest in world-leading researchers and research is driving quality across the full range of our activities. This is reflected

in our growing global standing and reputation. “The strategic focus on improving quality, in teaching, research, enterprise, and the University’s civic and economic contributions, sits at the core of our mission as a research-rich, businessfocused, professional university with a global reputation for academic excellence.”





Former MI5 Chief takes up role at Northumbria Northumbria students and members of the public will have the opportunity to hear from, and debate with, the former Director General of the UK’s Security Service. Sir Andrew Parker KCB has become a Visiting Professor at Northumbria Law School, and will deliver one of the University’s popular public lectures. He says he is looking forward to meeting with students and is keen to offer his insights into national security. Sir Andrew Parker, who has just been appointed by The Queen as the next Lord Chamberlain to the Royal Household, retired as Director General of MI5 in April 2020. He will take up his Visiting Professorship role at Northumbria Law School this year. His appointment strengthens Northumbria’s global reputation for research and teaching in international criminal justice, counter terrorism, forensics and the interaction between law and digital technology.

Sir Andrew joined MI5 in 1983. Before becoming Director General, he amassed a 37-year career in a wide range of national security and intelligence roles, including postings in the fields of international terrorism, counter espionage, Northern Ireland terrorism, serious and organised crime, protective security and policy. He led MI5’s response to the 2005 terrorist attacks in London, and the following year his team played the lead role in the disruption of Al Qaida’s attempt to attack multiple

airliners with bombs hidden in drinks’ bottles. Having been away from his native Newcastle for many years, Sir Andrew says he is delighted to be returning to his roots and engaging with Northumbria’s law students, explaining: “It will be a learning experience for me – and hopefully offer a beneficial learning experience for them. “Counter terrorism and counter espionage are becoming progressively more challenging as the nature of threats we face evolves and technologies

advance at pace. Tackling these threats is complex, but whether it’s through tried and tested methods, such as the use of agents as informants, or new ways of using technology for surveillance, judicial oversight and understanding, the law will play a crucial role. These are some of the issues I am looking forward to discussing and debating at Northumbria.” Professor Andrew Wathey CBE, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Northumbria, added: “Sir Andrew’s arrival

IS YOUR BUSINESS READY TO TAKE ON TOMORROW? The world is changing faster than ever before. The future is there to be won by organisations who find ways to turn today’s possibilities into tomorrow’s competitive edge. In a connected world, collaboration can be the key to success. Find out more about how we can work together to identify, explore and develop new business opportunities - read Northumbria’s Partner of Choice supplement online at:

“COUNTER TERRORISM AND COUNTER ESPIONAGE ARE BECOMING PROGRESSIVELY MORE CHALLENGING AS THE NATURE OF THREATS WE FACE EVOLVES AND TECHNOLOGIES ADVANCE AT PACE.” SIR ANDREW PARKER KCB marks a superb opportunity for students to engage in discussion and debate at the highest level.” For more information on our events and public lectures please visit publiclectures




Northumbria University NEWS • Spring 2021

BELIEF IN 5G COVID-19 CONSPIRACY THEORIES LINKED TO VIOLENCE Psychologists from Northumbria have revealed that 5G conspiracy theorists are more likely to experience paranoia and may believe that violent behaviour towards telecommunications workers and equipment is justified. What’s more – they are also more willing to engage in such violence in the future. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, telecommunications companies, police officials, and media outlets worldwide suggested that 5G coronavirus conspiracies – the belief that 5G is responsible for causing or spreading Coronavirus – were allegedly culpable of a flurry of attacks on telecoms workers and infrastructure. Arson attacks and cases of criminal damage to masts, cabling and other telecoms equipment have been reported in over a dozen countries across the globe, from various countries in Europe, to Canada, America, and New Zealand. Back in April last year, the BBC’s Newsbeat reported on accounts of harassment and violence, even murder threats, towards telecoms engineers in the UK, believed to be driven by false theories suggesting that the emergence of the virus is connected to 5G. Previous research had shown that conspiracy theories may be linked with violent intentions. Until recently, however, there was no scientific evidence demonstrating why and when conspiracy beliefs may justify – and ignite – violence. Now, research from Northumbria’s Department of Psychology has addressed these gaps. Senior Lecturers Dr Daniel Jolley and Dr Jenny Paterson spoke to

more than 600 people to investigate why individuals believing these theories could resort to violence. Their findings, published in the British Journal of Psychology, found a correlation between those who believed in 5G conspiracy theories and their level of ‘state anger’ temporary, short-lasting outbursts of anger. In turn, this state anger was associated with a greater justification of violence in response to a supposed connection between 5G mobile technology and Covid-19. Alongside this, the results highlighted a greater intent to engage in similar behaviours in the future in those who subscribed to conspiratorial beliefs. All of these associations were strongest for those who reported higher levels of paranoia. Dr Daniel Jolley said: “Disconcertingly, the consequences of conspiracy theories are significant and wide-ranging. Our findings extend our understanding and provide the first empirical link between 5G Covid-19 conspiracy beliefs and violent reactions, alongside uncovering why (anger) and when (paranoia) conspiracy beliefs may justify the use of violence.”

The psychologists’ research also indicates that these patterns are not specific to 5G conspiratorial beliefs. Furthermore, the link between conspiratorial induced anger was most strongly associated with the justification of violence for participants who were most paranoid. “These findings are notable because of their possible practical implications,” explains Senior Lecturer in Psychology Dr Jenny Paterson. “As conspiracy beliefs can be resistant to change, our research suggests that targeting the link between anger and violence may be an effective initial approach to mitigate the relationships between conspiracy beliefs, anger and violence.” Academics say that the next stage of their research will explore ways that telecoms companies can effectively implement strategies to protect their staff and reduce costly damage to equipment. While this research relates to Covid-19, the link between belief in conspiracy theories and violence is far-reaching, so the research will have wider implications for the

telecommunications sector going forward. The research team are currently on the lookout for partners in the telecommunications industry that would like to take part in this research. Those who would like to find out more about their plans, and how to get involved, should get in touch with Northumbria’s business development team at business-services.


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Research reveals toll of pandemic on people with eating disorders


The COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound, negative impact on nine out of ten people with a history of eating disorders, a new study from Northumbria has shown. Approximately 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder. Little was known about the impact of the pandemic on this population, but researchers from Northumbria’s Department of Psychology have now explored exactly how Covid-19 restrictions, including lockdown, have affected them. Research Associates Dr Dawn Branley-Bell and Dr Catherine Talbot asked 129 individuals who are currently suffering from an eating disorder, or are in recovery, what the impact has been on their lives. They discovered that disruptions to daily life as a result of lockdown and social distancing appear to have had a detrimental effect on the respondents’ wellbeing, with almost nine out of ten (87%) of those surveyed reporting that their symptoms had worsened as a result of the pandemic. The study found that changes to participants’ living situations, reduced access to healthcare and changes to their diet and

exercise patterns were just some of the factors that had negatively affected them. “Some of those we spoke to suddenly found themselves living with friends and family, which caused them anxiety. This was potentially down to having to hide their eating disorder from others, pressure from loved ones to eat more, or a loss of control over their diet”, explains Dr Branley-Bell. Meanwhile those living alone faced feelings of social isolation, which also sometimes aggravated symptoms. Another major challenge faced by participants was inconsistency of access to healthcare service provision. The research reveals that some were prematurely discharged from inpatient units, had treatment suspended or were stuck on a waiting list. This led to some of the participants feeling like a “burden”, an “inconvenience”, or “forgotten” by the Government and NHS. Technology has offered one way around this problem, by allowing

For advice or information relating to eating disorders, contact your GP or speak to Beat, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity.

people with eating disorders to continue to access treatment and support remotely. However, the study also highlights that eatingdisorder services across the UK aren’t consistent; with some quick to move online, but others less so. At the time of publishing Northumbria’s research, Beat, a national charity for people with eating disorders, had seen an 81% increase in contact across all Helpline channels. This included a 125% rise in social media contact and a 115% surge in online group attendance. Technology has also been seen by many as a positive tool for keeping people connected with friends and family, however for others this proved to be a double-edged sword. Video-calling resulted in participants seeing themselves more often, giving more opportunities to be self-critical of their appearance. Triggering posts on social media such as fitness or diet-related content and exposure to stories in the news about the general population’s heightened

Beat Helpline – 0808 801 0677

preoccupation with food, weight gain and exercise over lockdown, were also cited as sources of anxiety. The researchers have warned that we must not underestimate the longevity of the impact of the pandemic. Dr Branley-Bell explains: “Individuals with experience of eating disorders will see long-term effects on their symptoms and recovery. This will likely cause some people’s conditions to worsen and, in some cases, prove fatal. It is important that this is recognised by healthcare services, and beyond, in order to offer the necessary resources to support this vulnerable population now and on an on-going basis.”

1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder (according to Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity)

Nine out of ten people with experience of eating disorders have been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic

30% of those who said they were negatively impacted, said their symptoms were ‘much worse’ The charity Beat saw an

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Beat Helpline – 0808 801 0677

81% increase in contact across all Helpline channels

Beat Youthline – 0808 801 0711

Beat also offers one-to-one webchat and further information on its website:



Northumbria University NEWS • Spring 2021

The Sun provides us with the light and warmth we need to survive here on Earth – but there is still much we don’t know about our nearest star. In particular, its outer atmosphere known as the corona – which is hundreds of times hotter than the Sun’s surface – remains a mystery which has baffled scientists for years. Members of Northumbria’s Solar Physics Research Group, based within the University’s Department of Mathematics, Physics and Electrical Engineering, are shedding light on the mysterious workings of the Sun through their ground-breaking research. As you’ll see from the examples shared here, their work is having a real impact, and being recognised, all around the world.

UK SPACE AGENCY BACKS UNIVERSITY SATELLITE PROJECT Northumbria University has been awarded more than £360,000 of funding from the UK Space Agency to develop the world’s first commercially available laser-based satellite communication system. Academics from the University will work with County Durham company ISOCOM Limited to design, build and test small satellites, known as ‘CubeSats’, which will orbit the earth, using laser-optical communications to transmit data 100 times faster than currently possible. If their vision for CubeSats becomes a reality, they aim to make them available to telecoms providers to speed up their services and products. CubeSats could also deliver Internet of Things (IoT) technology, which allows physical objects such as household appliances, security systems and cars to connect and share data with other devices and systems. They could also be used for remote sensing, environmental monitoring and disaster prevention. The UK Space Agency’s National Space Innovation Programme has awarded more than £8 million of funding to various projects, including Northumbria’s, through the first UK fund dedicated to supporting the space sector’s development of innovations. Solar physicist Dr Eamon Scullion who is leading the Northumbria project explains: “We are establishing a new paradigm for space-based communications, with a marked increase in data transmission rates, transforming CubeSats into critical space assets.

This is all about designing a new system capable of firing laser beams between satellites that are not much bigger than a shoe box, many thousands of kilometres apart and moving at many thousands of kilometres per hour around the world – it does not get much cooler than that.” The CubeSats will operate in pairs in a low Earth orbit – around 600 miles above the surface of the Earth. They will be capable of transmitting data at a rate of one gigabit per second (1 gbps) using freespace optical communication technology (FSO). This FSO technology uses light to transmit data and is significantly faster than the low-speed radio frequency currently used by CubeSats, which has a maximum speed of 1-10 megabits per second (mbps). The government has an ambition to increase the UK’s share of the global space market to 10% by 2030, estimated to be worth around £400 billion. The Northumbria CubeSat project is expected to play a significant role in helping the government to achieve its aim. It will also position the UK at the forefront of optical laser communication systems and technology, develop national capabilities, and enable the UK to claim a significant share of this emerging market.





SCIENTISTS TO HELP FORECAST SPACE WEATHER THREATS A Northumbria University solar physicist is working with the Met Office on a new project to improve how we can forecast space weather and its potential disruption to activities on Earth. Storms above the surface of the Sun can cause major damage to our economy, affecting satellites, radio communications, power grids and aircraft routes. With advance warning however, steps can be taken to minimise the impact of storms erupting from the Sun and hitting the Earth’s magnetic field. The Met Office has had a specific team dedicated to monitoring space weather since 2014 and is now looking to upgrade its capabilities. It has commissioned a team of solar and space scientists, from Aberystwyth, Northumbria, Durham, and Reading Universities, to build an improved system for forecasting solar storms. Dr Shaun Bloomfield will lead Northumbria’s involvement in the two-and-a-half-year Space Weather Empirical Ensemble Package (SWEEP) project. His role will be to score the space weather forecasts produced by colleagues against the actual conditions to determine their accuracy and reliability. Speaking about his involvement, Dr Bloomfield explains: “A major strength of the SWEEP project is that it isn’t focused on the space weather conditions only during quiet times or only during storms, but that there is a seamless transition from one situation to the other. This will help Met Office forecasters understand the longer-term outlook during quiet times as well as the shorter-term effects when

conditions worsen due to solar activity.” Violent flares and eruptions from the Sun’s atmosphere can occur frequently, however, only a small number of these happen at the right time and place to impact the Earth. The frequency of storms follows the Sun’s magnetic cycle and tends to peak around every 11-12 years. The strongest solar storm ever recorded was the Carrington Event in 1859 which took out the global telegraph system and created a worldwide aurora – often referred to as ‘Northern Lights’. In 1989, Quebec in Canada lost all power due to a major solar storm and in 2003, there were numerous satellite problems during the so-called ‘Halloween Storms’. The next period of intense solar activity is expected in 2023-2026.


