Shared Sunderland

BME groups remain underrepresented in leadership positions due to a lack of opportunities, discrimination, and the absence of role models. Leadership comes in all forms and shapes and anyone can be a leader. Learning how to become a good leader can greatly impact not only your life but your community, your team at work, or your organisation. With the Shared Sunderland project, we are dedicated to making change by supporting the BME community in accessing leadership training, voluntary opportunities, and taking leadership roles in Sunderland.

Partnership organisations

ICOS – came to being in July 2009, it has always focused on bringing individuals and communities together. While we have a particularly strong relationship with the local Eastern European community, we are currently working with people from diverse countries. ICOS works with Black and Minority Ethnic people in Sunderland and surrounding areas, focusing on helping those with limited access to information, networks and opportunities.

SBIC – serving the local community for the past 19 years- it is an Asylum, Refugee, BME-focused charity that addresses issues such as integration, poverty, poor education, poor health, lack of employment and enterprise opportunities for BME people within the City of Sunderland through activities including: financial inclusion, health, education, well-being and equal opportunities.

New Horizon – dedicated African group with many years of experience of providing holistic support to the African community living in Sunderland, including asylum seekers and refugees. It was set up by ex-asylum seeker/refugees to promote co-operation and participatory democracy, self-determination, and change the balance of power. It also provides advice and training

Project Goals

  • Improved wellbeing and access to services, including the establishment of free immigration advice in the city for the first time.
  • Developed group of leaders from migrant, Black and minority communities, which disrupts patterns of racialised power in the city.
  • Public and voluntary services in Sunderland are more inclusive and responsive to the specific needs of migrants.
  • Increased recognition and understanding around issues of racial justice in Sunderland

What we want to do?

  • Advice, guidance and support services will be provided across the three organisations, in the areas of housing, benefits and immigration.
  • Staff members of partnering organisations will participate in OISC training to become the first provider of free immigration advice in Sunderland.
  • Community Leadership Development – we will support BME community to take up leadership roles in the city.
  • Advocacy and influencing – we will support statutory authorities to understand the needs of, and opportunities brought by migrant, Black and minoritised communities in Sunderland

Why Shared Sunderland project is so important?

  • Awareness of the availability of services needs to be raised among BME community.
  • Project will tackle inequalities that create barriers for people from minority communities in Sunderland from taking part in leadership roles.
  • There are very few organisations supporting people who have migrated to Sunderland and there is no free immigration advice provision in the city.
  • Migration organisations in the city report that newcomers rarely feel welcome and many refugees leave when they secure their legal status.

Project Updates

Since the beginning of the project in February 2022, we have supported a total of 183 clients, with issues ranging from benefits, housing, immigration issues and other types of issues.

Most needed more than one type of support:

  • 78 clients have left the project by 01/09/2023, 35 reported an improved financial situation, 13 reported an improved housing situation and 49 reported improved wellbeing.
  • 10  have started on the journey of becoming community leaders.

We have also been able to progress towards racial justice in Sunderland through the following:

  • One of the partner organisations- ICOS has already received its OISC Level 1 regulation, enabling it to provide level 1 (basic) immigration advice
  • We have established an agreement with Sunderland City Council’s East Area Committee to offer cross-party shadowing opportunities to BME (Black and Minoritized) people interested in becoming a councillor, enabling them to learn about the day to day tasks of a councillor.
  • We have established a pathway for BME people to become school governors
  • In collaboration with the Tyne and Wear Citizens, we have established as Sunderland hub for the Tyne and Wear Citizens movement and are currently working with local schools to enable them to adapt the National Education’s Union antiracism charter
  • We have delivered intercultural awareness sessions to local organisations and are expanding on this work
  • We have started delivering Intercultural Sessions top public bodies in Sunderland, supporting organisations to become better at working with BME people.

Progress update: December 2023


Through the Shared Sunderland project, together with our partners-  New Horizon and Sunderland Bangladeshi International Centre, we provided direct one–to–one support to 211 individuals in need of help and provided support with a range of issues, including:


-21 were in need of immigration advice and support


-40 needed support with housing (including registrations with housing associations, presenting to the council as homeless and general advice on housing, such as disrepair


-64 needed support with benefits, including applying for benefits and understanding decisions, as well as reviews and appeals


-10 needed support with accessing the health service, e.g., GP registrations


-23 needed support with managing their universal credit account


-42 were facing other problems, such as domestic abuse


Many clients accessed more than 1 type of advice.


