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Durham University

University and City: Growing together

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A good start, more work to do...

(5 September 2019)

Professor Stuart Corbridge, our Vice-Chancellor, reflects on the first year of our Community Engagement Task Force. 

It’s now a year since we joined with partners and neighbours to form a Community Engagement Task Force. The Task Force embodies a new way to help us work together so that the benefits of growing the University are felt right across the City and region.

I want to update readers on the work done in the past year and share some of our plans for the year ahead.

Five themes

Early on, five sub-groups were formed to reflect the themes that emerged from comments and suggestions we received from the local community during early 2018.

These are:

  • Economic: covering business, commerce, innovation, enterprise, procurement and careers and employability;
  • Cultural: including the arts, heritage, music, theatre and tourism;
  • Citizenship: covering volunteering and outreach, neighbourliness, behaviour and personal safety;
  • Lived Environment: including accommodation, estates and buildings, University infrastructure and local services; and
  • Durham for All: covering open access to our facilities, colleges, activities and knowledge, as well as communications and marketing.

Each sub-group has University and non-University members and each has been busy developing its own programme of work.

It is not possible to detail all the work of the sub-groups here. I will, though, mention that the Durham for All sub-group focused recently on planning our first Community Fun Day. This was held in June and was a great success. Over 1,000 people visited the marquee on Palace Green to sample some of the huge variety of inspiring activities that our staff, students and partners run with and for our local communities.

I’m pleased that we’ve been able to broaden the membership of the Task Force, so that more partners and local voices are now included. I would like to thank everyone who has been involved for their time and effort.

Looking ahead...

At its most recent meeting, the Task Force had an honest and open discussion of the year gone by. We were never going to address every concern in the first 12 months, but some good progress has been made: particularly in building the foundations of what I hope will be lasting, positive relationships. It was very encouraging that all sub-groups felt the Task Force was worthwhile and wanted to continue beyond their initial one-year remit. We are very happy for the good work to continue and look forward to sharing more progress in future.

A Student Pledge

One initiative discussed by the Task Force this year that will begin when our undergraduates arrive for the new academic year in late September is our Student Pledge. This asks all our students for a straightforward, personal commitment to the values that underpin life and study here. It includes promises to themselves, others, and their educational experience. You can read it here

We see the Pledge as vital to supporting a climate of fairness, cooperation and respectful behaviour within the University, our Colleges, and the wider community.

Of course, it is vital to the success of such a Pledge that students are firstly aware of it and secondly support it. That’s why I’m pleased that our Pledge was developed with input from Durham Students’ Union and student leaders. New students will be introduced to the Pledge during talks and events in Induction Week (September 28-October 6). We will also be contacting returning students who are living in private rented accommodation in the City.

It’s also vital that there are consequences to actions that fall short of the standards we expect. That is why the Student Pledge is complemented by a new University Non-Academic Misconduct procedure.

The Pledge and the Task Force are just two examples of how highly we value positive relations with our neighbours. Others include our appointment of a Community Liaison Officer and the financial contributions we make to the work of Durham Constabulary and the Neighbourhood Warden Service operated by Durham County Council. I do believe these initiatives are making a difference, as can be seen in the lower number of Community Protection Notice Warnings that the police issued to student houses last year.

We see 2019/20 as a pilot year for the Student Pledge. I am sure some things will go well, and there will be other areas we will want to improve on. As always, if you have comments or suggestions, please email our Student Wellbeing and Community Engagement Office: community.swceoffice@durham.ac.uk.

This article was initially published in the Durham Advertiser.