 LOBAL MAGNETIC FIELD OF THE SOLAR CORONA G MEASURED FOR THE FIRST TIME An international team of solar physicists, including academics from Northumbria University, has measured the global magnetic field of the outer most layer of the Sun’s atmosphere, the solar corona, for the first time. The Sun is a magnetised star, and its magnetic field plays a critical role in shaping the solar atmosphere. The magnetic field threads through the seven different layers of the Sun’s atmosphere – three inner layers and four outer layers spread across a distance approximately 86,000 miles from its core. The first of the outer layers is on the Sun’s surface and is known as the photosphere. Next comes the chromosphere, then the transition region, before, finally, the outermost layer – the corona. Researchers have been working to understand how the Sun’s solar plasma and magnetic fields interact within all seven layers of its atmosphere. More than 100 years have passed since the first measurement of the Sun’s magnetic field, which looked at the photosphere layer. But it is only now, thanks to a team of scientists including Northumbria University’s Dr Richard Morton, that light has been shed on the magnetic field in the upper solar atmosphere, especially the corona. For the first time this team of researchers has been able to map the coronal magnetic field using data obtained through actual coronal observations – marking a significant leap towards solving the problem of coronal magnetic field measurements.

They used a technique called magnetoseismology, which observes magnetic waves, known as Alfvén waves, travelling along the Sun’s magnetic fields. The speed of the waves depends on the strength of the magnetic field, so by measuring how fast the waves were travelling, the research team were able to estimate the strength of the magnetic field. Dr Richard Morton, a UKRI Future Leader Fellow based within Northumbria’s Department of Mathematics, Physics and Electrical Engineering, is a world expert in the observation and analysis of Alfvén waves and was part of the team which delivered these exciting results. As he explains: “The data we collected reveals the Sun’s corona is full of these Alfvén waves and provides us with the best available view of them. This is a wonderful demonstration of how we can exploit the Alfvén waves to probe the properties of the Sun – the process is similar to how seismologists use earthquakes to find out what the interior of the Earth looks like.” The research has been published in Science, the peerreviewed academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


 REAKTHROUGH SHEDS B LIGHT ON SUN’S MILLIONDEGREE ATMOSPHERE A team of scientists has discovered new activity within the Sun’s atmosphere which could explain how it reaches temperatures of more than a million degrees. Although the solar corona is the outermost part of the Sun’s atmosphere, it is hundreds of times hotter than the surface. A team of researchers, led by Dr Patrick Antolin of Northumbria University, has now discovered direct evidence of bursts of energy occurring when magnetic field lines within the corona reconnect, which could account for its high temperature. The surface of the Sun is covered in magnetic fields full of charged particles, which form striking features such as coronal loops. These loops connect to the Sun’s surface, keeping the magnetic lines constantly charged with energy. Sometimes the field lines become tangled and ‘braided’ together, but then separate and snap back into smooth lines in a process known as ‘reconnection’. When this happens, a sudden burst of energy occurs, known as a ‘nanoflare’ and researchers now know that this process is accompanied by the heated gas moving sideways very quickly between the two lines, creating a ‘nanojet’. Nanoflare-like bursts of energy have been observed for the last 10 years but have never been directly connected to coronal heating. Dr Antolin and a team of international research colleagues have, for the first time, been able to detect nanojets alongside nanoflares during a heating episode of the corona, thereby directly identifying magnetic reconnection as the heating mechanism. Speaking about the research, Dr Antolin states: “Misaligned magnetic field lines can break and reconnect, producing nanoflares in avalanche-like processes. However, no direct and unique observations of such nanoflares existed to date, and the lack of a smoking gun had cast doubt on the possibility of solving the coronal heating problem. From coordinated multi-band high-resolution observations we discovered evidence of very fast and explosive nanojets, the tell-tale signature of reconnection-based nanoflares resulting in coronal heating.” Dr Antonlin’s research has been published in the prestigious peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Astronomy.





Northumbria University NEWS • Spring 2021

IN THE MEDIA: EXPLORING THE STATUE DEBATE Until recently the topic of eighteenthcentury public sculpture rarely attracted regular press coverage. Rarely that is until June last year, when a group of Black Lives Matter protestors in Bristol toppled a statue of notorious slave trader Edward Colston. The protest attracted media attention around the world and sparked a nationwide debate about how historical figures linked to slavery and colonialism are represented in our cities. As an expert in public sculpture, Northumbria University Associate Professor Claudine Van Hensbergen was ideally placed to explain the historical context behind such statues. Her thoughts on the tearing down of Edward Colston’s statue led to an article in The Conversation – a news website featuring articles by academics from around the world on a wide range of topical issues. Dr Van Hensbergen’s article prompted interest from media organisations from as far afield as the United States and Australia. As she explains: “The article I wrote on the Edward Colston statue led to interviews with Atlantic Quarterly, HuffPost, NY Times, US Weekly, Wired Magazine and a radical radio station in Melbourne. One of the most interesting aspects for me was working with HuffPost to record a video on the statue debates. This was done during lockdown and the editor interviewed me over Zoom, and then edited it into a three-minute segment in which my discussion was set against a video montage. It was amazing to see how much can be done remotely.”

THE STATUE OF EDWARD COLSTON, PICTURED WITH A BLINDFOLD BEFORE IT WAS TAKEN DOWN BY PROTESTERS IN BRISTOL. The success of her Edward Colston article meant that, when a new sculpture of the 18th century feminist writer and advocate Mary Wollstonecraft was unveiled in Newington Green, London in last November, The Conversation approached Dr Van Hensbergen once again. As she explains: “Articles can get huge coverage from The Conversation, as they can be syndicated for free by any other media outlet. Outlets also use The Conversation as a means of contacting expert commentators, leading to further interviews, as happened to me.” Speaking and writing publicly about her area of expertise has allowed Dr Van Hensbergen to engage with the public about her research – although as she has discovered, this can bring certain challenges.“Published articles can attract lengthy chains of online comments. I’ve had some lovely comments and emails over the years, but many online

“IT’S BEEN LOVELY TO SEE HOW A TOPIC I WORK ON – EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY PUBLIC SCULPTURE – WHICH HAS TRADITIONALLY BEEN OF VERY LITTLE INTEREST, HAS NOW TAKEN ON A NEW LEASE OF LIFE AND IT’S GREAT TO BE A PART OF THAT!” DR CLAUDINE VAN HENSBERGEN comments can be offensive or result from people misreading your work and appropriating it for their own agendas,” she explains. “My advice would be not to read the comments boxes, and never to engage with them! “Aside from that, I’ve found writing articles a very rewarding experience, and a great way of feeling like I am making my research more applicable to

the wider world. It’s also been very helpful in sharpening the ways in which I understand the relevance of my research. It’s been lovely to see how a topic I work on – eighteenth-century public sculpture – which has traditionally been of very little interest, has now taken on a new lease of life and it’s great to be a part of that!”

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Driving business growth with Northern Accelerator A partnership of North East universities has launched a £1.7m seed investment fund that aims to grow the region’s economy by supporting the creation of innovative spin-out businesses. The Northern Accelerator partnership, a collaboration between Northumbria, Durham, Newcastle, and Sunderland Universities, translates worldclass university research into commercially viable and highly investible businesses. Its new Seed Investment Fund, managed by venture capitalists Northstar Ventures, will see further funding allocated over a 12-month period to support businesses with the best commercial ideas and highest growth potential. In particular, the funding will target businesses in specific sectors including healthcare, green technology and data. The number of spin-out businesses from Northern Accelerator has more than doubled over the past year and increased fivefold since the partnership began in 2016. Backed by funding from Research England’s Connecting Capability Fund and the European Regional Development Fund, Northern Accelerator has developed a strong pipeline of investible businesses, both in terms of volume and quality. To date the partnership has placed 23 Chief Executive Officers in spin-outs, created 28 businesses and allocated £1.8m worth of funding to help 45 research projects move closer to commercialisation. Recent studies have predicted that the North East is likely to be the hardest hit region by the COVID-19 economic aftershock and will experience one of the slowest recoveries. Turning research into commercial activity is seen as an important driver for growth at such a time


when the region’s economy is under pressure. Professor Andrew Wathey CBE, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Northumbria University, believes translating research into commercial endeavours is vital to help the North East economy respond positively to the challenges of Covid-19. He explains: “Northumbria University’s research volume and quality have grown very substantially in recent years, and through this

fund can be harnessed visibly and in new ways for the good of the North East and beyond.” Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has also highlighted the vital role research-based start-ups and innovation will have to play in spearheading economic recovery.

Alice Frost, Director of Knowledge Exchange at Research England, adds: “I very much welcome Northern Accelerator’s launch of a Seed Investment Fund. This is an important step along the way for a vital development in the North East that can increase commercialisation of

university research and address the Government’s levelling up agenda. For more information on Northern Accelerator funding and collaborating with Northumbria more widely please visit www.northumbria.




Northumbria University NEWS • Spring 2021

Helping change the face of public policy KEY FACTS

£3.9m of funding awarded to the project by Research England Additional funding by partner institutions brings total project value to nearly £10m

“IN THE CURRENT ENVIRONMENT, IT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER THAT POLICY - BOTH LOCAL AND NATIONAL - IS DEVELOPED BY GOVERNMENT IN A WAY THAT IS SUPPORTED BY ROBUST EVIDENCE.” Northumbria University is part of a UK-wide research project aimed at improving the way universities inform Government policy. Policy making is something which impacts on all our lives, setting out how key decisions in society are made and why. Policy also ensures important Government decisions are made with the proper guidance, resulting in positive outcomes that improve life for communities. It is therefore vital that public policymaking is informed by reliable evidence, and academic expertise and rigour plays a crucial role in this. With this in mind, five universities have joined forces to establish the Capabilities in Academic-Policy Engagement (CAPE) project – a £3.9m project which will explore ways of enhancing academicpolicy engagement. CAPE aims to promote more effective communication between universities and government, as well as introducing an evidence-

based approach to any new systems of law or regulatory measures implemented across the UK. The project is led by UCL, working alongside Northumbria University and the universities of Cambridge, Manchester and Nottingham. Professor Matt Baillie Smith, co-director of Northumbria University’s Centre for International Development, is leading the University’s involvement in the project. He said: “We are really excited to be part of this very important initiative. As we face the social, economic and environmental challenges of Covid-19, locally, nationally and internationally, universities have a key role to play in supporting the development of the policies and approaches that are needed to cope and to re-build.

“Through the CAPE project, Northumbria will bring together its extensive local partnerships and networks, and research on processes of global development and social and environmental change, to foster knowledge exchanges that meet the new challenges we face. We are looking forward to working with UCL, Manchester, Cambridge and Nottingham Universities in this timely and important project, and to the important changes it will bring to academic-policy engagement.” Collaborative working will help form more robust policy decisions in higher education, ensure policy has a greater balance in expertise and reflects the diversity of England’s communities resulting in better value for public spending. The project leaders will network with experts in various


fields and gather reliable evidence in a targeted way, that will help develop courses of action to form effective policy engagement interventions. In addition, the project will develop a range of evidence-based tools and resources to support academic-policy engagement and establish a virtual Centre for Universities and Public Policy (CUPP) to provide a collaborative platform for networking and sharing knowledge. Professor George Marston, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) at Northumbria University, explains that academic rigour is the key to ensuring informed policymaking. “In the current environment, it is more important than ever that policy – both local and national - is developed by government in a way that is supported by robust

evidence,” he said. “Universities can and do play a critical role in providing this evidence base. This area of research is of strategic importance to Northumbria University, and I am absolutely delighted therefore to see the success of this partnership of leading research universities and policy makers, which will lead to a step change in academic-policy engagement.” The CAPE project is funded by Research England, with partner institutions contributing further resource, bringing the total value to nearly £10m. Find out more about the project at

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“Education and knowledge can transform not only individuals but societies.” leadership from Vice-Chancellor, Professor Andrew Wathey, and his team, and a clear strategic vision. So, for me, an exciting future lies ahead for Northumbria and I am delighted to be a part of it.


