DURHAM University has launched a major scholarships initiative for low-income students from the North-East as part of a record alumni donation.

The university announced it had received a transformative donation from alumnus Charles Wilson and his partner Dr Rowena Olegario to launch the Durham Inspired – North East Scholarships.

An endowment of £2m, including matching donations to the programme, will be used to inspire and support exceptional young minds from across the region to reach their full potential at Durham University, regardless of financial means.

The scholarships programme will support 20 students each year from low-income backgrounds from the region, empowering and enabling them to study for foundation, undergraduate, and/or masters level qualifications, whilst also pursuing vital leadership and development experiences offered at Durham.

Professor Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor and Warden of Durham University, said: “This is an extraordinary and hugely welcome demonstration of support for the University’s mission from two very distinguished friends. Philanthropy is changing the game for students at Durham and this record donation will leave an indelible and enabling legacy for the benefit of generations to come.”

Bethany Henderson, 3rd Year English Literature scholarship student at Durham University, from Bishop Auckland said: “These scholarships are such fantastic news for students who live in the North-East and want to come to an amazing place like Durham but just don’t know how they can make it all work financially.

“As well as the money side of things, it’s such a confidence boost to know that our alumni have such a strong belief in our future.”

Mr Wilson said: “Rowena and I are delighted to be supporting Durham University and the Durham Inspired campaign. Durham is making an incredible difference to the North-East, the UK, and within the wider world; we are pleased that our support will assist the University’s objectives in each of these areas.”

The scholarships are part of a record £7.5M donation from Mr Wilson and partner Dr Olegariom, which will also establish the new Wilson Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship at Durham University Business School and endowment for the University’s Institute of Hazard Risk and Resilience (IHRR) – a research Institute co-founded by Wilson in 2004 which supports research and practice in areas related to global natural disasters.

The donation to launch the new Wilson Institute will provide entrepreneurs and leaders, especially in small and family businesses, with insightful and practical support to develop those businesses to full potential. The Institute will have a specific focus on servicing business leaders and business ideas in the local region at every stage of development: supporting ‘start-up, scale-up, and smart-up’ activities.

Professor Susan Hart, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Business, Durham University, said:“In establishing the Wilson Institute, we are seizing a unique opportunity to enrich the forward-thinking enterprise ecology in the region, stimulating business creation, scale-up activity, and beneficial economic development across the North East and beyond.”

James Ramsbotham, Chief Executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: “Businesses in the region will welcome news of this development at Durham with open arms. I am positive that the Wilson Institute will provide the world with yet another window into the North East economy and provide North East business with a wide-open front door into this leading Business School on our doorstep.”