A forum on river safety took place at Collingwood College on Monday 16th February, which was led by JCR President, Jake Hooker, and showed students that the council is taking action.
After reviewing the measures announced this month by the Durham City Safety Group, Hooker stressed: “There’s never been a stick-your-fingers-in-your-ears policy. Everyone is listening.”
Of much concern to students is the matter of barriers alongside the river.
Palatinate was told that barriers have been erected over the last two years in high-risk areas.
Since the start of the academic year, JCR Presidents have been investigating student safety on nights out. This has taken place under the guidance of Durham Students’ Union.
At the forum, Hooker told students: “Opinions have been formulated much more quickly, and I don’t know if this is a good thing.”
Although some students have called for improved riverside safety measures, the City Safety Group meeting of 27th January had actually been planned for three months.
A participant in the forum supported the measures that have been announced, but condemned the “awful rhetoric” of the police and the “way they publicise the laws.”
Hooker agreed that the police have “a lack of experience communicating with the student body”, but their intentions were pro-student and pro-safety.
“Everyone recognises that alcohol is a problem. But what has not been done well is how to have that conversation.”
The council and police have been liaising with licensed premises, such as nightclubs, to tackle the availability of cheap alcohol.
Professor Joe Elliot, Principal of Collingwood College, confirmed that he was “pushing to have the bar’s hours extended to keep students in college.”
Hooker updated students on the Nightbus, which he said is already running again as “many of the problems in Durham are to do with people walking home alone…not just river safety issues.”
Following on from this, he praised the night volunteer scheme, which is now being run by Student Community Action (SCA), and whose equipment has been fully funded by the council.
On the matter of education, Hooker told the participants of the forum that the Students’ Union tried to encourage students to plan their night out, but this failed, calling it an “overlooked scheme.”
By May, local authorities will be funding a ‘social norms’ campaign, to “consolidate people’s thinking”, which is set to cost £50,000.
The police have recently been criticised for announcing their enforcement of a law, which will fine students who are too drunk to walk home.
However, Hooker told Palatinate that this has been in place since 1872, and is the official law that affects all public places.
After initial confusion over what the law entails, Durham Constabulary released a statement with additional details.
“Any person who is found to be drunk and incapable (i.e. unable to get themselves home safely, people who are unable to stand unaided etc) could be arrested or be given a £60 fine for the offence, once sober.
“This is a recordable offence and could show up on any in-depth CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) check.
“Durham is a DPPO (Designated Public Place Order), anyone consuming alcohol in public within the boundaries of the DPPO commits an offence if they do not comply with a request from a police officer or PCSO (Police Community Support Officer) to stop drinking.
“All this applies of course to anyone in the city, not just students, and there is no intention to deal with students differently to non-students.”
Charles Bodenham, a second-year at Collingwood, expressed his strong disapproval for these measures in an email addressed to Professor Joe Elliot, Collingwood’s Principal.
“It shouldn’t need pointing out that merely using the ‘stick’ to curb the public displays of intoxication is a naïve and disgraceful misuse of power,” Bodenham said in the email.
“I for one am shocked that the implications of these policies could have been so incompetently overlooked.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if more students now opt for the river path on their way home, in the fear that they risk being fined, and jeopardising their future employability, should they come across a police officer in the safer, well-lit areas of the city.”
When asked what he believes would be the most effective way of preventing further accidents, Bodenham said the City Safety Group should look to “remove dangerous areas of the city, such as the unlit and unguarded river path” and implement “lighting and a sturdy fence.”
Some students, however, have supported these new measures, and have defended the police against the wave of criticism they have had.
George Evans, a second-year at Castle, disagreed with Bodenham’s email to Joe Elliot, and praised the police for finally taking action.
“The police were put under pressure to do something, and when they did they were criticised even more.
“I think it’s reasonable to pay a fine if a policeman has had to carry you home, but maybe a criminal record is too much.
“How many people do we know that have actually been too drunk to walk home? These new measures are symbolic of the council and police’s attempts to make the city safer, and we should be glad that our calls are finally being heard.”
When asked what he thought would be the most effective way of preventing further accidents, Evans shared similar views to Bodenham.
“While the prospect of fines should have an impact on the most extreme elements of our drinking culture, ultimately, something must be done about the river.
“You have to ask yourself whether Sope, Luke, or Euan, would have been deemed ‘too drunk to get home’, or would have even caught the attention of a student volunteer. If not, they would have still walked alongside the river.
“Lighting and railings alongside the more dangerous parts of the river are crucial if we want to make Durham safer.”
Photograph: Wikipedia Commons