A passion for higher education and a firm belief in the University’s strategic direction persuaded Roberta Blackman-Woods to apply for the role of Chair of the Board of Governors at Northumbria. Having taken up the post in August 2020, Roberta reflects on her first six months in the position. You have had a successful career in politics, what led you back to higher education? I began my career in social work and welfare rights, spending time working in social services at Newcastle C ity Council. My main background, however, is as an academic – teaching social policy, first at the University of Ulster and then at Newcastle University. I then moved into academic management, as Dean of Social and Labour Studies at Ruskin College, Oxford, before taking up the position of Head of School and Associate Dean here at Northumbria. I spent five enjoyable and rewarding years at the University between 2000 and 2005 and have retained strong links with Northumbria ever since, including as a Visiting Professor. I was elected to parliament in the 2005 General Election as MP for the City of Durham, primarily because of my policy interests. I felt I could use my experience to help shape housing and planning policies, as well as the wider social policy agenda. After almost 15 years as an MP, I decided to stand down in 2019. I made a very conscious decision to return to academia as, increasingly, I found I missed the university environment. I was thrilled to be appointed as

Chair of the Board of Governors at Northumbria. I’d obviously kept an interest in the University over the years and had seen how it had flourished. I have always believed that education and knowledge can transform not only individuals but societies as well. One of the developments I observed in parliament was experts not being valued and knowledge and evidenced-based policy being replaced with a more populist agenda. I wanted to be back supporting people generating that knowledge and delivering transformative education. Why did the role of Chair of the Board of Governors at Northumbria appeal to you? I have always, from the time that I worked at the University, thought Northumbria had huge potential and an amazing staff base. During my 15 years away, I watched as the University estate developed, offering better facilities, an enhanced learning experience and greater opportunities for students. I have also seen how the way people view the University has changed as its strengths have become more articulated. Northumbria has dedicated, expert and committed staff alongside stable and effective

Why does Northumbria stand out to you? I have been incredibly impressed by Northumbria’s strategic direction and ambition, especially through its world-class – and relevant – research which is addressing the big challenges facing society both locally and globally. Northumbria is prepared to ask the difficult questions: how we can do things differently, where is the scope for innovation, what can be done to bring about the change needed. Alongside research, Northumbria also has a clear focus on the professions – not something you always hear. What Northumbria is delivering in terms of policing, social work, and nursing, for example, and the calibre of the graduates Northumbria is producing. Northumbria offers great support to students – but also challenges them to ask how they can address the challenges the world is facing. I like that emphasis. Northumbria makes a significant contribution to Newcastle and the North East - culturally, and economically. But it is also having an increasingly global impact, and to me this is tremendously important. I love the idea that instead of just sitting back and seeing what Brexit would bring, Northumbria was opening a campus in Amsterdam. That challenger dynamic and strategic thinking was something I really tuned into and is something I will support in any way I can as Chair of the Board of Governors. As Chair, what do you want Northumbria to achieve in the short and the long term? In the short term, I want to see Northumbria come through the pandemic and continue to flourish. The University has managed the pandemic really well, and the input and commitment from staff has been quite extraordinary. As Chair of the Board of Governors I can now appreciate how this commitment has, and continues, to support the students through their university

journey in these particularly challenging times. Despite these challenges, there has been such a can-do attitude toward how the University deals with this unprecedented situation. I think the way students are managing the situation is something we want to understand better; what is working well and what can be done better. Going forward we will all be asking how we can build back better. Personally, I also want to take time to make sure everybody is ok – we will all need a dusting down to see where we all are when we come out of this pandemic. And because of the circumstances I haven’t been able to meet people, so there is a big role for me in getting to know colleagues a lot better and making sure I engage with the wider University. I am extremely fortunate to have inherited an excellent Board of Governors and I think more visibility from the Board, where that is possible and helpful, would also be useful in the future. In the longer term I want to see the University deliver on the strategy. As I said earlier, Northumbria’s strategy is a stand-out strength for the institution, and I want to see it delivered. This means building on, and strengthening, the research agenda and making sure we don’t just sit back after the Research Excellence Framework submissions for example – we need to focus on the next phase for Northumbria. We need to stay connected into the changing policy environment: how we help grow the economy locally, and how we grow graduate opportunities locally with partners in the region. I want us to continue to develop our reputation as a challenger institution so when people think about exciting developments in professional training, tackling climate change, justice and policing, or shaping professions, they think of Northumbria first. What does Northumbria need to do to thrive in the years ahead? I come from an academic background and I understand the academic journey – the absolute joys of the job, as well as the challenges. I can’t convey too strongly the value that I put on

academic endeavour, which in my opinion is the most important aspect of university life. You can’t deliver strong teaching in my view without strong academics. Students need to see and share their passion, not only for learning but for acquiring new knowledge. Universities must be dynamic and innovative, otherwise knowledge is not going to move forward. Having that passion at the core business of the University is critical. I also understand the need to have really effective support staff and to ensure the importance of this work is fully acknowledged. I have been amazed at how everyone at Northumbria has found it in themselves to keep going at such an intense level through such challenging times. This has not been easy, especially while so many of us have also been dealing with significant personal challenges alongside these new and unfamiliar ways of working. I want all colleagues to know how impressive they are. I hope my own knowledge of the political environment will be a key area where I can help Northumbria. Universities are shaped largely by what happens in policy making, and there is a real job to be done in talking up the job universities do. Having chaired the University Parliamentary Group for 10 years, with an opportunity to meet regularly with Vice-Chancellors and senior academics, I understand the sector well. Understanding where best to tell the story for universities, and how they can influence the policies that will allow them to thrive, I hope, means I can help to chart the way forward. Finally, I know that Northumbria has the people and the strategy to make a difference in the years ahead. There will be a rebuilding of the economy after the pandemic and through its research, partnerships and the quality of its graduates, Northumbria can help lead the way – because making an impact is something this University does.




Northumbria University NEWS • Spring 2021


Academics at Northumbria University have secured Government funding worth almost £1.2 million to conduct research in support of the UK’s response to Covid-19. Over the next 18 months Northumbria will lead on four projects, and support on a fifth, after successfully being awarded research grants from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Covid-19 rapid response fund – set up to support research proposals addressing the challenges of the global pandemic. Professor George Marston, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Northumbria University, believes securing the funding from UKRI, in what was a highly competitive process, reflects the University’s growing strength and expertise. As he explains: “Our world-leading research is making a positive and lasting impact across society - economically, culturally and through our work on health and wellbeing. We are helping businesses innovate and grow, identifying and meeting future skill needs, and improving scenario planning, problem solving and policy making - both in response to the pandemic now and looking ahead to the future.”


One of Northumbria’s five projects will examine the effectiveness of police interviews carried out with victims and suspects remotely by video call, compared with those conducted face to face. During the Covid-19 pandemic there have been major changes to the format of traditional police interviews. Many forces have had to carry out video interviews with victims, while third party professionals such as lawyers have provided support to suspects by phone or video rather than in person. A team made up of academics, national and international police organisations and criminal justice groups will now explore the impact this move to remote communication has had on witnesses, victims and suspects, and use the findings to inform how best to conduct interviews in this way in future. The project, entitled Supporting the interviewing and legal representation of crime victims and suspects using digital communications methods: Is it ‘remotely’ possible?, has been awarded more than £320,000 Leading business academics from Northumbria are supporting the University of Stirling with research to help local authorities better manage their procurement and spending during Covid-19. The research project, Optimising Outcomes from Procurement and Partnering for Covid-19 and Beyond: Lessons from the Crisis, is being led by Northumbria University Professors Joyce Liddle and John Shutt from Newcastle Business School. Professor Liddle explains that procurement, or purchasing, accounts for £100bn - up to 47% - of local authority spending, so making sure the spending represents value for money both economically and for local communities is now more important than ever in

promoting an agile response to the Covid-19 crisis. “The research we are conducting is also about helping to maintain community resilience and helping local businesses stay afloat,” she adds. Professors Liddle and Shutt will be examining procurement and commissioning in the North East, as a specific case within the Northern Powerhouse region. The findings of their research will be shared with organisations including the North of Tyne Combined Authority and Tees Valley Combined Authority, local authorities, relevant public and private procurement bodies across the North, in addition to national and local professional associations.

by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It will be led by Professor Gavin Oxburgh and Dr Nicci MacLeod of Northumbria University, working alongside academics from De Montfort University, Sunderland University and the global criminal justice watchdog Fair Trials. Speaking about the need for such research, Professor Oxburgh said: “Before the pandemic, video interviews were really only used by a small number of international organisations, so there is little evidence of how they might work on a large scale. By working with organisations who have previously used this technology, as well as regional police forces which have adopted it more recently during the pandemic, we will build up a picture of how effective remote interviews can be and highlight any issues which need to be addressed, including access to legal representation.” Read the full story at policeinterview





hallenges of Covid-19 THE ART OF SOCIAL DISTANCING

VOLUNTEERING AND COVID-19 Experts from across academia and the voluntary sector are carrying out a major research project into the role of volunteering in the Covid-19 pandemic – exploring the challenges, identifying what worked well and providing recommendations to inform planning for future crises. The research will compare the volunteering response in each of the UK’s four nations during the pandemic, sharing positive examples to help shape future policy and support the UK’s economic and social recovery. The project is a partnership between six UK universities and representatives from a variety of voluntary organisations, including the four key voluntary sector infrastructure bodies for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Funding of almost £420,000 has been awarded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for the Mobilising Voluntary Action in the four UK jurisdictions: Learning from today, prepared for tomorrow project. Irene Hardill, Professor of Public Policy at Northumbria University and project lead, explains: “During the pandemic we have seen voluntary action step in and step up as the first response to immediate need. The sector has rapidly improvised new relationships between voluntary action and the state, forging a new ‘partnership of necessity’. We know we face an uncertain future but the delivery of social welfare, with the state working in partnership with the voluntary sector, is critical for us pulling through as a country.” Read the full story at


Northumbria academics are carrying out research to investigate whether an increased use of digital information as part of the UK’s response to Covid-19 could lead to a breakdown in public trust. The work, entitled Observatory for Monitoring Data-Driven Approaches to COVID-19 (OMDDAC), led by Marion Oswald from Northumbria Law School in partnership with the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), will focus on the legal, ethical, policy and operational challenges of collecting more data and using this data to develop responses. These include use of communications data to map trends, monitoring

Academics will also work with resilience planners from UK cities to explore how art and performance could be used to establish successful social distancing strategies. Over the past year social distancing has unexpectedly become part of everyday life for people around the world and could continue to be so for the foreseeable future as we find ways to live with the challenge of Covid-19. But with reports that compliance with social distancing regulations is on the decline, new ideas are being sought to keep people engaged and help encourage adherence to guidelines across the UK. Dr Patrick Duggan, of Northumbria University, and Dr Stuart Andrews, of Brunel University London, have identified an urgent need to understand how to practise, make sense of, and sustain city life in the context of social distancing – and believe the arts, and arts research, are vital to that challenge.

They have received funding of more than £120,000 through the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for their project Social Distancing and Reimagining City Life: Performative strategies and practices for response and recovery in and beyond lockdown. Through their research they aim to highlight the key role the arts have played during the pandemic, the importance of arts education and research and the arts industry as a whole. Dr Duggan, Associate Professor of Performance and Culture at Northumbria University, explains: “When it comes to social distancing, techniques such as using arrows and signs only have limited success – there’s a real need for imaginative ideas, creative practices and new thinking in the ways we’re responding to the pandemic.”

of quarantine behaviour by drones and automated number plate recognition, and access to Bluetooth data for contact tracing. Marion Oswald, ViceChancellor’s Senior Fellow in Law at Northumbria, says the research is needed because of the speed at which data-driven responses to Covid-19 are being developed. She explains: “While the incentive for moving fast is understandable, developing technology without appropriate consideration of the contextual background and resulting interventions brings with it a high risk of errors, limited efficacy and unintended consequences for

individuals. Our Observatory will work to counter these risks and collate guidelines for future data-driven responses to pandemics.” OMDDAC is a collaboration between Northumbria and RUSI. Project partners and advisers also include the Ada Lovelace Institute, Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI), medConfidential and Lord Jonathan Evans of Weardale. Funding for the project has come from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Read the full story at socialdistancing

Read the full story at coviddata



Northumbria University NEWS • Spring 2021

Mapping experiences of Covid-19 volunteers

Volunteers from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement have been supporting the global effort to help those impacted by Covid-19. Their experiences have now been documented and mapped by a team of researchers, including academics from Northumbria University. Professor Matt Baillie Smith and postgraduate researcher Bianca Fadel, both from Northumbria’s Centre for International Development, analysed responses provided by volunteers around the world about their experience of volunteering during the pandemic. Examples of the volunteers’ efforts were showcased on an interactive map compiled by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, giving a unique insight into the way the pandemic has impacted on the volunteers’ livelihoods, families and communities. The Mapping COVID Volunteers’ Experience and Insights project, tells the stories of 200 Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers from 44 different countries across North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. From creating safe spaces to enable the homeless to isolate and delivering medicine to patients who have no access to pharmacies, to making emergency PPE for frontline workers, volunteers have been responding to the crisis in a variety of ways. The project has helped to connect and unite this vast volunteer network, to explore how the pandemic has forced a change in ways of working, and to build on

the momentum of the global collaboration and transformation within the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement. The research explored what the volunteers had learned from the Coronavirus outbreak, what they had done in response that made them proud, the main challenges they had experienced as a volunteer, what they had seen for the first time because of Coronavirus and how hope can arise from the Coronavirus response. Professor Matt Baillie Smith and Bianca Fadel, carried out the initial analysis of the volunteers’ stories and identified patterns and key themes in order to understand their experiences. Explaining the findings, Bianca said: “We identified three different streams of sentiment, from an individual, community and global perspective. Globally the volunteers’ stories reinforced a sense of belonging and common purpose,

bringing people together. At a community level the feeling was that volunteers viewed the crisis as an opportunity, but also had concerns around existing and increased risks involved in volunteering. On an individual level we saw stories of everyday heroism and sacrifice by volunteers, but at the same time recognition of volunteers’ fragility, needs and vulnerabilities, with many using volunteering as a way to cope during the crisis.” Professor Matt Baillie Smith, co-director of Northumbria’s Centre for International Development, is a leading expert in researching the experiences of volunteers around the world. Explaining why the project is important he said: “Volunteers responding to Covid-19 are more than cheap service delivery. Their voices and experiences at community level are important now and looking ahead, and they often face similar challenges

to those they are supporting. By listening to their stories and making their work visible we can influence policy-making processes that prioritise volunteers’ safety, security and well-being in sustainable ways.” The results of their research were discussed during the Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) e-conference and have been the focus of an article written by Professor Baillie Smith for The Conversation, Coronavirus volunteers aren’t just a source of free labour – don’t take advantage of them. To read the article, visit






A helping hand for hedgehogs Hedgehogs are one of the UK’s favourite native mammals, but their numbers have declined by 50% in the last 20 years due to expanding urban areas and changes to the hedgehogs’ natural environment.

