A group of Sunderland students are playing a crucial role in improving life for many north-east families by making their communities a safer place to live.

The Specialist Police Volunteering Scheme is a pioneering partnership struck between the University of Sunderland and Northumbria Police in which students support police officers across their communities, helping out through various activities from working with local schools to supporting events.

The partnership has been so successful that universities and colleges across the rest of the region are now adopting similar initiatives.

To recognise the efforts of the very first cohort of the Specialist Police Volunteers Scheme, a presentation night was held on the University’s City Campus for the eight civic-minded student volunteers.

Speaking at the event, Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland, said: “Not only did these students give up their spare time, but they demonstrated a passion for civic responsibility, and a desire to make their corner of the north-east a better place.

“Whether that be working with schools, helping out in the community, supporting officers at events, or simply learning the day-to-day needs of community policing over 12 months, your efforts have made a difference to the lives of people.”

Carly Holliday, part of the Sunderland Futures team, the University of Sunderland’s Career Service, came up with the initial idea for the Specialist Police Volunteering Scheme.

Area Commander for South Tyneside and Sunderland, Chief Superintendent Barrie Joisce, of Northumbria Police, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to see how this exciting partnership has developed over the last couple of years.

“It has been a pleasure to work with the University’s Futures team to bring new skills and knowledge to our organisation through this ground-breaking scheme involving their talented students.

“Our various volunteers across the Force – from our Special Constables to Cadets and Mini Police – have been and continue to be a valuable asset in supporting operational policing and help us to engage with the wider community in various ways.

“We are so pleased to see how rewarding the partnership has been for the students involved, the Force as a whole and the communities that we serve.”

Specialist Police Volunteer Maria Evans, a third year Psychology student, said: “The scheme provided me with an insight into issues the police have to deal with daily.

“I had already volunteered with the youth justice system and wanted to see how things worked from the other side of the criminal justice system.

“Through this opportunity, I have secured a role as an assistant police cadet instructor.”

Christie Leighton, also a Specialist Force Volunteer in the first year of her Leadership in Criminology and Criminal Justice Masters degree, added: “I had an incredibly positive experience with my volunteering. It really enhanced my knowledge of issues within local communities.

“All the staff who have been involved with this project were very helpful and are extremely good at what they do.”

This year’s 2023 cohort of volunteers have now been recruited and are taking the first steps on their policing experience.