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Experience Durham

About Experience Durham

As Durham University aspires to expand its ‘global reach’ and establish itself as one of the leading institutions in the world, Experience Durham (sport, music, drama and volunteering) plays an important role in further developing Durham’s identity and enhancing the Durham brand – the Durham Difference does truly exist and the opportunities provided by Experience Durham are part of that difference.

The University strategy recognises that we are operating within an ‘ever increasing competitive market where there is greater competition for students, staff and resources’. It is therefore clear that ‘excellence in research and education, across all areas of activity’ is crucial to the university’s on-going success. A unique student experience, where there are ‘exceptional opportunities for personal growth and development’ is part of that education process and through our student performance, participation and volunteer programmes Experience Durham can provide genuinely exceptional opportunities. Indeed, the fusion of an outstanding academic offer with a superb extra extra-curricular experience helps to give Durham its unique character and a competitive advantage over other academically focused institutions. Ultimately we must strive to establish Durham as the British University where students can combine academic and extra-curricular excellence.

Our pursuit of excellence in performance sport, music, drama and volunteering is underpinned by our belief in its educational value for our students. These key areas teach life lessons in self-reliance, accountability, diligence and self-confidence, all of which are required for success in later life. Our high performance programmes attract a very special kind of student to Durham. To achieve as a student performer requires dedication, discipline, leadership, integrity and passion. These features are not just brought to the pitch, the stage or the concert hall but are key attributes that employers are so keen to see.

Furthermore, Experience Durham’s plays a significant role in enhancing the reputation of the University through its outward facing engagement with international students, with parents and alumni and within the local community. Its targeted recruitment of high quality international students from both the United States and Europe significantly increases the profile of the University on the world stage. Our sophisticated and regular communication with parents and alumni engages this key group in the day to day life of the University ensuring powerful advocates for the University brand with the short and long term potential of increased funding support. Finally, through the work of Experience Durham staff and students alike are able to engage with the local community both adding value to the lives of others whilst developing their own understanding of the community they live and work in.

The last five years have seen an exponential rise in our fortunes in performance sport. At student sport level we have had the most successful phase in our history. Overall success has gone hand in hand with National Championship titles and as we strive to sustain our position within the top three places of the British Universities and Colleges Sport League Table, we now expect to compete for national honours across 20 competitions.

Our pursuit of high levels of sporting participation and physical activity is underpinned by our desire to play a pivotal role in the health and well-being of our students and staff. As the makeup of the student and staff population becomes increasingly diverse we have ensured that our ‘offer’ has become equally varied with a greater emphasis on recreational activities, fitness programmes and opportunities that are sensitive to diverse religious, cultural and gender perspectives. Participation is underpinned by our College Sport programme which ensures that over 6,000 of our students are active, working together and enjoying themselves. This structure also provides outstanding opportunities for students to develop skill sets in leadership, administration, communication and organisation, all skills that transcend sporting boundaries and are of benefit for the remainder of their lives. College Sport also plays an important role in defining the culture of Durham and is particularly important in helping to foster college identity and community spirit.

Music at Durham is thriving, with nearly one hundred ensembles across the university, the vast majority of these being student-run, allowing a large number of students to get involved. These cover a wide breadth of ability standards, with both competitively auditioned and open groups. Twenty-five university-level ensembles, comprising large orchestras and choirs, to smaller groups (such as Chamber Choir and Recorder Group), in addition to world music societies (Gamelan , African Singing and Drumming and Korean Drumming) and a contemporary music ensemble allow opportunities for performance in many varied areas.

Durham’s strong choral tradition is exemplified by eight chapel choirs, who together lead approximately ninety services per term. Six of these groups allow students to learn the skills of music directorship and conducting, with the additional two being run by professional directors, who can impart cathedral-level training. Moreover, our university’s collegiate system gives musicians further possibilities for performance, with around sixty college-based ensembles. From orchestras to big bands, choirs to flute choirs, jazz bands to rock bands, there is something to cater for everyone’s taste. All of this is in addition to any ensembles that the students wish to start themselves!

In drama Durham has 27 theatre companies producing around 65 productions every year. In the last year alone we have seen 9 shows make highly successful transitions to the Edinburgh fringe and several more go on tour both nationally and internationally. Durham’s annual drama festival is growing every year – this February will see performances of 10 brand new pieces of student writing, most of which have been entered for the national student drama festival, as well as workshops run by highly respected industry professionals. Last year saw our first ever Durham festival of the arts that took place immediately after the exam period in June. Through our Vice Chancellor’s scholarships in the arts and our extensive outreach and community programmes, we aim to promote Durham as one of the premiere Universities in the country for student theatre.

Student volunteering lies at the heart of the Student Experience at Durham University. Students volunteer through Student Community Action, Colleges and Sport running nearly 80 student led community projects involving the environment, children and families in need, adults with substance misuse issues, those on probation, animals and gifted and talented young people. Experience Durham enables students to have ownership of the whole process from establishing community need and partners to funding, training and delivery of projects, giving them a chance to develop many different skills whilst at university. The students recognize the importance of trying to address areas of community need, working with some of the regions most vulnerable and challenging young people. This year two new projects have been established that help to meet this need. CATSS Secondary, a residential camp and day trips for young people refereed from Social Services and identified as being at risk, and Wheatley Hill Youth Club, a particular deprived area where some children as young as 5 are wandering the streets after school on their own. Volunteering at Durham continues to grow and has established itself as one of the leading University volunteering programmes.

The University’s Staff Volunteering & Outreach (SVO) programme, part of Experience Durham since 2010, has become one of the pre-eminent Employer Supported Volunteering programmes in the UK. Uniquely allowing staff to volunteer for up to 5 days per annum in work time, the programme runs 30-40 team days annually, working with 20-30 community partners. To date, over 20% of staff have volunteered through the programme, contributing thousands of hours to local community groups annually. Increasingly acknowledged as leaders in the field, the SVO team also facilitate volunteering days for key external partners such as the NHS.

Furthermore, the team provide information for staff seeking to develop their professional volunteering skills via School Governors, Trustees and Business Ambassadors. Volunteering is now embedded within the University and is increasingly being integrated into core activities. For example the HR team have now integrated volunteering days into their Institute for Leadership and Management programmes and there are plans to integrate volunteering into the Annual Staff Review process.

The 2013 Student Experience Survey conducted in Durham, in respect of opportunities to participate for undergraduates, placed sport as number one, volunteering number three and music and drama as number four. In sport our ranking in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 British University & Colleges Sport League Table was 2nd and this year we were recognised as the Times and Sunday Times Sports University of the Year for 2015. The Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey released in 2013 evidenced Durham’s highest mark as ‘Extra Curricular Activities’ with Durham ranked 4th nationally for this category. In 2015 the Times and Sunday Times league table placed Extracurricular Activities at Durham as number 1. Both our staff and student volunteering have national recognition through the ‘Investors in Volunteering for Employers’ quality standard award.

Peter Warburton
Dean of Experience Durham