Meet the CU Trust Team and Trustees

Children’s University is a network of centres that manage their activities locally. These local centres are run by existing structures and partners such as colleges and universities, Local Authorities and groups of schools. CU Trust is the charity that sits at the heart of this network, providing support, strategic guidance, and organising fundraising and communications activities.

Meet the CU Trust team

Helen O'Donnell - Chief Executive and Director of Partnerships

Helen joined Children's University in November 2015, having previously served as Chief Executive for the Cheshire Community Foundation (CCF). It was at CCF that Helen first encountered Children’s University by funding one of our local centres.

Helen has extensive experience in the third sector with a particular focus on education and helping young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds access educational opportunities. Most recently this involved acting as Head of Development at the University of Liverpool where she was responsible for securing charitable investments.

Contact Helen with enquiries about national partnerships and strategic issues.

Sonya Christensen - Engagement and Inclusion Manager

Sonya joined the Children’s University in October 2018 having come from a background in both Third Sector and Corporate Management roles. Her recent experience as Development Manager for the pioneering work of the Greater Manchester Social Work Academy saw her tasked with improving Social Work education and Continued Professional Development across Greater Manchester.

Her background as a Child Psychotherapist in primary schools and as the Director of a National Lottery funded programme of life changing services to families with multiple and complex needs has fueled her passion to widen access to services for children. 

Contact Sonya with enquiries about setting up a new Children's University

Liam Nolan – Head of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement

Liam joined Children’s University in 2016 with a focus on working with the Children’s University network and shouting about its many successes. As a former teacher of English as a foreign language, he is passionate about education and the possibilities Children’s University opens up for young learners.

Liam has over ten years’ experience in the charity sector in a mixture of fundraising and communications roles. Most recently he has been self-employed fundraiser and worked on high-profile digital projects for charity and government organisations.

Contact Liam with enquiries relating to communications, PR and media. 

Rachel Green – Network Support and Communications Officer

Rachel joined the team in July 2018 after completing an undergraduate degree in German and Spanish earlier the same year. Her previous work experience has varied from event management and workshop facilitation to voluntary work in primary, secondary and higher education.

Following her experience with social media management for local and international charities, Rachel’s passion lies in the potential of online communication as a means of networking and promoting important work

Contact Rachel with queries about our network or all things communications.


Meet the CU Trust Trustees

Richard Annandale

Richard is Chair of the CU Trust Board of Trustees. He is also a committee member of the William Kadleigh Foundation, which supports doctors developing their knowledge of integrative medicine; and, a lead member of a grass-roots group advocating for legal and humanitarian rights for refugees, especially refugee children.

Richard was a solicitor prior to retirement, initially working with individuals caught up in stressful situations needing legal advice. He then spent most of his legal career advising the NHS about governance, regulation, ethics and dispute resolution and, during that time, developed a wide range of business skills. He brings with him, leadership skills, a passion for the rights and life chances of children, and a wide range of expertise gained from working in the private sector and with the public sector.

Anita Bhalla OBE

Anita currently sits on the board of a number of organisations including the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership and the Greater Birmingham and Solihull CCG. She is also a Governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Before joining Children’s University, Anita had a successful career with the BBC, assisting with the creation of its Asian Network and heading England’s Political Community Affairs. As well as the media, Anita’s experience has centred heavily on public service, to which she remains committed. This commitment reflects her passion for the arts, the West Midlands, opportunities and education of children and translates well to the objectives of CU Trust.

"I'm proud to be a Children's University Trustee because Children's University plays an important part in raising aspiration and ambitions for so many people."

Jock Brown

Jock is a Trustee of CU Scotland as well as CU Trust, affording him expertise across the Children’s University board. Educated in English Law at Cambridge, he began his career as a Solicitor in Scotland.

As well as a wide breadth of experience and knowledge in many areas of law, ranging from litigation to property, Jock brings with him a business acumen and ability to find solutions and solve problems he’s renowned for. He has served as General Manager for Celtic FC and has an extensive history of sports broadcasting, having commentated on major football and golf events for over three decades.

"I'm proud to be a Children's University Trustee because I can contribute to a wonderful charity which promotes a love of learning and improves the life chances for children."

Jackie Dunne

Jackie is Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Access and Lifelong Learning) at University of Wolverhampton. Her career has very much been focussed on lifelong learning and access to higher education so being part of the Children’s University Board of Trustees is a natural fit.

Jackie brings to the Board extensive senior experience in a range of Universities and a commitment to opening opportunities to children and young people.

I am proud to be a Children’s University Trustee because I believe that every child should have the opportunity to go as far as their talent and hard work will allow, regardless of background. I have seen the impact that the Children’s University can have not just on the children, but on their families and their communities, and it is a privilege to be involved."

Ant Hopkinson

Ant is currently working with The Royal Institute of British Architects as a Fundraising Consultant - focussing on the strategic development of the organisation's regional fundraising efforts. He also works on a freelance basis with a number of small charities and not-for-profits based in the North West of England.

