From education to employment

Charity champion’s praise for University apprenticeship

It’s National Apprenticeship Week and one of the region’s charity champions who turned the worst moment of her life into an opportunity to help others has praised her University of Sunderland apprenticeship for helping grow her charity into the success it is today.

Steph Capewell is founder and chief executive of Wear-based baby bank charity Love, Amelia.

The charity, which operates from Hendon in Sunderland, provides support across Tyne and Wear and County Durham for children living in poverty and hardship.

Steph founded the charity following the tragic death of her daughter Amelia in January 2018, who died just 12 minutes after being born.

In the days following Amelia’s birth, Steph met a young mother at the hospital who had recently given birth but had no supplies for her newborn baby. In an act of compassion, Steph shared some of Amelia’s belongings to help other children in their community.

Inspired to make a lasting impact, Steph created 12 boxes filled with essential baby items, symbolising each minute of Amelia’s short life. These boxes were gifted to families in need, carrying with them a letter signed as a gift from Amelia herself, offering support and a personal connection to those in need, and creating the name of the charity.

Through the heartache – Amelia’s legacy inspired the launch of a charity which is dedicated to giving children the best start in life.

Since registering as a charity in 2019, Love, Amelia has supported more than 13,000 children and their families.

Steph, a former social worker, is currently studying a Senior Leader Apprenticeship at the University. She believes the programme has helped build stronger foundations to allow her to run the charity full time.

Steph, 30, from Castletown, Sunderland, said:

“This is a charity very close to my heart and I really wanted to do it justice and make sure we deliver a service that is meaningful to those who need it.

“I chose the Senior Leader apprenticeship because I wanted to explore and enhance my skills. I think moving from a public to a voluntary sector organisation has been a very steep learning curve and I wanted to refine my knowledge and skills to really help the charity grow in the right way.

“As the organisation has developed over the last few years, I want to make sure that we are in the strongest possible position to continue that growth and deliver the best service possible, and I really feel that the course has helped me achieve that.

“I’ve been able to challenge myself, gain new perspectives and think about things in a very different way – not just looking at what we’re doing but why we’re doing it, and really looking at how we can challenge ourselves and move forward and making sure I can grow in line with the charity’s growth as well.”

Steph added: “The programme hasn’t just supported me as an individual learner, but it has had a big impact on the organisation and the team.

“We’ve really been able to grow the organisation particularly over the last year as we know demand has increased in the area but having the strength, the resource and the foundations right in the organisation to begin with has allowed us to really meet that demand and grow with the service.”

Steph will graduate next year and for her final research project, she will explore the impact of childhood poverty and access to baby banks.

“Childhood poverty has risen significantly over the last decade and access to baby banks is something that is on the rise,” Steph explained.

“Research about baby banks is lacking and we really want to look at what the need is, why people are coming to a baby bank like Love, Amelia in the first place – but also the role of baby banks in addressing child poverty.”

Steph won the charity and volunteer award at the Wear Businesswomen Awards 2023. She also won Best Charity at the Who Cares Wins Awards, which aired on Channel 4 last year.

This week, as part of National Apprenticeship Week 2024 (Monday 5 February – Sunday 11 February), the University is shining a light on the inspirational work of its apprentices, partners and staff, while helping to plug the skills gap in the healthcare, leadership, digital and engineering sectors in Sunderland and the wider the north-east.

When asked why she would recommend the Senior Leader Apprenticeship at Sunderland, Steph said:

“It’s sometimes about breaking the mould of what you are already doing and trying new things, challenging your thinking or having new thoughts in an environment that is so supportive. It’s a really good and quite unique opportunity for someone who is in a senior leadership role.

“It’s not often you get time to really step back and critically review yourself and your service in a space that is supportive and challenges the organisation to grow and become more efficient and sustainable.”

David Pearson, Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Programme Leader for the Senior Leader Apprenticeship at the University of Sunderland, said:

“Steph’s dedication shines through in all her endeavours.

“The development of her charity is nothing short of inspirational, but what truly sets Steph apart is her unwavering focus on its growth and sustainability. She consistently aligns her studies with the charity’s mission and goals and is always looking enhance its success.

“Within our programme, Steph’s contributions have consistently met high standards, earning her respect from both peers and mentors. Steph injects a unique perspective which is centred around social responsibility and enriches our programme with invaluable insights.”

To celebrate the success of its MBA Senior Leader apprentices, the University held a Senior Leaders Research Conference at Sunderland City Hall on Wednesday (February 7).

The event featured compelling project presentations from University apprentices, showcasing the organisational impact of their research, as well as first-hand accounts of career progression, personal development and the broader societal influence of the University’s Higher and Degree Apprenticeship programmes.

Sarah Beck, Academic Director of Apprenticeships at the University of Sunderland, said:

“The knowledge and skills that apprentices develop on the Senior Leader programme are applicable to a wide range of work settings and this week’s conference has been a great opportunity to showcase some of the inspiring work they have undertaken in all types of organisations, projects which really make a difference and are often truly life changing.”

Sarah added: “Steph’s story is a fantastic example of how apprenticeships can help people to achieve their potential, both academically and in the workplace, at any stage of their career.”

Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland, said:

“As a professions-facing university, we believe that providing high-quality apprenticeships is a vital part of our role as an anchor institution embedded here in the north-east of England.

“For our apprentices, it is a terrific way to enhance their own career prospects and job opportunities. At the same time, we give something back to the region’s employers in providing them with the skilled people they need to succeed and thrive in the future.”

This is the 17th annual National Apprenticeship Week, a week-long celebration that takes place across England, showcasing the impact apprenticeships can have on communities, local businesses and regional economies and how they all benefit from the impact of apprenticeships.

To find out more about Higher and Degree Apprenticeships at the University of Sunderland click here.

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