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Northumbria University – Breaking down barriers

Hundreds attended Northumbria University’s recent Sports Dinner, held at St James’ Park, which raised money for the institution’s Higher Education Without Barriers Fund. The programme helps learners from all backgrounds pursue academic ambitions through sport, and has already supported more than 2000 students. 


The power of sport was the headline theme of a high-profile education event aimed at helping students score their career goals.

Northumbria University’s Sports Dinner welcomed stars of past and present to bolster the impact of the institution’s Higher Education Without Barriers Fund.

The venture helps learners from all backgrounds pursue academic ambitions through sport, with more than 2000 students – through backing in excess of £2.5 million – having already benefited from outreach activities, scholarships, hardship bursaries, and mental health and wellbeing initiatives.

More than 300 guests attended the event, which took place in The Barracks, at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park, and was led by Professor Andy Long, Northumbria University vice-chancellor and chief executive, and hosted by ex-Northumbria University student and Olympic volleyballer Peter Bakare. 

The evening was headlined by a panel discussion around sport’s influence on life.

Hosted by Tyne Tees Television presenter – and Northumbria University alumnus – Ian Payne, the debate featured former 1500-metre world champion Steve Cram; ex-Newcastle United striker Shola Ameobi; Newcastle United women’s team goalkeeper Grace Donnelly; England women’s rugby league player Zoe Hornby; and British Cycling chief executive Jon Dutton.

The night also included an address from Northumbria University chancellor and decorated Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, with an auction and further activities, including a prize draw, heads and tails, and a competition to guess the number of balloons in a car, helping raise funds.

Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods, the university’s board of governors chair, and Nerius Shah, Northumbria Students’ Union president, made closing remarks.

Providing scholarships for under-represented students to match academic aspirations with sporting ambitions across performing, coaching or officiating, the Higher Education Without Barriers Fund also develops volunteering and internship programmes, which work to enhance learners’ leadership and employability skills.

It also funds PhD studies in sport, exercise and rehabilitation, provides learning resources, kit and equipment to increase diversity, and supports mental health and wellbeing through programmes such as NUTHINKING.

The event was supported by Enterprise, Sodexo, Santander Universities UK, Qolcom, North East Times, Newcastle United Foundation and Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust.