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Sir Tom Cowie’s legacy grows to mark 100th birthday celebrations

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Published on 23 September 2022

 David Gray (right), Chairman of The Sir Tom Cowie Charitable Trust, with the 2022 Tom Cowie Scholars; Olivia Wight, Chris Curtis and Daniel Hepple
David Gray (right), Chairman of The Sir Tom Cowie Charitable Trust, with the 2022 Tom Cowie Scholars; Olivia Wight, Chris Curtis and Daniel Hepple

September 2022 marks what would have been the 100th birthday of one the North East’s most successful and admired entrepreneurs, Sir Tom Cowie. To mark this special occasion the Sir Tom Cowie Charitable Trust are awarding four talented young students from Sunderland £5,000 to £15,000 to help them achieve their full potential.

Sir Tom, who died in 2012 aged 89, was a long-term supporter of the University of Sunderland and believed passionately in its principles of affording those with talent, regardless of background, the opportunity to enter higher education. 

For the last ten years the Sir Tom Cowie Charitable Trust have supported outstanding students from the Sunderland area who at the end of their penultimate year of study have demonstrated an excellent academic record and are on track to secure a First Class Honours Degree or upper Second Class Honours Degree. The Trust have now supported the University of Sunderland with over £200,000 worth of funding.

Primary Education students Daniel Hepple and Olivia Wight will both receive £10,000, and to mark Sir Tom’s centenary the Trust are awarding a special £15,000 award to Business and Management student Chris Curtis. The Trust will also award an additional scholarship of £5,000 to Business and Management student Chrissy Etheridge. 

Daniel Hepple, 20 from Fulwell, says: “I applied for the Tom Cowie scholarship as I wanted to leave my part-time job and throw everything into my degree.”

Daniel lives in a single-parent household and had to work while studying to be a teacher. He struggled to find time to do the additional study and volunteering he knew he needed to improve his teaching practice. Now, thanks to the scholarship, Daniel is running a reading for pleasure project in a Sunderland primary school and has taken up a post as a school governor.

He says: “I hope to be an excellent teacher, and work with some of the most vulnerable learners, where I can truly make a difference to lives, families and communities.”

Olivia Wight is also studying Primary Education and is keen to work as a PE teacher when she graduates. Her interest in teaching – and sport – was fired when she visited the University of Sunderland in 2012, aged 11, to take part in events to celebrate the London Olympics. Now, aged 21, Olivia has returned to Sunderland to train as a teacher, and with the support of the Tom Cowie Scholarship, is able to continue to develop her skills in sport.

“Before applying for the Sir Tom Cowie Excellence Scholarship, I aspired to become a PE subject lead within a local primary school,” says Olivia. “I want to offer my skills to give back to my local community.”

Olivia has played netball at county and regional level.

“I would like to use my experiences to inspire children from all over the city of Sunderland to get into sport and find a passion for learning through sporting experiences.”

This year the quality of applications were so high that the Sir Tom Cowie Charitable Trust decided to give a special one-off £5,000 award to Business and Management student Crissy Etheridge.

Crissy, 42, says: “This award means so much to me. This will take immense pressure off me in my final year which will allow me to focus and deliver my all to support my future career which in turn, will support and guide others.”

Fellow Business and Management student Chris Curtis, from Houghton, works at the University as a Sport and Wellness Supervisor, but his desire to start his own business, and the support of his manager, convinced him to begin studying at the University.

“I’ve wanted to study business for a while, and I had the backing from my manager to be flexible around working hours,” says Chris, 33. “After I graduate I aim to use the knowledge I have gained from my studies to further my career and grow my business to the next level.”

Chris received a special Centenary Award to celebrate what would have been Sir Tom’s 100th birthday on 9 September. The £15,000 award reflects Sir Tom Cowie’s support for Sunderland business start-ups. Chris's business, Suitperior, offers mobile wedding suit fitting service for men in the North East. Chris says that he is particularly pleased that the scholarship is in memory of such a great entrepreneur, Sir Tom Cowie.

“I was absolutely speechless when I found out, not only to be win the scholarship but to be awarded such a prestigious award to celebrate Sir Tom Cowie’s 100th birthday. I honestly can't thank the Trust enough.” 

David Gray, FRICS, Chairman of Trustees of The Sir Tom Cowie Charitable Trust, said: “In 2011, I discussed with Sir Tom, the principle of continuing his long-term relationship with the University of Sunderland, through the provision of scholarships for third year students.

“The quality of candidates for the 2022/23 scholarships was exceptional and all those interviewed were impressive, making the decision very difficult and the idea of a special scholarship to mark what would have been Sir Tom’s 100th birthday meant that, together with a special award, we could help four deserving students for this next academic year.”