Universities can play a key role in reversing this trend – most campuses have a large footprint in urban areas with abundant green spaces – a potential island idyll in the city for our prickly friends. With this in mind, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society set up the Hedgehog Friendly Campus campaign, encouraging universities to set up hedgehog homes, highways and habitats within their campuses. Northumbria University was one of the first UK universities to sign up and last year achieved Bronze accreditation. The University is now working towards Silver status and has been carrying out a variety of projects over the last 12 months. These have included: • Encouraging staff and students to carry out hedgehog surveys in their own gardens. Online training was provided to help those taking part identify any hedgehog visitors and record them, providing updated insight into hedgehog numbers across the UK.

• Log piles have been created across campus, providing the perfect hiding place for insects which in turn provide a tasty snack for hedgehogs. • The Northumbria Students’ Union carried out a litter pick event, removing plastic waste such as netting, plastic bags and elastic bands which can be harmful to hedgehogs. • Final Year Law with International Business student Lovisa Martinell, a Northumbria Hedgehog Friendly Campus Ambassador, shared her experience and advice with her fellow students through blog post. Keep up to date with Northumbria’s Hedgehog Friendly Campus activity by following @HogHeroesNU on Twitter and Instagram or visiting www.northumbria.

DISCOVER MORE sustainability

DID YOU KNOW… Northumbria University is ranked 27th in the 2020 Times Higher Education’s Impact Rankings. These global rankings capture universities’ impact on society and the environment based on their success in delivering the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As well as being ranked 27th overall out of 766 universities, Northumbria performed particularly strongly in a number of individual UN SDGs – reaching 8th in the Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions goal, 15th in Partnership for Goals and 19th for Responsible Consumption. Read the full story here

Northumbria leads the way in sustainability Northumbria University has been ranked as a top tier university by energy comparison website Uswitch in its first Renewable University Report, which assesses and ranks UK universities’ commitment to renewable energy. In compiling the report, Uswitch submitted Freedom of Information requests to 136 universities, asking them where the energy they use comes from. Their rankings are based on the efforts universities are making to become less reliant on fossil fuels, based on three criteria: • Do they have renewable installations on campus? • Are they on a renewable energy tariff with their supplier? • Are there schemes in place to improve their emissions? Northumbria scored positively in all three requirements set by Uswitch and is considered a leader in sustainable energy. Northumbria University has agreed a “green” energy tariff with energy supplier Scottish Power and has several renewable energy schemes in place. The University has installed air source heat pumps at two

locations across Newcastle City Campus and solar photovoltaics have been installed on a further seven buildings. Commenting on the report, Sarah Broomfield, energy expert at, explains: “It’s great to see that some universities are going above and beyond when it comes to sustainability. Having renewable installations on campus and schemes in place to produce more of their own renewable energy shows that they are leading by example in trying to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

“While not every university will have the same financial resources to generate their own power, it’s good to see that they are willing to “go green” by choosing a renewable energy tariff from their supplier.” To find out more, please visit

DISCOVER MORE sustainability




Success hasn’t been easy for entrepreneur, Rob Law. The Northumbria University graduate is best known for inventing the Trunki – the award-winning children’s ride-on suitcase – that has sold millions of units worldwide. But the former Design for Industry student has beaten overwhelming odds on the road to success. For the first time, Rob has put pen to paper and written the extraordinary story of his life – 65 Roses and a Trunki – aimed at helping anyone facing difficult challenges in life and business.

Northumbria University NEWS • Spring 2021

Rob Law: against all odds


Rob and his twin sister Kate were born with cystic fibrosis – a disease that children often call ’65 Roses’, due to an observant 4-year-old hearing the name of his disease for the first time and pronouncing cystic fibrosis as “65 Roses” back in 1965. Tragically Rob watched his sister die of the illness at just 16 years old and was told himself that he could not expect to live beyond 20. But Rob, determined he was going to live a long and successful life, has defied medical odds. Now 43, he has created a new category of consumer product (which in turn brought joy to millions of children all over the world), built a global business brand, and received an MBE from the Queen. He even defeated medical opinion when he became father to three children, having been told he would never be able to have a family. “I do my fair share of business speaking and people have often told me I should write a book

about my life,” said Rob. “It is mainly a story of resilience, having faced challenge after challenge, and a chance to reflect back on my childhood, growing up with cystic fibrosis. After losing my sister, rather than wallowing in self-pity, I decided life is short and I needed to make the most of it. At 14 I knew I wanted to be a product designer and the leading design school at the time, was Northumbria. It was by far the most exciting design course out there, offering work placements to Hong Kong and New York, so I was determined that was where I wanted to go.” In his second year at Northumbria University, Rob was nominated as a finalist for the 1998 Materials Design Award and was given a brief to produce ‘a design for luggage’. Disillusioned by the luggage section on offer at Newcastle’s famous Fenwick department store, Rob sought alternative inspiration from the children’s toy department! “I remembered my younger

brother riding his toy tractor around the garden,” reminisced Rob. “It struck me that making a ride-on toy, that functioned as luggage, could help children and families avoid hours of boredom while waiting at airports. I worked on it as my secondyear project and a prototype, which was then called the ‘Rodeo’, won the design award in 98.” Despite initial praise for the Rodeo concept, the young designer was politely shown the door by luggage and toy companies, who struggled

to envisage how Rob’s unique concept would fit with their existing product offering. After working in New York and Taiwan, he returned to the UK in 2002 and blew the dust off his original design. Four years later, and Rob’s creation – now called the Trunki – had made it to market, but he was once again struck by misfortune. “The factory that manufactured the product went bust in 2006,” he said. “The product was then rejected for investment on Dragon’s Den

and more recently we lost an intellectual property battle in the Supreme Court.” Despite this, Rob has managed to grow his business substantially. His company, Magmatic, now employs 80 people across his UK factory in Plymouth and his head office in Bristol. All versions of the Trunki are designed in England and distributed worldwide. Since launching in May 2006, Trunki has sold over four million suitcases in over 100 countries across the globe. “I’ve come to learn that even the biggest challenges are only finite,” said Rob. “It’s simply a case of weathering the storm and getting through to the other side.” Find out more about Rob’s life and work at





Fungi in a warmer world KEY FACTS

Products made from fungi can be used as replacements for polystyrene foam, leather and building materials.

A fungus has been discovered that is capable of breaking down plastics in weeks rather than years

At least 350 species of fungi are consumed as foods including truffles, quorn, and those in marmite and cheese

Scientists from Northumbria University have joined forces with universities in the US and Argentina on a $1m research project to investigate the impact of global warming on the millions of species of fungi around the world. There are an estimated three million species of fungi in existence worldwide, although only around 120,000 species have been officially discovered and recorded. Most fungi species live on decaying plants or animals and are too small to be seen by the human eye. Fungi play an important role in controlling the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Some species absorb carbon while others release it, meaning they could potentially help or hinder efforts to control global warming. In an attempt to discover more about how fungi has reacted to higher global temperatures in the past, experts from

Northumbria will examine fungi fossilised between 15 and 17 million years ago in the United States, Peru, Argentina, Malaysia, China, Antarctica, South Africa, Australia and Slovakia. The results will allow scientists to forecast the impact that predicted rises in the current global temperature could have on present day species. Dr Matthew Pound of Northumbria’s Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences is an expert in palaeoclimate and data synthesis. He explains that understanding how fungi respond to past warm climates is fundamental to knowing

how they might respond to 21st Century climate change. “As an essential part of the carbon cycle, and common pathogens to many of the world’s crops, understanding how individual species might change their geographical range and how fungal communities might change is valuable information if we are to adapt to current and future warming,” he explained. Dr Pound will work with researchers from Louisiana State University and Morehead State University in the US and Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) and Laboratory of Plains Geology. The study is the first of its kind and has

been jointly funded by the National Science Foundation in the US and the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The $1 million award for the three-year Fungi in a Warmer World study is a further endorsement of Northumbria’s global expertise in cold and palaeo environments. The research group carries out research and field-based projects around the world, studying modern and ancient environments, to examine how they have responded to climate change and predict how they may respond to warming temperatures in future.





Northumbria University NEWS • Spring 2021

The Conversation is a collaboration between news editors and academics to provide informed news analysis and commentary that’s free to read and republish. At Northumbria, our academics have been working with The Conversation to produce independent, quality current affairs journalism on some of the latest topics to hit the news.

CALLING ALL ACADEMICS! If you have a great idea for an article, the Communications team at Northumbria can help you pitch it to The Conversation. Please email


Coronavirus: an architect on how the pandemic could change our homes forever Dr Tara Hipwood, Lecturer in Architecture at Northumbria University, suggests that changes in work habits will prompt a shift in priority features in the home, with outdoor space and a home office higher on the list in future.

Why sleep is so important for losing weight Dr Ian Walshe, Lecturer in Health and Exercise Sciences at Northumbria University, and Emma Sweeney, Lecturer in Exercise and Health at Nottingham Trent University, discuss the essentials for a healthy lifestyle, including the importance of sleep alongside diet and physical activity when losing weight.

Back pain: four ways to fix bad lockdown posture – by copying astronauts Dr Andrew Winnard and Professor Nick Caplan, of the Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Department, review the effects of lockdown on backs using research from the Aerospace Medicine and Rehabilitation Laboratory at Northumbria University. It explores ways of keeping the spine healthy in astronauts, which may help those of us on Earth when working from home.

Public sculpture expert: why I welcome the decision to throw Bristol’s Edward Colston statue in the river Claudine van Hensbergen, Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities, discusses the public statue of Edward Colston being torn down by protesters in Bristol and the ongoing issue of inequality as a nation.

Artemis Accords: why many countries are refusing to sign Moon exploration agreement

Coronavirus anti-vaxxers: one in six British people would refuse a vaccine – here’s how to change their minds

Professor of Space Law and Policy at Northumbria University, Christopher Newman, explores the goals of the eight countries that have signed the Artemis Accords, a set of guidelines surrounding the Artemis Program, which aims to establish a crewed lunar base by 2030.

Dr Daniel Jolley, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Northumbria University, and Darel Cookson, PhD Candidate in Psychology at Staffordshire University, explain why some people might reject vaccines and how we can look to combat the anticovid vaccine sentiment.

