Behind the scenes in the lead up to Freshers’ Week

By Henry Clare QS-World-University-Rankings-600x400

Last Sunday, a new batch of students arrived to re-awaken a dormant Durham and kick off Freshers’ Week 2014.

Freshers’ Week always poses its challenges, and this year is certainly no different. For months JCR Presidents and Reps from across the University have been working hard to ensure that this year’s Freshers’ Week is the best yet.

Despite the playful rivalry between colleges, Freshers’ Week is a cause that unites them together. Azzy Armagan, former Social Secretary at Hatfield, believes that colleges adopt an “all for one and one for all policy” when organising the week, and this unity has meant that colleges have been able to coordinate bookings, in order to avoid the usual ‘rush’ to book the best venues.

Although Freshers’ Week is stereotypically associated with drinking, Azzy points out that in recent years students Freshers’ Reps have worked hard to ensure that events do not discriminate between drinkers and non-drinkers:

“The Senior Freshers’ Reps last year put a lot of time into branding Freshers’ Week differently, providing a myriad of ‘staying in options’ to balance the going out options, and these were well attended”.

The majority of colleges, including Hatfield themselves, have included alternative evening events in this years’ Freshers’ Week schedule. This has also been the case at St Chad’s as their Senior Man, Philip Whitehead, points out:

“Our favourite events are actually ones where everyone’s all together having fun and no-one’s making distinctions between drinkers and non-drinkers. There will be alcohol available, but they’re not ‘alcohol centred events’.

“Our traditional Tuesday night ceilidh for example, is always really popular. Greyhound racing might be sold as a ‘pie, pint and peas’, but no-one notices whether it’s a pint of coke or a pint of bitter you’re drinking”.

As well as ensuring that every student feels included, Freshers’ Reps have also worked hard to ensure that the week passes as seamlessly as possible for local residents.

As Palatinate reported in June, a number of Durham’s local residents expressed their frustrations at disruptive student behaviour during a public meeting chaired by Roberta Blackman-Woods, Durham City MP.

Although there is no expectation of disruption during Freshers’ Week, Laura Carter, Community Officer at the Durham Students Union, has said that the University will work hard to improve communication between students and residents this year, starting this week:

“Working to improve relations between residents and students is a key priority for Durham Students’ Union.

“We also work closely with individual colleges via their welfare officers, who actively promote sensible drinking. To develop this further this year, we’re currently in discussions with Durham County Council’s Public Health about some awareness raising campaigns around this topic.

“We highlight the good work carried out by students in the local community. This varies from our fantastic our fundraising efforts via DUCK (Durham University Charities Committee), through to student volunteering via Student Community Action”.

Furthermore, Philip notes the hard work that the Student’s Union has done to minimalise disruption to residents during Freshers’ Week:

“People from the Student’s Union, Police and residents’ groups have been working hard to tackle the problems experienced in the past.

“Head Freps were asked to provide information on walking routes into town, Frep stash and student numbers. I’m hopeful this will improve communication between the University and local residents”.

In spite of the positive changes to the Freshers’ Week schedule, there are still concerns over the University’s policy of forcing college bars to close before 11 in the evening, which, according to a number of Freshers’ Reps, could encourage freshers to go out unsupervised.

However, Azzy believes that it is inevitable that students will go out unattended, regardless of bar closure times:

“In an ideal world, the bar hours can be extended to midnight, maybe even 2am, and the freshers will stay put and enjoy themselves in the safety of the knowledge that they’re in a place where Freshers Reps are close at hand for help.

“But, realistically speaking, students don’t go out because the bars close at 11pm – they go out because they’re new to town, want to explore, want a change of scene, want a club setting as opposed to a bar setting, and so on.

“I don’t think that by closing bars later will yield nearly as successful a result as people think it will”.

As well as having night-time activities to consider, organizers have also had to grabble with organising day-time events.

In 2012, the University increased the focus on academic commitments during Freshers Week by allocating time during the day for students to be properly inducted into their respective departments.

Rupert Maspero, Head Freshers’ Rep at Josephine Butler, believes that although departmental talks can make the organisation process all the more difficult, they do provide a much needed opportunity for Freshers’ Reps to take a break.

“It [the departmental talks] makes it difficult to do anything during the day, since you don’t know how many freshers are ever going to be about at one time.

“However, it also means we aren’t trying to entertain freshers all day, everyday, which is a good break for Freps!”

Despite the hard work that is required to organise of Freshers’ Week, Rupert is hopeful that this year’s instalment will be even better than the last, and was quick to praise staff across the university for their involvement:

“I have found that college staff are crucial. Without individual college staff and their understanding of how unique each college is, Freshers’ Week just wouldn’t be the same”.

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