By: Richard Paul ThomasClass of: 2003 College: Trevelyan College Subject: Engineering; Geography & Geology Location: Cockermouth, UK
Your Durham inspiration
Why did you choose to study at Durham?
I initially came to Durham to study Engineering - I was looking for a course that provided a general first year to Engineering, without having to specialise immediately. As it happened, I completed my first year exams, and decided to change course to Geography and Geology, which were another of my favourite areas of study at school. Both Departments seemed very well run and professional in outlook.
I was impressed by Trevelyan College when I came for interview from Monmouth School in my sixth form. In fact, I fell in love with the place! I loved the daffodils, the distinctive architecture, and the friendliness of the porters. More importantly, I met the girl who became my girlfriend and later my wife, Rachel, on that first trip to Durham. I also met a group of friends who became my best friends throughout university and beyond.
I loved the town of Durham City, with its historic buildings, picturesque scenery, and small, friendly size. I didn't like how cold it was, I never really got used to that. But I could see plenty of opportunities for successful study and sports, and for having a great time.
What was it like to be a student at Durham?
At first, I was overwhelmed and intimidated by the cold weather, the difficulty of my Engineering course, the pace of student life, and how confident, clever and hardworking all my fellow students were. Unfortunately, I fell ill with glandular fever in my first term, and so fell behind in lectures. I seriously considered leaving Durham, but knew that I had to face up to growing up and moving away. I decided to throw myself full tilt into all opportunities in college life.
I joined Trevelyan’s JCR Committee, and subsequently served on the JCR Executive Committee as Services Officer. I oversaw all machines and equipment in college, reporting to the JCR, organising serving rotas, the House and Food Committee, lockers, tumble dryers, toasters, sandwich machines, pool tables, printers, etc. I played for Trevs football and rugby teams. I founded a rock band, Mint, and we organised brand new music events such as Trevs Unplugged. We played gigs all around the University and Durham City, and recorded an album - ‘Leaving It Late’ - at Crossgate Studios.
I enjoyed visiting Durham's restaurants and nightlife venues with my friends and girlfriend. We had some great nights out at Klute and Rixxys as well as the Planet of Sound and Paste nights at Dunelm House. We challenged ourselves sometimes to complete the Full Dun Cow bar crawl of all 13 college bars! We also visited Newcastle for shopping and the Jazz Club, South Shields beach, and a camping trip to Melrose.
I worked very hard at my Geography and Geology studies. I enjoyed participating in lectures, tutorials, and field trips to Durham’s coast, and to Gran Canaria, where I undertook a piece of ground-breaking research into the digital mapping of a dry valley. I enjoyed working with computers, and helped to develop the early Internet at Trevelyan College directing the cabling, and designing programs for academic use. My grades were very good until my final year, when my health issues came back to bite me, and I was forced to postpone my studies. Sadly I wasn’t able to complete my dissertation or my final year at Durham, but I did later complete a BSc in Marine Geography in Cardiff, with a dissertation on Marine Renewable (Tidal) Energy.
What are your fondest memories of your time here?
I have many!
Falling in love with my girlfriend (now wife), Rachel
Making loads of lifelong friends
Playing guitar, and singing in the rock band Mint, and at events such as Trevs Unplugged and Van Mildert Jam Night, which I helped to organise
Being on Trevs JCR Exec Committee as Services Officer
Playing sports for Trevs
Exploring Durham City and local area
Learning a lot about myself, other people, and the world around me
Being part of an uplifting, forward-thinking community
How has Durham inspired you to get to where you are today?
My Durham education provided me with a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience, which I use in unexpected ways all the time. It also gave me a lot of resilience and an open-minded, positive outlook on life.
I learnt a lot about the world around me, which has made me a more rounded person. I gained an identity and a voice which I used to make changes in the world. I learnt how to play the guitar! And literacy, numeracy, and computer skills too.
Durham provided me with lifelong friends and a life partner. I would not have been able to complete my degree at Cardiff without the foundation of my three years at Durham. Moving away to Durham enhanced and expanded my geographical awareness, particularly of the North of England which is where I now live. And I had fun!
What have you been up to since you left Durham?
I worked in several temporary jobs and volunteer positions in my twenties. From working as a crew member on the tall ship HM Endeavour and within a conservation charity. I also worked in Tesco, Bupa, Cardiff Council, the Office for National Statistics, a surveying company, a restaurant and various factories along the way.
My health continues to challenge me to this day and partly as a result, I have a wide array of interests and experiences. I took up cycling, completing a long-distance ride with my brother. I played rugby for my hometown team, Cowbridge RFC, in Welsh Division 4. I returned to university at Cardiff and completed my degree in Marine Geography. I continue to maintain my interests in Geography, Engineering, Economics, Physics, Urban Design, Music and Sport, reading widely and participating in discussion. I have travelled to Romania, Croatia, Poland, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Spain, Belgium and Canada. More recently, my travel has focused on the UK - Northumberland being our favourite destination.
Rachel and I married in 2007 and moved to Cockermouth, Cumberland in 2008. Thankfully we escaped damage in the major floods of 2009 and 2015.
I now make guitar music as Mint Biscuit Sounds, and produce online albums and CDs. I have had some recent critical acclaim too, which is encouraging!
Pass it on
What would be your top piece advice for current students?
Take good care of yourself throughout your time in Durham. Look after your physical and mental health as best you can. Your time at Durham is only the first three or four years of your adult life. You need to make sure that you come out of it, fit and ready to take on adulthood. Challenges never stop coming at you thick and fast in life, so be prepared for anything!