Out of the 122 have left the project,


-62  have reported improved financial situation (51%)

-48 have reported improved housing situation (39%)

-81  have reported improved wellbeing (66%)


We  have also worked to provide leadership opportunities for migrant people in Sunderland and we have enabled 38 migrant people to become community leaders, including:

-19 people who have been trained to become Community Voting Champions, in order to enable them to learn about the importance of voting, the voting process, and to engage with others to vote in local and national elections. This workshop was delivered with Tyne and Wear Citizens


-1 BME person who has received guidance and coaching from ICOS to expand and improve her Community Interest Company, which supports the education of minority ethnic children in the North East in their parents’ language.

-5 BME people who have become Project Steering Group members for the project, who have taken part in project planning, shaping future activities, as well as creating the small grants scheme, and appraising the applications.

-2 BME people who have applied to become a school governor

-a number of BME people, including two project leads from two groups are now involved in delivering projects funded by the microgrants scheme. This includes filling in the funding application, designing their respective projects, and running the project activities.

-9 people who have become research champions and members of a steering group, working on a project researching the impact of the cost of living crisis on Eastern European families.



We have worked with Tyne and Wear Citizens (TWIC) to create a grass roots movement for change in Sunderland, which will lead to people – led change, where Black and Minoritized communities are in charge of driving racial equality.

We have continued our work with the TWIC, contributing to these outcomes. We have now been able to secure preliminary agreement from Richard Avenue Primary School to introduce the Antiracism Education Charter. We now have plans to work with more schools in the local area to also get them involved.

At the recent Tyne and Wear Citizens meeting of the Sunderland Hub, attended by 19 local people, we have heard stories about racism / racist bullying in more schools, including those located in the Coalfields area, Washington and Redhouse and he members of the Hub will meet again soon to discuss next steps on 05/12/2023.

Between March 2023 and June 2023, we have also organised listening sessions to engage with staff, volunteers and clients to find out what was putting pressure on them and their families, using well established Citizens UK methodology, in order to shape current and future campaigns.

The Racial Justice in Education Campaign Shard Sunderland is part of has been voted for as the 1st priority by TWIC members during the annual Delegates Assembly on 22/11/2023. While this campaign remains a priority for ICOS, staff members are also involved to a lesser degree in two other campaigns- the housing campaign and the cost of living campaign, which have also been confirmed as Tyne and Wear- wide priorities.

Moreover, ICOS has now been regulated by the Office of Immigration Services Commissioner, and can now deliver basic immigration advice at level 1. This makes us the only non-profit, Sunderland- based provider of immigration support. While only one staff member is currently regulated to deliver the advice, two others will sit their exam early next year for the first time, and one will re-sit as soon as possible, having failed the initial one (it has a high pass threshold).

The two other partners- New Horizon and the Sunderland Bangladeshi International Centre are also working on becoming regulated.

All three partner organisations have also worked together in order to create the Intercultural Sessions, which are now delivered to public sector and VCSE organisations in Sunderland. The sessions include information about diverse local cultures, including Eastern Europeans, Bengali and African, and basic information about minority ethnic populations in Sunderland and the problems they face.


Follow ICOS and its partner organisations Sunderland Bangladesh International Centre and New Horizon Sunderland to see what support you can get from Shared Sunderland Team.

Meet the Shared Sunderland team

Agnieszka Cielecka (ICOS – Support Worker)

Hello, my name is Agnieszka Cielecka and I work for ICOS on the Shared Sunderland project as a project worker. I am supporting people with barriers such as English language, cultural barriers, low income, access to information, lack of self-confidence, isolation, loneliness, and limited access to basic services such as housing and welfare.

I am giving advice and guidance in the area of benefits:

  • applying for benefits
  • benefits sanctions
  • appealing a benefit decision
  • overpayment and wrongly calculated payments
  • access to information and understanding of how benefits work
  • eligibility for different benefits

I also can support you with looking for a place to live, applying for social housing, but also with other problems related to housing and renting:

  • booking appointments for repairs
  • communication with the landlord
  • council tax
  • moving your bills to a new address
  • bills for energy
  • homelessness
  • evictions
  • neighbour antisocial behaviour
  • discrimination

If you think that you could benefit from my help, I could help you with problems that you can’t overcome, or you just simply have a question, please contact me by phone at 07563357064 or email at you can also drop me a message on WhatsApp – Agnieszka Cielecka ICOS.

My help is completely free!!