Find out more about The Conversation, and keep up to date with articles by Northumbria academics, by visiting or visiting our online newsroom at




Hands-on approach to tackling Covid-19

Pictured L-R are Kieran Dougan of FLO-SAN Ltd, Simon Scott-Harden and Howard Fenwick of Northumbria University, and Andrew Sambell of British Engines, with the FLO-SAN hand sanitisation unit at Newcastle Airport

A collaboration between Northumbria academics, a young entrepreneur, and an engineering company has led to the development of a revolutionary new hand sanitisation device which could help slow the global spread of diseases. Keeping hands clean is one of the most effective ways of beating diseases such as Covid-19, and this is particularly important in places with a high volume of people passing through them such as train stations and airports. However, research has shown that traditional ‘stop and dispense’ hand sanitiser units have very low take-up, mainly because people are often unwilling to queue to use them in such busy locations. A new solution to this problem has been found as a result of a partnership between chemical engineer and entrepreneur Kieran Dougan, academics from Northumbria’s School of Design, and engineering business British Engines. Together they have created the FLO-SAN sanitiser unit, which allows people to sanitise their hands on the go, releasing a fine mist which coats users’ hands as they walk past. Together they have been awarded

funding of over £280,000 to develop their product through Innovate UK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund – designed to support projects which will help the UK rebuild after the effects of COVID-19. The idea for FLO-SAN came about after research carried out by Kieran showed that less than 1% of people moving through railway stations were using traditional hand sanitiser units. As he explains: “It was clear to me that in a location as busy as a train station, people just don’t have the time to stop and queue to use the normal hand sanitiser dispensers. What is needed for the long term is a system which allows people to sanitise their hands as they move through the station, with even greater ease and speed than passing through a ticket barrier system. That is what FLO-SAN aims to achieve – it is designed to sanitise hands without stopping,

even if carrying a bag or phone.” Kieran turned to Northumbria University’s School of Design to help bring his idea to life, with Senior Lecturer in Industrial Design Simon Scott-Harden and his team helping to develop the concept. As Simon explains: “Our team used their experience and expertise to help refine the final design, through the rigorous detailing of the overall aesthetic and user interaction of the final solution, and this could have only been achieved by working closely with FLO-SAN Limited and British Engines. The collaboration of three leading North East institutions has been inspiring and a pleasure to be involved in. By working as a close-knit team, we have been able to shorten the product development time drastically, taking Kieran’s initial concept through all the design phases into a pilot production model in only three months.”

FLO-SAN uses sensors to detect people’s hands as they move them through the unit, dispensing a water-based sanitiser as a finely atomised mist which dries quickly and without leaving any sticky residue. It uses less than 1ml of sanitiser per person, compared with between 2ml and 6ml for many conventional dispensers, making it more environmentally sustainable as well as more efficient. Each unit is capable of holding between 40 and 80 litres of sanitiser – at the maximum capacity this is enough for 80,000 individual doses, compared with between 150 and 500 from a conventional unit. It also means much less plastic is used for one FLO-SAN sanitiser refill than the equivalent in individual conventional dispensers. The units were trialled at Newcastle Airport at the end of last year, with the team now finalising development of the product.

“HAND HYGIENE WILL ALWAYS BE A CRITICAL TOOL IN MANAGING TRANSMISSION RISK. SHOULD ANOTHER PANDEMIC OCCUR, THE COUNTRY NEEDS TO BE BETTER PREPARED.” KIERAN DOUGAN Kieran said: “Even with the promising developments around the Covid-19 vaccine, this pandemic has shown the importance of investing now to make sure our key infrastructure is safer, cleaner and better prepared to manage and mitigate the risks of any future pandemic, as well as other illnesses and diseases. Hand hygiene will always be a critical tool in managing transmission risk. Should another pandemic occur, the country needs to be better prepared. It is a simple investment decision, as the costs of deploying systems like FLO-SAN is a drop in the ocean compared to the costs of failing to manage the spread.”




Northumbria University NEWS • Spring 2021

Helping the vulnerable to live independently

Researchers at Northumbria University have been testing and developing a range of smart digital technologies to help some of the most vulnerable people in society live more independently. The 12-month project, which brought together academics from Northumbria’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, School of Design and Department of Computer and Information Sciences, examined how different digital technologies can assist vulnerable people within their homes. This included the use of home automation, prompts and reminders about everyday activities, and sensors to monitor day-to-day behaviour. The project and its findings have been well-received by Home Group and Sunderland City Council, who have been involved as external partners. The project took place within a ‘living lab’, a real-world test environment, at Gateshead Innovation Village – an awardwinning housing development created by social housing provider, Home Group. Over a 12-month period a wide variety of digital tools were tested

within one of the village’s modular homes, including virtual assistants, sensors, apps and off-the-shelf smart devices, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home. Ana-Maria Salai, Senior Research Assistant within Northumbria’s Department of Nursing, Midwifery and Health, lived in the modular home for the duration of the year-long project, examining and developing a range of smart digital technologies. Speaking about her experience, she said: “Living in the smart Innovation Village House was an amazing experience from a research point of view. It meant developing better technologies by picking up issues that cannot be detected in a laboratory and properly testing them in a reallife environment. Being able to also test these technologies with potential end-users in the house majorly contributed to the decision-making process and

the success of the project.” As a result of the project, Ana has helped to develop the IntraVox system, a process that analyses data collected from sensors within a vulnerable person’s home. The IntraVox then sends a message in a familiar recorded voice, such as that of a family member, to control a virtual assistant. The system is designed to make it easier for residents who may not be used to ‘smart technology’ to understand what is happening within their home – for example, the temperature being changed. Ana has also been looking to find a sensor which can detect any movements which are out of the ordinary, and then send an alert to a person’s family member or carer. Dave Young, Strategic Change Manager at Sunderland City Council said: “Working in the field of assistive technology, colleagues and I were

impressed with a number of the solutions that resulted from the University’s collaboration with Home Group. We were particularly impressed with the demonstration of a concept called IntraVox, which enabled users or their family members to record their own voice and use this in conjunction with Amazon Alexa to control the home environment and provide reminders and prompts.” Northumbria University, Home Group and Sunderland City Council are all working together, with the council funding a six-month extension to the project, to develop the IntraVox system. Dave Young explains: “If at the end of the project the evaluated results are positive,

our respective organisations have agreed to seek support from funding institutions to further develop IntraVox into a consumer product. Here in Sunderland, we would definitely be lining up to buy some IntraVox kits to ensure none of our residents were excluded from the benefits of using Alexa as an assistive technology aid.” Find out more about the project at modularhome





Forensic discovery could change the way crimes are investigated forever

Above: Items of clothing were photographed using UVimagery techniques to determine the number of fibres that were transferred from one person to the other.

In a significant development in forensic research, academics in Northumbria’s Department of Applied Sciences have revealed for the first time that textile fibres can, under certain circumstances, be transferred by air between clothing without physical contact. This new advancement could be crucial for fibre evidence in certain criminal cases, which rely on forensic evidence to establish the guilt, or innocence, of defendants. The research assessed the potential of fibre transfer between different items of clothing through air in small, compact, and semi-enclosed spaces, such as elevators. The results of this study demonstrate that transfer of fibres by air can occur in forensic scenarios when specific conditions are met, including – duration of time, sheddability of garment, proximity and confined space. Dr Kelly Sheridan, who led the research, said: “Our experiment was simple but efficient. We used fluorescently tagged fibres to track their airborne transfer between clothing. Everyday

tagged clothes – jumpers, long sleeved tops and fleeces - were worn by two people who stood in opposite corners of an elevator. The elevator operated as normal and non-participants of the study entered and exited as usual. “Following the experiment, the surfaces of the recipient’s clothing were photographed using UV-imagery techniques to determine the number of fibres that were transferred from one person to the other. “The results were remarkable. It not only proved that textile fibres can transfer between garments in the absence of

contact, but they can do so in relatively high numbers.” Textile fibres are fundamental evidence types and have been pivotal in solving some of the UK’s most notorious crimes; for example, the murders of Stephen Lawrence and Joanna Yeates, as well as the Ipswich serial killings. Dr Ray Palmer, a visiting academic and former senior lecturer in forensics at Northumbria University, coauthored the paper. He has given evidence at numerous highprofile trials, including that of the so-called Suffolk Strangler in England and the Claremont serial killings in Western Australia.


He explained: “This study was designed so that the experimental parameters were as conducive to contactless transfer as possible, whilst still maintaining a real-life scenario. “Since there is a paucity of published studies relating to contactless transfer, the results obtained from this study will be useful to forensic practitioners as a ’baseline’ in evaluating how likely it is that a proposed activity or case circumstance has resulted in contactless transfer.” The Department of Applied Sciences boasts an extensive portfolio of subjects, including biology, biomedical sciences, chemistry, forensic science, food and nutritional sciences. Many courses are professionally accredited by The Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Biomedical Science.

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Northumbria University NEWS • Spring 2021

MOD green light for antiviral coating research Academics at Northumbria have been backed by the Government’s Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA), to develop an antiviral coating suitable for use on everyday surfaces. DASA, part of the Ministry of Defence, has commissioned a research team from Northumbria’s Department of Applied Sciences to develop a new type of multifunctional antiviral coating which could form part of the UK’s biodefence - crucial to combatting public health crises such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In partnership with Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), Associate Professor Matt Unthank and his team are working to create a unique low friction coating, also known as a “superhydrophobic” coating, that enables surfaces to destroy viruses while remaining robust and easy-to-clean. While antiviral coatings are not a new concept, existing approaches can release undesirable chemical compounds into the environment, are not long lasting or are difficult to clean and maintain. This novel coating aims to resolve those issues. Funding from DASA will enable the researchers to understand whether the coating is universally robust on an array of surfaces and materials. It is hoped that in the future it could be used on high-contact surfaces such as handrails on public transport, hospital trolleys or shop tillpoints, as well as domestically – on door handles or bathroom taps, for example. Such a scientific development is a vital biodefence tool that could help bring down the COVID-19 ‘R’ rate, while allowing more scope for ‘normal’ life to continue. Dr Matt Unthank, project lead and Associate Professor in Polymer Chemistry, said:


“Having the ability and insight to design multifunctional coating systems that can create long lasting defence against viruses, whilst also being compatible with everyday life, is challenging yet important. “It’s not just about destroying viruses in the laboratory. New coating systems and surface treatments need to be robust, easy to clean, universal in their application, safe and low cost. Our research seeks to explore these interdependencies and to develop new antiviral coating systems for the current and future pandemics.” Current popular disinfecting methods such as chemical, bleach or alcohol-based products actively destroy, or deactivate, microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses on contact. However, this approach requires constant retreatment of the surfaces with disinfecting agent which can be labour intensive and impractical.

An alternative approach is to create a permanent or semipermanent surface that destroys virus particles on contact, known as an ‘antiviral’ surface. These fall into two major categories of coatings. The first type is those that slowly release virucidal chemicals from a coated surface into the environment resulting in an antiviral effect, known as ‘controlled release’ biocidal or virucidal coatings. The second category includes creating surfaces that are permanently capable of destroying microorganisms, such as coronavirus, and are known as ‘contact biocidal’ or ‘contact virucidal’ coatings. Dr Matt Unthank and his team are focussing on developing new multifunctional contact biocidal and virucidal coatings, which are safe, do not release chemicals to the environment and are user friendly and universal in their application.

“THIS WORK IS A GREAT EXAMPLE OF HOW DASA, WORKING WITH OTHERS, FINDS, FUNDS AND HELPS ACCELERATE THE DEVELOPMENT OF IMPORTANT INNOVATIONS THAT HELP KEEP US ALL SAFE.” ANDREW CALDWELL, HEAD OF DASA One disadvantage of all biocidal and virucidal coatings is that surface contamination by dust, debris and dirt can disable its antiviral capabilities overtime. An ideal coating system would be both potent in its antimicrobial properties but also easy-clean or even selfcleaning in nature. This concept is the inspiration for the low friction, or ‘superhydrophobic’ qualities of the coatings under development by researchers at Northumbria - a vision that sets it apart from existing antiviral coating technologies. Ian Shortman, technical partner and Senior Scientist at Dstl, said: “This work aims to develop transparent coatings which are both biocidal and water repellent. The approaches

being adopted could provide a wide range of benefits, and be easily applied to a range of surfaces such as textiles and plastics.” Andrew Caldwell, Head of DASA, said: “Congratulations to Northumbria University, we look forward to seeing the progress of this important and exciting project. “This work is a great example of how DASA, working with others, finds, funds and helps accelerate the development of important innovations that help keep us all safe.”

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Pandemic sees nearly one in four UK adults at risk of malnutrition

Below: Increasing number of families needing to use food banks



Nearly one in four adults looking after children have eaten less so they can feed the children in their household.

50% of all adults have managed during lockdown by purchasing less expensive food, rising to nine in ten amongst adults who live in households that are the most susceptible to hunger and potential malnutrition.

Nearly one in three adults


in the poorest households, and who are looking after children, are eating less more often so that their children can eat, compared to only one in sixteen adults looking after children who report little or no problem in accessing the food they need.


