Good neighbours: a city bursting at the seams?

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About two weeks ago, a man posted on the Facebook page, ‘Overheard’ about an incident in the early hours of the morning. The man, a local, was incensed at the fact that students had allegedly decided to urinate in a flowerbed in someone’s front garden on his road. Taking it as a source of amusement, several students jokingly tagged their mates, which earned replies about whether this was behaviour they were proud to represent, or what their parents would think. 

Eventually, others posted to say that the man had been messaging them privately and harassing them over these comments, and the original post was taken down. And so, another voice raging against the conflict brewing at the heart of this city was quietened, and another step towards a grim future for Durham was taken. 

In the Durham Student Pledge, which I doubt 5% of students care about, or even remember being told about in first year (I didn’t), a phrase appears encouraging students to “be a good and considerate neighbour while living in College or within the wider Durham community”. But this is Britain, and most of us follow a pattern with our neighbours: greet them when they move in, and then do everything in your power to make them forget you exist. 

Durham…simply wasn’t created for the numbers it might host in the future

Now imagine, what if six people moved into a flat next to yours, with the expressed intent of living it large, forcing all local services to cater for them by sheer weight of numbers and then leaving, so more can come and do the exact same? 

Of course, reality’s a little different — it might in fact be seven new people. By 2026/27, the University plans to increase student numbers to 21,500. However, the University also plans to increase its revenue to £500 million – which is about ten times what their last released financial review showed them raking in. Given that 59.4% of income in 2020 was tuition fees and education contracts, there’s two options for those at the top of the University hierarchy: try and convince the Government that their services are totally worth £55,500 a year, or round that student number up to a cool 126,000. 

Durham is an astonishingly gorgeous city, and one that simply wasn’t created for the numbers it might host in the future. 

In a question of competition, modern greed bringing us back to our primordial roots, it is the young who win out in the end; as made clear by the approved demolition of the Apollo Bingo Hall in Gilesgate for more bland, featureless, but lucrative private student accommodation. The hall is close to where I live; it’s surrounded by residential properties and local businesses. Among the concerns raised by the Gilesgate Residents’ Association are that local jobs will be lost and that the natural activities and body clocks of the two dichotomic groups will cause conflict and stress. Less than fifty metres down the road, there’s a patch of empty land slowly collecting refuse and discarded trolleys. This land will not be used.

Students aren’t thriving at the expense of locals

It’s difficult to say that even this is for student benefit, as this housing will probably be overpriced and split into unsociable studio apartments. People living there will be distant from the social life of the city, and the University campus. Students aren’t thriving at the expense of locals – both groups are eking out a poisoned, miserable existence, put into conflict by a shareholder that genuinely doesn’t care.

Why would it matter to the University if you’re having to commute in from Newcastle for future education? They’ve got your money anyway. The University co-opts the name of the city, but it lost its connection to the place a long time ago; and much like with the clubs in the European Super League, if it could plonk itself elsewhere for that £500 million, it would without a second thought.

What students cannot do is fix the issue, at least directly. What students can do is be better neighbours – integrate themselves into the community, at least a little. We’re going to have to live with each other, and as any good left-wing theorist will tell you, you might find that you’ve got more in common with your neighbour than your landlord – and maybe, even, your University.

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