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Daniel Kendal interview: Team Sunderland’s Student Engagement Officer on COVID-19 adaptations, 2019/20 highlights and more

Daniel Kendal, Team Sunderland’s Student Engagement Officer, speaks to James Noble about how they are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the support they are continuing to offer students, 2019/20 highlights, and much more.

Team Sunderland’s Student Engagement Officer, Daniel Kendal, discussed several topics in a recent interview with SportsByte, which you can watch in full in the video above.

After a highly successful 2019/20, it has been an inevitably unique year for Team Sunderland. Opportunities to organise and participate in the sport which they usually thrive upon have been significantly limited by COVID-19 restrictions since March 2020.

They have, however, worked hard to offer an adapted service in the following months.

“What we have done, we did do throughout the summer, and what we are continuing to do, is run activities for students, and staff as well, to help keep people active, keep people busy,” said Dan, who is a former University of Sunderland student himself.

“You know, it’s been very well publicised that one of the biggest issues that’s coming out of lockdown is issues with mental health and that’s something that we’ve always been quite passionate about and we are trying to be pioneering in how we do things.

“We’ve always adopted different things to do and that has been generally just from exercise to things like cold water therapy.

“Obviously, the more physical stuff became more difficult as time went on, so we had to adapt our techniques and our philosophies to do that. So that became online workouts, online training sessions, online check-ins with students and things like that.”

Activity challenges have proven highly successful, too.

“The idea, for the Team Sunderland Challenge, was basically to work together, but on a socially distanced basis, to complete as many kilometres as they could within a given timescale. We had over 100 students take part in that,” he recalled.

There have, though, been a few occasions when more conventional activity has been possible. These have been greeted with notable enthusiasm and Daniel hopes that that bodes well for the future.

“We did get some physical training in October-November time and that was brilliant,” he said.

“The uptake of students who just wanted to participate in something is so good to see and I have a feeling that, if we can get back to normal, the uptake will be breaking records of numbers of people taking part in activity because I think everyone will want to do something now.”

Memories of 2019/20 likely only add to the desire to get back playing.

It was a year which saw the Men’s Football First Team complete a league and cup double and the Women’s Futsal Team secure the Northern Conference Cup, among many other impressive achievements across several sports.

There was also another highly enjoyable BUCS Nationals weekend in Sheffield in mid-February, where Team Sunderland Karate notched three medals and significant progress was made in the athletics and badminton events.

“The diversity of competition and the diversity of people that you get there, it’s brilliant to be part of. It’s just such a fun weekend down in Sheffield,” reflected Daniel.

“To do as well as we did – especially in the karate – was brilliant to just be a part of, and as well in the badminton. We’re just so proud of everyone who just gave everything.”

As well as coordinating sporting activities, Daniel discussed how Team Sunderland can offer support to students.

“If you do want to get in touch, just for a chat about anything, whether you’re worried about yourself or someone else that you know, please get in touch.

“We can direct you to the Wellbeing Team or you can go there yourself just through putting ‘University of Sunderland Wellbeing Team’ into Google or on social media and you’ll find something. There’s plenty of links there and there’s plenty of support there.

“We all need a little pick-me-up now and again so don’t be afraid to ask for that.”

Plans for the coming weeks and months are, for obvious reasons, a tricky topic to tackle. Daniel did, though, outline about as much of the current picture as he could.

“In terms of what we’re going to be doing over the next few months, the actual answer is we don’t know.

“What we’re trying to do is be very much reactive and proactive at the same time. We try and plan for all scenarios.

“At the minute, it’s looking as though BUCS will be a difficult thing to even comprehend. However, what we are planning is plenty more activities for students to take part in.

“Whether they’re here, in Sunderland, or whether they’re at home in their home countries or at home elsewhere in the UK, we’ve got plans and we’ve got activities which anyone can join in with, so please keep an eye out for that.

“Just keep an eye on the social media. We are very vibrant, we are very active on there and that’s probably going to be your best source of information.”

Adaptability will, doubtless, continue to be key under the current circumstances.

“It’s one of those things where it’s an ever-changing game, it’s an ever-changing situation but we have to tackle it head-on. That’s the attitude we’ve gone in with and that’s the attitude we’re going to keep going with,” Daniel summarised.

“It is hard, it is difficult, but we see ourselves as an important part of university for students so we’re going to keep sticking to that and keep working hard.”

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