A survey published following the first period of lockdown in the UK by Feeding Britain and Northumbria University’s Healthy Living Lab found that almost a quarter of adults were eating less in order to feed their children. Researchers fear that the ongoing Covid-19 crisis could have detrimental impacts for our health – causing hunger and potential malnutrition. The survey of over 1,000 adults, conducted in June 2020, demonstrated that food insecurity is an issue affecting an increasing number of households in the country. The research explored the measures adults have taken to provide food for their families in the early days of the national lockdown, with 25% of them struggling to afford food during the pandemic. Half of those surveyed opted to buy less expensive food, which would not be their usual preference. The poorest households tried to manage the situation by wasting less food, planning meals thoroughly, and cooking from scratch. During the pandemic, adults who are the least food secure, and most susceptible to hunger

and potential malnutrition, are the most likely to have been forced to - borrow food, use food banks, rely on help from relatives or friends, and largely restrict food they eat so that their children can. Despite this, these coping strategies have not been enough to escape the problem. Professor Greta Defeyter, Director of Northumbria University’s Healthy Living Lab, said: “These findings present an appalling picture of the high percentage of adults experiencing food insecurity in the UK. If we, as a country, are to stand a chance of getting to grips with this problem, we need the Prime Minister to oversee and implement with urgency a national food strategy which enhances the supply, affordability, and accessibility

of nutritious food to everyone in our country, while minimising the need to deploy the many coping strategies, such as the use of food banks, which we have identified through this survey. These are often measures of last resort and do not compensate for an adequate income and the availability of affordable nutritious food within all communities.” Andrew Forsey, Director of Feeding Britain, worked with the Healthy Living Lab on the survey. He reflected: “This survey reveals the lengths to which millions of people in our country are going to keep themselves and their families fed during the pandemic. “It reveals also the uphill struggle that all too many of them have faced in doing so

while attempting to maintain their dignity, independence, and self-sufficiency.” Forsey explains a broader group of households, in addition to the poorest, are struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table, stating: “This survey shows, sadly, just how many of our fellow citizens are now in that group. They have been exposed to hunger and potential malnutrition by a combination of low income and isolation, which has tended to follow a loss of earnings or problems with the benefits system.” The findings highlight the need for new policies ensuring every household can afford food, including a jobs programme to prevent longterm unemployment, a review of deductions from Universal

8.5% of adults report living in a household with low food security.

Credit and the suspension of the two-child limit to prevent families from going without the basics. The team have also suggested a yearly school meals programme which includes breakfast and lunch for children, those eligible for Healthy Start vouchers should be automatically enrolled, innovation funding for community food programmes, and tougher employment protections for people in lowpaid and unsteady work. For more information on the Healthy Living Lab at Northumbria University, please visit




Northumbria University NEWS • Spring 2021

Patient safety prize-winners Research into patient safety across Europe, led by Northumbria University, has received international acclaim. The SLIPPS (Shared Learning from Practice to Improve Patient Safety) project is a major EUfunded project led by Professor Alison Steven, a Reader in Health Professions Education at Northumbria. It seeks to improve European patient safety and education across a range of clinical settings. The team includes colleagues from seven leading universities and five associated health and social care institutions in Finland, Italy, Spain and Norway. Written on behalf of the SLIPPS team; Sharing Learning from Practice to improve Patient Safety (SLIPPS): a multinational project was awarded Best Symposium at the 2020 Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Conference, while another paper Shared learning from national to international contexts: a research and innovation collaboration to enhance education for patient safety, won the 2020 JRN Veronica Bishop Paper of the Year Award. SLIPPS is an innovative education and research project that draws on the real experiences of health and social care students in work placements across five European countries.

Errors, mishaps and misunderstandings are common and one in 10 patients suffer avoidable harm. These incidents impact upon patients, their families, health care organisations, staff and students. SLIPPS is responding to the challenge to improve patient safety education. Professor Steven has a longstanding interest in the use of education to raise standards of

care and ensure patient safety. Considering the rapid spread of Covid-19, she says improving patient safety and standards of care across Europe and beyond, has never been more important. “Patient safety is paramount in these extreme circumstances,” said Professor Steven. “The SLIPPS project is unique in that it taps into students’ experiences. These students on practice placements have

the potential to offer fresh perspectives on clinical practices, and with so many final-year students treating patients on the front line during this global pandemic, their current views on patient safety are more important than ever.”



Graduate makes history with Human Rights appointment Northumbria University PhD graduate, Rosaleen McDonagh, has made history by becoming the first disabled female Traveller to earn a place on the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC).

Rosaleen McDonagh grew up on a Traveller site in Ireland and attended a special school with what she describes as “low expectations.” Despite this challenging start, she has excelled throughout her academic career, achieving a PhD in 2019 after studying in Northumbria’s Department of Social Work, Education and Community Wellbeing. Rosaleen said she was “shocked” and “delighted” to be told by the IHREC that she had been successful in her application, after having struggled with nerves throughout the stretching interview process.

As part of her new role she will help promote and protect human rights and equality in Ireland. As she explained: “Human rights, particularly minority indigenous peoples’ rights, alongside disability rights, are the areas of work that interest me. However, there are national issues in Ireland relating to citizenship and asylum seekers that are very concerning in the context of human rights violations.” A 2018 report by the Department of Education showed that just one per cent of Traveller children progress to further or higher education compared with more

than half of the wider settled population. In 2017, just 61 students in higher education were selfdeclared Irish Travellers – a small increase from only 41 in 2016. Rosaleen was the first within her Traveller community to obtain a PhD after successfully applying for a scholarship from Northumbria University in Disability Studies.

Her doctoral thesis was entitled From Shame to Pride, The Politics of Disabled Traveller Identity. Find out more about PhD opportunities at Northumbria University at

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Cooler wash loads can reduce ocean pollution


Northumbria Professor in his element winning a national award


A new study has revealed that almost 13,000 tonnes of microfibres, equivalent to two rubbish trucks every day, are being released into European marine environments every year – but this could be reduced by as much as 30% if we made a small change to our laundry habits. Every time you wash your clothes, thousands of tiny microfibres from the fabric are released into rivers, the sea and the ocean, causing marine pollution. Scientists have speculated for some time that they may cause more harm than microbeads, a microplastic found in hygiene and personal care products, which were recently banned from UK and US consumer products for their huge contribution to plastic pollution. To find out more about the scale of this problem, Northumbria researchers joined forces with Procter & Gamble, producer of dozens of household products including Ariel and Lenor, on the first major forensic study

into the environmental impact of microfibres from actual soiled household laundry. Their analysis revealed an average of 114 mg of microfibres were released per kilogram of fabric during a standard washing cycle. When this is compared with a 2013 report that suggests 35.6 billion wash loads are completed in Europe each year, the researchers predicted that European washing machines are releasing almost 13,000 tonnes of microfibres into rivers, the sea and the ocean each year. This is the equivalent of two rubbish trucks worth of waste ending up in marine environments each day. The study then went on to show that this level of pollution was reduced by 30% when researchers performed a 30-minute 15˚C wash cycle, in comparison to a standard 85-minute 40˚C cycle. If European households changed to cooler, faster washes, they would potentially save almost 4,000 tonnes of microfibres being

released into marine ecosystems. John R. Dean, Professor of Analytical and Environmental Sciences, said: “This is the first major study to examine real household wash loads and the reality of fibre release. Finding a solution to the pollution of marine ecosystems by microfibres released during laundering will likely require significant interventions in both textiles manufacturing processes and washing machine appliance design.” The study is a further example of the work undertaken at Northumbria which led to it being ranked 6th in the UK and 27th globally for sustainability in Times Higher Education’s Impact rankings for the contribution it makes to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

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A Professor of Analytical and Environmental Sciences at Northumbria University, Professor Dean, has won The Royal Society of Chemistry 2020 Inspirational Member Award. The award is given in recognition of those who have been instrumental in introducing and driving new ideas and approaches to support the Royal Society of Chemistry’s community. Dr Helen Pain, acting Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry said: “This award is about celebrating the efforts of the unsung heroes who go above and beyond to support their colleagues and our wider community. It is for this reason we are proud to be presenting this award to Professor Dean.” Professor Dean began working as a volunteer for the North East region of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Analytical Division more than 30 years ago and is now a Fellow of the Society. He says: “Along this journey I have met many new people at the society’s conferences and symposia, on regional and national committees and network events.

What you remember is the warmth of the welcome from fellow chemists and the lifelong friendships you develop.” Professor Dean added that his work educating the next generation of chemists was a vital part of his role. As he explains: “Contact with our students is very important at both a personal level and as a professional educator. My role as Head of Subject for the Chemistry and Forensic Programmes as well as the Applied Sciences Foundation year provides strong interaction with current students supporting them on their journey at Northumbria University and their careers beyond. Being acknowledged with an Inspirational Member Award is a delight and an honour.”

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Northumbria University NEWS • Spring 2021

Shining a light on photovoltaics Northumbria University’s reputation as a leading centre for photovoltaics research was recently confirmed after Professor Nicola Pearsall, Emerita Professor of Renewable Energy at the University, was appointed as general chair of the 2020 European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference (EU PVSEC). The EU PVSEC is the largest international conference for photovoltaic (PV) research, technologies and applications, providing an opportunity for the global PV community to discuss the latest developments and innovations in photovoltaics. The conference is traditionally hosted by a different country each year, but the current global situation presented the opportunity for it to be hosted online for the first time. Professor Pearsall, was appointed as general chair for the 37th edition of the conference. Commenting on her appointment she said: “Perhaps now, more than ever, it is important for us to maintain our collaborative activities. This year’s online EU PVSEC provided an excellent opportunity for members of the photovoltaics community to refresh and develop networks, learn about the latest developments in photovoltaic technology, and to contribute to the debate on how we can use this technology to protect and enhance our energy supply.” Photovoltaics is the primary focus of Professor Pearsall’s research, covering a wide range of topics including environmental impact assessment and the development of space solar cells. She was head of the Newcastle Photovoltaics Applications Group at Northumbria University until her retirement in 2018 and continues to collaborate with the PV research community on a variety of UK and European projects. Academics from Northumbria University are leading the way in researching renewable energy, technologies and materials. The University is part of the EPSRCfunded Centre for Doctoral Training in Renewable Energy Northeast Universities (ReNU), as well as the North East Centre for Energy Materials. You can find out more at



Fashion’s environmental timebomb The devastating environmental impact of plastic clothing hangers has been revealed for the first time, following new research by a Northumbria academic. Every year more than 954 million plastic garment hangers are used in the UK fashion industry. Of these, 16% are used solely for transporting clothing from manufacturers to shops and are then discarded, drawing parallels with single-use items such as plastic bottles, carrier bags and drinking straws. However, while government policy such as the 10p plastic bag charge has been brought in to address more well-known single-use plastic items, the impact of plastic hangers has yet to be recognised or addressed. Ethical fashion expert Dr Alana James recently carried out an anonymous survey of UK fashion businesses, from luxury bands to high street retailers, including e-commerce operations. The research, conducted with Fashion

Consultant Emma Reed and in partnership with sustainable hanger brand Arch & Hook, revealed that 60% of all clothes sold in the UK come with a plastic hanger, and that more than 82 million hangers are sent out with online clothing orders in the UK each year. Speaking about her findings, Dr James said: “For nearly a century now fashion has had an unhealthy reliance on the use of plastic, with 65% of all garments currently produced being made from synthetic fibres. However, hangers remain a largely overlooked area of environmental impact in the industry. More than two thirds of the fashion companies we interviewed were unaware what type of plastic or plastics their hangers were made from, making it difficult or impossible

to recycle them. Manufacturers, retailers and consumers all have a role to play in instigating change and we hope the results of this research will raise awareness of this problem and lead to alternative solutions.” The research has been backed by The Conscious Fashion Campaign, in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Partnerships, and The Sustainable Angle.

954 million

16% of all hangers

60% of all clothing

More than 82 million

plastic garment hangers used every year in the UK fashion industry

used solely for transporting clothing from manufacturers to shops and then discarded

sold is associated with a plastic hanger

hangers are sent out with online clothing orders in the UK each year

Find out more and download the report by visiting plastichangers





World’s first ever map of glacier rock coverage developed at Northumbria Researchers from Northumbria University are the first in the world to manually review and verify the coverage of rock debris on every one of the Earth’s glaciers. As glaciers shrink, their surrounding mountain slopes become exposed. As eroded rock debris slides down and accumulates on the glacier surface, it forms a protective layer that can be many metres thick and reduces the rate at which the ice below melts. Although the effects of this protective cover are known, it has never been carefully mapped until now. Using Landsat imagery, which provides high-quality satellite images of Earth, the research team from Northumbria’s Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences and the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL spent three years painstakingly examining and manually verifying more than 923,000 square kilometres of glacier worldwide. They analysed debris cover on a global, regional, and individual glacier-scale, creating the world’s first baseline dataset of glaciers in their current state and revealing a significant spread of

debris which has never been included in global glacier models before. They found more than 29,000 square kilometres of the world’s mountain glacier area is covered in rock debris – an area equivalent to almost 500 Manhattan Islands – and also uncovered key errors within the global record of glacier outlines on which hundreds of studies are based. One of their findings revealed that 10,000 square kilometres of mapped glacier area was not actually glacier, but rather bedrock or vegetated ground that was either incorrectly mapped previously or glacier area that has since melted away. Lead researcher Sam Herreid undertook the study for his PhD and explained: “The structure of the debris cover of each glacier is unique and sensitive to climate, but until now, global glacier models have omitted debris cover from their forecasts of how glaciers respond to a changing climate.

