Meet the young Sunderland design engineer who was inspired to 'change lives' through education after overcoming his own mental health problems

A young design engineer from Ryhope has made it his mission to enable one million digitally disadvantaged children in developing countries to have access to education after overcoming his own mental health problems and struggles as a student.

Chris Nutman, 28, from Ryhope, has designed and manufactured his solar powered Global Teacher projector to enable children in remote parts of the developing world to access education, but it was failing the first year of his A Levels and dealing with issues with anxiety which formed the basis of his desire to help others through education.

Chris said: “I’ve always been a worrier and had issues with anxiety, but this really escalated when I was sitting my A-Levels and I failed my first year. I felt like I’d let my family down and the pressure of this failure really heightened my anxiety.

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"I went off to study Design Engineering at Manchester Metropolitan University but my anxiety was with me right throughout my first two years.

"In particular, I used to get really anxious about my health as I would struggle to keep my mind under control.”

It was a phone conversation with his cousin and the and the discovery of a book called The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, which proved to be the catalyst of Chris controlling his thoughts and wanting enable “access to information for all”.

He said: “My cousin spoke to me about that voice in your head and the fact it is a choice to listen. I also came across the book, The Power of Now, which looks at how you can control your own mind.

"This was the start of me understanding how to control my anxiety and I thought if one book can change my life, then everyone must also have that one book which could make a real difference and what it would be like if they never accessed it.”

Sunderland design engineer Chris Nutman in his office alongside a reminder of his goal to help improve access to education for one million children.
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Chris used his own person epiphany, along with the focus provided by his final year project design brief to ‘identify a problem and solve it’, to formulate his design for the Global teacher solar power projector.

While reading The Power of Now was the catalyst, Chris credits his grandfather, Ken Nutman, a former policeman who sadly passed away in 2021, as the inspiration behind his desire to help others.

He said: "I remember when I was a child at Hill View Junior Academy. It has been raining and there was a big worm on the playground which one boy was going to stand on. I remember the other boys were quite surprised when I told him to stop.

Chris Nutman working on one of the Global Teacher projector units.
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"I think I got this trait from my grandfather. He always taught me to do what I can for others and I think this has really helped form my moral compass in wanting to make an impact and do something good.

"I’d always generally coasted through education and in my final year at university my grandfather began to develop dementia. He’d always wanted me to do well in education and this was another reason I decided I was really going to push myself to get a first, which I did, and a big part of this was down to my Global Teacher unit design.

"When I told him, he was absolutely beaming.”

It’s this desire to help others which after leaving university led to the formation of the charity Global Teacher and the design and manufacture of the units which Chris hopes can help to revolutionise education in marginalised communities.

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Chris Nutman at one of the 3D printers used to make the plastic casing for the projectors.

Consisting of a solar panel, battery pack, and a smart projector, the unit can relay resources to up to 500 children without the need to be online.

Chris said: “Fifteen per cent of the world’s population are illiterate, 50 per cent of schools don’t have electricity and one billion people don’t have access to electricity.

"These people are being left behind by the digital divide, including being able to access educational resources.”

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Since he founded the charity in February 2019, Chris has secured £150,000 of funding to support the design and manufacture of the product as well as partnerships with some of the UK’s biggest education publishers including, EdPlace and Hodder Education, who’ve made their materials available for use with the projector’s software package.

Chris is now ready to start trialling the product in developing countries and hopes to have 100 units operational by 2023 and to hit his one million target by 2030.

He said: "We are currently partnered with the Breco Foundation and COCO, which is Steve Cram’s charity, and they have schools in Latin America, refugee camp schools on the border with Ukraine and Syrian refugee camps, as well as schools in East Africa, including Kenya where we are going to send this product.

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"We are going to send them out into schools for international feedback on what went well, what teachers did and didn’t like, and from this information we can then improve the design.

Hailing from Sunderland, the young Design Engineer hopes to one day create an enterprise with a central hub in Sunderland which will create jobs for local people.

He said: “I’m passionate about Sunderland and one day I’d like to have a flagship enterprise with its headquarters in the city. I’m excited about the resurgence of the city and I’d love to be part of it.

"The ultimate goal is to be creating a range of products which can help improve educational access across the world. We’ve created a movement in which publishers have been willing to donate their resources for free to support access to education around the world.

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“Exposure to education really does have the power to change lives.”