Ant is an experienced Development professional and has led several fundraising operations in educational institutions including The King's School Chester and The the University of Salford. As the first in his family to go to university, Ant brings to the Board a real passion for Social Mobility and a fervent belief in the transformative power of education.

“I am proud to be a Trustee of Children’s University because our organisation is making a tremendous difference across the U.K - empowering children to access more extra-curricular activities which can have a hugely positive effect on both educational attainment and career outcomes."

Alec McGivan

Alec is a Trustee of the BBC Performing Arts Fund as well as Children’s University Trust.

Alec has extensive experience within the BBC and served as Head of BBC Outreach, Corporate Responsibility & Partnerships until his retirement in 2013, organising outreach activities across the BBC’s six public purposes. His role had a particular focus on interacting with harder to reach audiences, and his experience has afforded him a breadth of knowledge in creating partnerships with the needs of particular communities in mind.

Kenny McLean

Kenny is a very accomplished management consultant who has extensive commercial experience across a number of sectors. He has previously held senior roles with RSM International, Certeco, KPMG, RBS and IBM.

Having had his own childhood enriched by the activities he took part in outside of school, Kenny understands the importance of Children’s University and the impact that participation can have. He brings this insight to the Board along with extensive strategic governance experience.

Jim Muir

Jim is Chair of CU Trust’s Finance, Audit and Risk Committee as well as being a Director of CU Trading, a subsidiary company of the charity. Outside of CU Trust, Jim sits on the board of The Dudley Building Society and holds several non-executive roles. In addition, Jim is a governor of the Warrington Primary Academy Trust.

Graduating as a Bachelor of Accountancy from the University of Glasgow, Jim began his career working in audits and acquisitions. His experience since has ranged from serving as a director for both a football agency and architectural practice to consultation work with the likes of KPMG and RSM. As well as his financial insight, Jim’s commitment to improving the life chances of children throughout the UK makes him a valuable member of the CU Trust board.

Bina Rawal

Bina is Director of Medical Affairs for MSD, a leading global biopharmaceutical company. She is a medical graduate who has spent her career spanning the worlds of medical tech, research and innovation, and improving outcomes and experience for patients.

Bina has a passion for diversity and inclusion and is committed to promoting educational opportunities, having seen first-hand the transformational effect of a broad education.

“I am proud to be a Children’s University Trustee because it's a great way for children to find and enjoy the road to lifelong learning”

Kate Redhead

Kate is a Regional Mentor at Primary Science Teaching Trust, where she promotes best practice in primary science across the West Midlands and is part of the Trust’s national innovative College of Fellows. She is part of the West Midlands board for the Association for Science Education, has written for teacher journals and is on the editorial board for Primary Science.

Before joining the PSTT, Kate was Assistant Head Teacher of Clifton Primary school in Birmingham, where part of her role was to introduce and co-ordinate Children’s University.  Kate also introduced Children’s University to other local schools and has presented at graduation ceremonies to inspire children to aspire to be the best they can be and ‘reach for the stars!’ This first-hand experience seeing the impact of our work has inspired Kate to put her extensive professional skills and insight to use on the Board.

I am proud to be part of Children’s University, as I have seen first-hand the impact it can have on both the children themselves and their family; raising aspirations and awareness of the wonderful world of learning and new activities!”

Lynne Upton

Lynne first joined Children’s University as Director of Learning in 2011 to manage the development of the Children's University's curriculum for learning. After retiring in 2016 she became a Trustee of CU Trust.

Prior to working for Children's University, Lynne was employed as a Senior Curriculum Advisor with the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority (QCDA). She started her career as a Modern Foreign Languages teacher and has worked with children, undergraduates and adults in a range of institutions in Leicestershire and Nottingham. 

Janet Wilkinson

Jan is a senior strategic leader with over 30 years experience of senior management in the HE and research library sectors. Most recently, Jan spent ten years at the University of Manchester, and before that, held senior roles at the British Library, the University of Leeds, the LSE, following a range of roles within the former polytechnic and college sector.

Jan has acted as external adviser to a range of universities internationally, and continues to be involved, as a consultant, in the development of senior HE leaders in Europe and Dubai. Spending her life in the education sector, Jan is passionate about what Children’s University is trying to achieve.

“I am proud to be a CU Trustee because I want children to have all the opportunities in life that society can give them. I believe the CU can make a significant contribution to this by developing a love of learning in children from all backgrounds”.

Meet the CU Trust Ambassadors

Diane Stone

Di has a passion for engaging with and supporting young people to “be the best they can be”.  Di spent much of her working life until her retirement in November 2017 employed by the University of the West of England, Bristol as Head of Widening Participation Pre-16 and more recently as West of England Children’s University Manager

In her role as Children’s University Manager Di set up and managed Children’s University Bristol and South Gloucestershire and supported the setup, training and development of CUs in North Somerset, Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon, Wiltshire

Di has vast experience of engaging children, families and communities through 25 years of working within the area of widening participation.  As the Aimhigher West area events Coordinator, and UWE Head of Widening Participation Pre-16, she coordinated and supported, a team of colleagues from 5 universities to develop and deliver a range of hands-on activities designed to raise awareness and aspirations towards higher education for young people and their families.