“We now know that debris cover is present on almost half of Earth’s glaciers. When we consider that much of this is located at the terminus, or toe, of a glacier where melt would usually be at its highest, this percentage becomes particularly important with respect to predicting future water resources and sea level rise.” The team also devised a way to analyse how debris-covered glaciers will evolve over the coming centuries. By comparing the many states of glaciers present on Earth today, from those considered to be ‘young’ and icy in Greenland, to ‘old’ and rockcovered in the Himalaya, they were able to piece together a conceptual timeline which they believe outlines how a glacier might evolve in the future. Their timeline reveals that many glaciers are at the older end of the spectrum and are therefore


considered to be on the decline. The study is published in Nature Geoscience and offers further confirmation of Northumbria’s reputation as one of the leading centres in Europe for glaciology research. In recent years the University has been granted major research funding to investigate and model changes to Antarctica’s major glaciers. It is the only UK university to be involved in two investigations in the £20 million UK-US International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration. You can find out more about this at





Northumbria University NEWS • Spring 2021

CLASS OF 2020 FINISH WITH A FLOURISH It may not have been the end to their academic studies they envisioned, but students from Northumbria University’s class of 2020 proved that the Coronavirus pandemic was no obstacle to their creativity after graduating in style – and picking up a host of industry awards, achievements and accolades along the way. Lockdown restrictions meant that last year Northumbria University was unable to host its annual REVEAL showcase – a two-week long exhibition, held on campus, which gives final year students the chance to publicly share their work. But there was still plenty to celebrate, with students overcoming the challenges of Covid-19 to produce truly outstanding work. Here we share just a few examples of the excellence, creativity and determination of recent graduates. In an academic year like no other, they have truly taken on tomorrow.

DESIGNS ON SUCCESS Design for Industry (DFI) graduates Aditya Kujal and Jessica Williams have followed in the footsteps of Northumbria alumnus Sir Jonathan Ive, former Chief Design Officer at Apple, after their work was recognised at the 2020 RSA Student Design Awards. Aditya was named winner of the ‘Dignity in Displacement’ award for his project ‘Incube’ – a low-cost, flatpack incubator, designed to save the lives of new-borns in refugee camps by helping them maintain an ideal body temperature. The ‘Incube’ is designed to run without electricity and is made from local materials including cardboard and beeswax. Fellow DFI graduate Jessica was awarded the AI 100 Award for

her project ‘Nip It In The Boob’, which allows women to record monthly assessments in order to enable early detection of breast cancer at home. The Student Design Awards from the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) is the longest running competition of its kind in the world. Commenting on Jessica and Aditya’s success, Senior Lecturer Anthony Forsyth said: “The Design for Industry course has a remarkable track-record in the RSA competition with many wins in previous years. This perhaps reflects the way in which we encourage students to tackle complex issues with design proposals which are conceptually original yet grounded in realworld insights.”






Below: Issy Robinson’s award-winning Campanello bicycle design


ONES TO WATCH The skills and vision of Northumbria’s Graphic Design graduates were recognised at the 2020 D&AD New Blood Festival – the UK’s biggest annual celebration of up-and-coming design talent, with three final year students named as ‘Ones to Watch’ and a fourth winning a coveted Pencil Award. The festival provides an opportunity for final year graphic design and illustration students to showcase their work in front of leading agencies and talent spotters, with many securing placements or employment as a result. Among the Northumbria graduates singled out for recognition was Becca Beaumont, who used her personal experience of living with irritable bowel syndrome to design a personalised food subscription box brand, Bottom Line. Fellow graduate Ellie Childs was also selected for her project exploring image and type. Her winning illustration was created as part of the 36 Days of Type project, in which designers, illustrators and graphic artists were asked to

interpret the letters and numbers of the Latin alphabet through design. The third success story was Samantha Bailey, who specialises in branding, advertisement and logo design. Her winning project used design to inspire young people to make meaningful changes in order to live more sustainably. In addition, final year student Issy Robinson was awarded a much-coveted D&AD Wood Pencil award for her response to a brief set by VBAT Superunion to design a bike rental scheme for a city. Her ‘Campanello’ bicycle design was heavily inspired by the city of Rome, and incorporated elements of vintage Italian scooter design, such as Vespa and Lambretta. Speaking about the success of all four graduates, Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design Andy Reay said: “The Graphic Design BA (Hons) at Northumbria University has a great reputation for producing graduates with insight, depth and understanding to their conceptual thinking and ideation. It is great to see so many of our graphic design students recognised again this year, by what is arguably the Oscars for all design students.”

HEIGHT OF FASHION The design talents of Northumbria’s final year Fashion students were highlighted after six made it through to the final of the influential Graduate Fashion Foundation Awards – with three going on to be named winners. The awards are normally announced in June as part of Graduate Fashion Week, but last year’s event was cancelled for the first time in its 29-year history due to Covid-19. Determined that the graduating class of 2020 should still be given the opportunity to showcase their talents, the Graduate Fashion Foundation went ahead with the awards digitally, adapting the criteria to reflect the current pandemic. In total, 15 students from across Northumbria University’s Fashion programmes were shortlisted in





11 award categories, with six named finalists and three named overall winners. Sarah Williams won the Range Plan Award, Katie Gedling was awarded the Sportswear and Leisurewear Award, and Megan Andrews was named winner of the Digital Portfolio Award – the second year in a row a Northumbria student has won this category. There was further success for the class of 2020, with designs by Fashion graduate David Bell featured in Grazia magazine, and work by Fashion Communication graduate Fauve Wright selected for the front cover of the Guardian’s Weekend supplement. Speaking about the success of the class of 2020, Ann Marie Kirkbride, Programme Leader for Fashion BA (Hons) at Northumbria University, said: “The Fashion teams are delighted for all our students’ successes this year – they all worked incredibly hard to overcome the disappointment of cancelled fashion shows and Graduate Fashion Week to produce work that has been recognised as among the best in the UK, by industry professionals.”




Northumbria University NEWS • Spring 2021

Crafting new innovations Left: Ceramics and textile production are among the technologies which were transferred around the world thanks to skilled immigrants.


The role immigration has played in developing new technologies around the world will be explored as part of a £1.2m research project. Northumbria’s Dr Felicia Gottmann has been awarded a prestigious 2020 UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship to explore how the skills of immigrant craftspeople were shared around the world between the 16th and 19th centuries. Entitled Migration, Adaptation, Innovation: A Comparative Global History, 1500-1800, Dr Gottmann’s research project will examine how, during this period, skilled craftspeople moved around the world, sharing their expertise in the production of items such as textiles, pottery, scientific instruments and weapons. Along with a team of researchers, Dr Gottmann will compare examples from Europe, the Middle East and South and East Asia to investigate how the skills required to produce high-quality items such as silks, porcelain and firearms were successfully transferred from one country to another by skilled immigrants. Working with museums, community organisations and current migrants, the research team will also engage in conversations around the value of immigrant skills and develop resources

for teachers, museum visitors and families, including a virtual exhibition. Speaking about the project, Dr Gottmann said: “The years between 1500 and 1800 were a period of great economic and technological change, with Europe overtaking Asia as the global centre for manufacturing following the Industrial Revolution. Much of this change, and the technological innovation which led to it, was the result of knowledge transfer between countries, through the movement of people, whether that was voluntary or, in some cases, by force. Migration can strengthen or even birth new industries: think of the Huguenots bringing silk weaving to England and Prussia, or immigrant and firstgeneration Jews founding and running Hollywood.” One of the challenges of Dr Gottmann’s research is a lack of first-hand accounts from the immigrants who moved from their home countries around the world to share their skills during this time. The research team will therefore be relying on the physical objects left behind to tell the story and will work with

The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, Durham University’s Oriental Museum, and the German Museum of Technology in Berlin. Migrant stories developed with members of The Other Perspective (TOP), a community interest company based in the North East of England, will also contribute to the research, providing specific insight into the history of people from around the world who settled in Tyneside over the years. Accounts featured as part of the Discovery Museum’s Destination Tyneside project will also be incorporated into the research. Dr Gottmann is the third Northumbria University academic to be awarded the prestigious UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship, following previous successes by forensic scientist Dr Noemi Procopio and mathematician Dr Richard Morton.


MEET OUR FUTURE LEADERS FELLOWS Dr Noemi Procopio September 2019: Dr Noemi Procopio was awarded almost £1m to develop a world-leading new technique to help solve investigations relating to unidentified bodies. Find out more at

Dr Richard Morton April 2020: Dr Richard Morton was awarded £1.2m to research phenomena associated with the Sun, including powerful solar winds and the giant, planet-sized concentrations of magnetic fields known as sunspots. Find out more at

Dr Felicia Gottmann October 2020: Dr Felicia Gottmann was awarded £1.2m to research the role immigration played in developing new technologies around the eve of the Industrial Revolution. Find out more at gottmann




Putting support in veterans’ hands

As the country geared up to commemorate VE Day 2020, academics at Northumbria were thrilled to help launch a new smartphone app which enables UK military veterans to find the support services they need; whether that’s health services, jobs or housing. In May last year, Veterans’ Gateway, a 24-hour service for veterans’ support, launched a new mobile app developed by Northumbria University’s Northern Hub for Veterans and Military Families Research and international software company RippleNami, Inc. Ten months on, the app has been downloaded by over 8,000 people and has seen more than 35,000 engagements with its features. As the first of its kind in the UK, the Veterans’ Gateway app provides an interactive digital directory of all services available to almost three million veterans across the country. Funded by the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces Covenant

Fund Trust, the interactive app provides veterans with the locations of local hospitals, substance abuse clinics and details of how to access education, financial assistance, employment support, housing and shelters. The bespoke design also allowed a rapid, flexible response to the coronavirus pandemic, meaning that Covid-19 specific local support features could be added to the platform. The app builds on the success of previous work, by allowing easier access to the Veteran’s Gateway online directory, which was also developed by Northumbria’s Northern Hub for Veterans and Military Families Research and RippleNami. The directory

groups together all NHS facilities and over 2,000 charitable organisations across the country onto one website, allowing veterans and their families to access local support more easily, as and when it is needed. Five years in the making, development of both the directory and the app is part of a wider ‘Map of Need’ project being led by the Hub, which has been funded by the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust with grants to date totalling £1.4m. As well as directly supporting veterans with a much-needed interactive map of all specialist services available to them, the app has also been designed to support


the service providers. It collects anonymous data about the types of services veterans are searching for and using which can then be analysed by providers to ensure they are offering the support that former UK service men and women want and need. The prefix of the app user’s postcode – such as NW1 – is collected when veterans conduct a search through the app. This detail is then used to identify if the services people are looking for are available in certain regions. Such intelligence can then also be used to inform national debate and lead to the development of policy recommendations and guidance for improvements to services provision – a third crucial purpose of the app. Dr Matt Kiernan, Associate Professor of Mental Health and Veteran Studies at Northumbria University and a former Lieutenant Commander in the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service, explains: “This is the first time that this type of mapping technology has been available on an app. It’s a really clever piece of software that will be ground-breaking at an international level and paves the way for mapping veteran and military families’ services worldwide.” “We can now see detail on what people are searching for and what services they subsequently access in different locations – but importantly with absolute anonymity. All we see is the first part of the user’s postcode location, but this means we can analyse variances between what people are looking for and what is available to them locally. If the services they need aren’t available close by then we will now have the evidence to advise government of where it needs to invest to meet these needs”, added Dr Kiernan. Veterans’ Gateway is delivered by a consortium comprising The Royal British Legion, Poppyscotland, Combat Stress, Connect Assist, the Ministry of Defence and SSAFA, the Armed Forces Charity. The Veterans’ Gateway app is available for free on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

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Northumbria University NEWS • Spring 2021

Research helps vulnerable communities in India Northumbria’s Student Law Office Goes Green Northumbria University’s Student Law Office has been Highly Commended in the prestigious International Green Gown Awards for its transformative work within society. The International Green Gown Awards, endorsed by UN Environment, are widely acknowledged as being the most prestigious recognition of sustainability best practice within the global education sector, covering all aspects of educational institutions – from their teaching and research, leadership, buildings and food, to the ways in which students are impacted by the communities around them. Northumbria’s Student Law Office was recognised at the awards in the “Benefiting Society” category, of which they were Highly Commended. This recognises the powerful and innovative ways educational institutions are benefitting the lives of individuals, communities and wider society. The success follows a previous win for the Student Law Office at the UK & Ireland Green Gown Awards last November, where the project was described by judges as having a “transformational impact on those involved”. The International Green Gown Awards are aligned with the UN Sustainable

Development Goals (SDGs) which are embedded into the work of the Student Law Office. Commenting on the project, Katie Ridley, Sustainability Manager at Northumbria, added: “This project not only provides an exceptional learning experience for our students, but particularly targets SDG 16 - to promote peaceful and inclusive societies and to provide access to justice for all. Its international recognition is a fantastic achievement and is an example of the varied activity undertaken by our staff and students that resulted in Northumbria being ranked top 30 in the world for our support of the UN SDGs.” To discover how the University supports each of the Sustainable Development Goals visit www.northumbria.




Professor Gita Gill from Northumbria University’s Law School has been awarded a British Academy Grant to investigate the impact of a compulsory land acquisition to build a high-speed bullet train in India on poor communities forced out of their homes. Compulsory land acquisition in India for major infrastructure projects is not unusual and has far-reaching implications for people living in vulnerable communities, with many forced to move from their homes against their will. Professor Gill’s research project, “Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement of Vulnerable Poor Communities: Criticalities and Scrutiny of Law in Gujarat, India”, will consider how human rights are being overlooked, and investigate the reach, effectiveness and impact of rehabilitation and resettlement provisions. Professor Gill will use Gujarat’s Bullet-Train project (Ahmedabad-Mumbai Corridor) as a rehabilitation and resettlement case-study. Her research will involve fieldwork in Ahmedabad and Surat, and will be undertaken in collaboration with a leading local grass-roots non-governmental organisation Paryavaran Mitra (Ahmedabad). Professor Gill says compulsory

land acquisition can have a traumatic impact on affected vulnerable poor communities whose lives and livelihoods are intimately connected with the land, adding: “The potential of the research will be realised by empowering affected groups including vulnerable communities, village-councils and civil society to create equitable economic, environmentallysustainable, social pathways that reduce vulnerabilities of significant numbers of affected citizens”. Professor John Wilson, Pro Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Business and Law at Northumbria, explains that securing a British Academy grant carries considerable prestige, adding: “It reflects both the quality and impact of Professor Gill’s work and Northumbria’s growing

reputation as an international centre for research excellence. I congratulate her on this success.” Professor Gill’s application to the British Academy 2020 round of research grants was one of almost 800 - out of which less than 140 were successful. It is her second British Academy Grant, following work in 2014 to investigate the effectiveness of the National Green Tribunal of India (NGT). In 2017, her research findings and conclusions were published in her book Environmental Justice in India: The National Green Tribunal (Routledge UK). For more information on Northumbria Law School please visit

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Northumbria research offers new hope to convicted miners The Scottish Government is set to introduce legislation that will quash the criminal convictions of hundreds of former Scottish coal miners, after publishing an independent review which was partly informed by research from a Northumbria University academic. Hundreds of former miners were convicted during the 1984-85 nationwide miners’ strike, following a dispute between the unions and the state-run National Coal Board (NCB) over large-scale pit closures across the UK. Professor Andrew Perchard, from Northumbria’s Newcastle Business School, is an expert in the history of the British coal industry, including studying the legacy of this strike, which was also a political struggle between Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government and the trade unions. A review into the policing of the industrial action was launched by then-Justice Secretary Michael Matheson MSP in 2018 and chaired by John Scott QC. Findings from Professor Perchard’s research were cited in the Review, which concluded that most convictions would not be upheld today, and that

punishments were handed out in a “grossly excessive manner.” Professor Perchard’s research has also looked at how the strike was managed by the National Coal Board in Scotland compared with other areas of the UK. He explains: “The overwhelming majority of those striking miners in Scotland who received convictions for public order offences did so for very minor transgressions. This had a profound impact for those involved and meant that many miners were not re-employed in the industry after the Strike and experienced discrimination in seeking other employment. This can be contrasted with a far more measured approach in South Wales. Having a criminal record has brought significant hardship and stigma, including marital and family breakdowns, and mental health issues. The impact has been multi-generational, hitting whole families over many years.”

MINERS STRIKE 1984/5 Professor Perchard is also currently co-leading an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded £665,000 research project, with Professor Keith Gildart of the University of Wolverhampton. Their study will further investigate the history of the nationalised coal industry and the legacy of pit closures, and Professor Prichard hopes that the findings will help to

inform and prompt governments elsewhere in the UK to revisit past convictions. For more information on research at Northumbria please visit research





Northumbria University NEWS • Spring 2021

Discovering the impact of COVID-19 on job losses

All hands to the sanitiser pump for young entrepreneur An entrepreneurial Northumbria graduate has turned an initial act of kindness, producing thousands of free bottles of hand-sanitiser for front-line workers, into a booming business. Concerned with the lack of sanitiser available for frontline workers and vulnerable people at the start of the pandemic, 24-year-old Business with Marketing Management graduate, Fraser Mair, set about producing 15,000 bottles of free hand sanitiser by repurposing the production lines of his family’s small gin distillery. In just 12 weeks, during the UK’s first national lockdown, Fraser developed the idea into a successful business. “We called it Leithal Santiser, after the old maritime town of Leith where the distillery is located.” said Fraser. “We were overwhelmed with requests. Most of our bottles went to frontline NHS staff, the police, ambulance and fire crews, care homes and elderly residents.” But as the UK re-emerged from the first lockdown, companies and organisations such as councils, golf courses, pub chains and restaurants, started enquiring about large orders of sanitiser to ensure they would have adequate hand hygiene facilities in place to reopen safely. Generating almost £100,000 in

sales in the first month, Fraser’s charitable idea was transformed into a profitable business. Many of the buyers went on to sign long-term deals, which means the new entrepreneurial business is set to continue well into the future. “I’m determined to keep our prices ethical,” said Fraser. “For such an essential product, especially right now, it’s outright wrong for any company to be pushing prices up. Teaching students about ethical business practices is a big part of the curriculum at Northumbria, and I’m ensuring this is put into practice in this new project.” A range of hand hygiene products are now available from the company’s website, including touch-free hand sanitising stations. Fraser re-connected with the University’s Graduate Enterprise scheme who were able to provide support and guidance to further develop his business idea. Graham Baty, Head of Student and Graduate Enterprise at Northumbria University, said: “The opportunity identified by Fraser to support businesses in

the effort battling the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as opening up new market opportunities for the family business, is an excellent example of the entrepreneurial mind-set that Northumbria looks to develop in all its students and graduates.” For more information about Leithal hand sanitiser visit



In June last year the multinational aerospace and defence company Rolls Royce announced it was reducing the workforce at its plant in Inchinnan, Scotland by 700, as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic. A survey conducted several months later, supported by Northumbria University, found that the vast majority of those who were made redundant have not been re-employed. Dr Ewan Mackenzie, from Northumbria’s Newcastle Business School, believes the inability to find reemployment is greatly significant and demonstrates the lasting damage Covid-19 has had on the UK economy. The survey, led by Professor Alan McKinley at Newcastle University and supported by Dr Mackenzie at Northumbria and academics at the University of Glasgow, gained 100 responses. Unite Scotland, who commissioned the research, have called for immediate action from the Scottish government to support the manufacturing sector. The research identified that most of those made redundant wanted to remain in manufacturing, but current jobs available do not match their experience and skills. Many want to move into the renewable energy sector, specifically wind turbines, but don’t currently have the specific skills needed to be able to do that.

Dr Mackenzie suggests that unless these individuals are retrained, the UK runs the risk of losing vital engineering skills forever. As he explains: “The research highlights that there is an appetite for such a transition with adequate training and government support, without which the UK risks losing cutting-edge engineering skills and proficiencies developed over decades”. Pat Rafferty, Unite Scottish Secretary, added: “Importantly, there is a desire by those who have left Rolls Royce to move into the renewables sector. However, this requires two fundamental elements: jobs actually being created in the renewables sector in particular through the manufacturing of wind turbines, and skills transition support.”





Support for international students An organisation set up to support international students at Northumbria has been approved as a full member of the Erasmus Student Network UK – the largest student association in Europe. The Erasmus Student Network (ESN) Newcastle was only established last year by Northumbria, so to gain full UK status in such a short period is regarded as a considerable achievement. And at the same time ESN Newcastle member, and Northumbria Law School student, Natalia Flis, has been elected to the ESN UK national board as Education and Mobility Officer. The 21-year-old, who is from Poland and is also President of ESN Newcastle, says gaining membership so quickly was a team effort, explaining: “This is a significant achievement and would not have been possible if not for our committee - Marius Grimalshi, Eugene Yanusik, Lawrence Johnston, and Robert Lundgren Jones of Lundgren Tours Ltd. We believe this will open up exciting opportunities and support, not only for our team, but most importantly to international students at Northumbria and in Newcastle – especially now when our lives are being so affected by Covid-19.”

Dr Adam Ramshaw, Senior Lecturer at Northumbria Law School, adds: “This is fantastic news for Natalia and all of the students involved. The ESN is a great resource and allows students across Europe to share their experiences of studying abroad.” The ESN is a non-profit international student organisation. Its aim is to represent international students and support opportunities for cultural understanding and selfdevelopment under the principle of students helping students. ESN Newcastle provides a variety of support and events for all students studying in Newcastle, whether they are an incoming, outgoing, current, past or present student. For more information visit the ESN website




Law students excel in legal skills and emotional support Law students at Northumbria have helped national charity, Support Through Court, secure a prestigious award through their voluntary work supporting those facing the courts alone. Support Through Court works with over 800 volunteers, including Northumbria Law students, to provide support to thousands of people every year while they go through legal proceedings such as divorce, custody or eviction cases. And the charity has recently won the Best Legal Support Volunteers category in the Small and Medium Sized Enterprise News Awards 2020. This free UK-wide service offers invaluable support and guidance before, during and after court hearings. Law student volunteers and students on the Bar course who elect to

work with the charity, provide emotional and procedural support to their clients who have nowhere else to turn. The Best Legal Support Volunteers award acknowledges the significant role the legal industry plays in the UK economy and highlights the innovation, client dedication and competitiveness that the industry has to offer.

Commenting on the success, Paul McKeown, Director of the Student Law Office at Northumbria, says: “We have been involved with the Newcastle branch of Support Through Court since its very start back in 2014, so we are delighted to be part of this success. It is testament to the quality and commitment of our law students here at Northumbria.” Northumbria University is

recognised as having one of the most active and pioneering student law offices, where final year law students undertake a range of placements, including pro bono work on behalf of real clients. In the past 10 years they have represented more than 2,500 clients recovering over £1.5 million. For more information please visit law



Spring 2021 •

Issue 22


Northumbria Sport have struck a new partnership deal with top graduate employer Aldi, boosting support for the University’s Student Leadership Programme. As a key partner for Northumbria Sport for the 2020/2021 academic year, Aldi is working with the University to help students develop their leadership skills and enhance their career prospects. In addition to providing support for the Sport Leadership Programme, Aldi is also sponsoring Northumbria’s Focus Sports which will enhance the support on offer to Northumbria Student Athletes. The Northumbria Sport Student Leadership programme is a nationally award-winning programme that offers students fantastic volunteer opportunities to work with industry professionals and gain valuable experience and employability skills. Through the programme, there are opportunities to work with national governing bodies, external organisations, in the local community, and even internationally through the Volunteer Zambia Project. As a sport volunteer, students have the opportunity to work alongside a mentor to support and help guide them throughout their journey. All volunteers and interns also receive free training and access to the University’s Sport Leadership and Innovation Fund, which offers up to £200

towards additional qualifications and training opportunities to help students stand out in the job market. Students setting themselves apart is particularly important when it comes to notoriously competitive graduate schemes such as the highly esteemed Aldi Graduate Area Manager Programme. A major food retailer with over 6,500 stores across 11 countries, and over 900

stores in the UK, Aldi employs more than 36,000 colleagues and was ranked 5th in the prestigious Times Top 100 list of graduate employers in 2020. Katy Storie, Head of Sport at Northumbria, firmly believes that the skills and experiences gained

through engaging in sport can help students distinguish themselves in any chosen career field. She said: “We are proud to be supported by the Aldi Graduate Programme. Like us, they believe that people involved in sport make the best leaders. A number of our alumni have gone on to establish successful careers as Area Managers at Aldi, so it’s fantastic to build on our relationship while

allowing even more Northumbria students to develop key transferable skills through sport and to nurture the graduate leaders of the future.” Chelsea Barker is one of many Northumbria graduates to be successful in gaining a place on

the Aldi Graduate Area Manager Programme. She is responsible for over 180 colleagues and manages all operations for six stores in the region, ensuring they have everything they need – from stock to staff – to deliver the best possible service to customers. Chelsea studied Sport Science with Coaching, followed by a Master’s in International Development, both at Northumbria. During her time at University, Chelsea took part in the Sport Student Leadership Programme, which she says was “absolutely fundamental” in getting her into the role she has at Aldi today. “Now in my role at Aldi on the graduate programme, when I’m dealing with difficult conversations with Store Managers or when I’m put on the spot to use my initiative, it’s my experiences from the Northumbria Sport Student Leadership Programme that I draw upon,” Chelsea explained. Sandy Mitchell, Regional Managing Director for Aldi, said: “We’re thrilled to be working with Northumbria University. At Aldi, we’re passionate about supporting the talent of the future, and it’s so inspiring to know that there are so many young people at

Northumbria eager to learn about leadership, get involved in new opportunities and volunteer their services for the good of the local community, as well as their own futures.” “The wonderful Leadership Programme that the University has developed will enable students to achieve so much – work with like-minded individuals, build new social and professional networks, learn from their peers, develop their own style for communicating with people, become more confident in new environments, and step out on their own into successful careers.” To find out more about the Northumbria Sport Student Leadership programme please visit, and to find out more about graduate roles available with Aldi and apply or register your interest, visit www.


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Northumbria University News Spring 2021  

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