By Max Kendix
To mark South College unveiling their crest and motto, Palatinate speaks to long-serving journalist and academic Professor Tim Luckhurst about the college’s development and some of the challenges it faces.
“Libertas, aequalitas, civitas totius Mundi”. The words, meaning “freedom, equality and global citizenship”, will welcome the first students of Durham’s seventeenth college this October, as will a brand new crest designed by staff in collaboration with the new student pioneers. In the words of Tim Luckhurst, South’s first Principal, the college will “combine the best of the university’s traditions with all the advantages of modernity”.
Professor Luckhurst believes the role is perfect for him. Having been one of the first undergraduates when Robinson College, Cambridge was first founded, he has thrived in creating novelty. “The legacy of Robinson was that I always wanted to be involved in doing new things, because I think that the team spirit and the sense of opportunity which emerges when you can design something from the very beginning is truly unique. So, at the BBC I was one of the launch editors at 5 Live, a brand-new national radio station, having started my career on the Today Programme and then worked abroad; that was a great moment. I launched new services when I was Head of News at BBC Scotland, I launched new sections when I was editing the New Scotsman, and then at Kent I launched an entirely new academic school as Head of the Centre for Journalism.
“I love the opportunity of creating the team to launch something new, working with people in a very collaborative way to give it a distinct identity, and to use that new identity to offer opportunity, and South College just looked to be the perfect opportunity to create something I love, a fantastic new institution in a proud ancient university.”
Developing the college
Any new project is a daunting task, and Luckhurst’s ambition to “make South a full and distinctive member of Durham’s fantastic family of colleges” is a grand one. South recruited a group of ‘pioneer scholars’ to help establish the college’s JCR, something which he says has been hugely successful. He assures me that “that the scholars haven’t come to join South because they don’t like their own colleges, they’ve come because they love Durham. They think that colleges are an absolutely crucial part of the Durham experience, and they want to ensure that South is as excellent as it possibly can be.
“They are a really inspiring group of young people representing the complete range of diversity at Durham with a wonderful range of ideas and complete dedication. I have had more help from the South College scholars than I could possibly have asked for, they have been tremendous.” So, although “working with the scholars has been my first challenge”, he maintains “its been an absolute delight”.
“The modernity and the sheer comfort of the facilities at South does make it really quite easy to look after people effectively”Tim Luckhurst, Principal of South College, Durham
The other challenge was to “witness how other Principals do things, learn from how they do things, but still do a few things my own way. The sense of support from everyone from the Vice-Chancellor down has been tremendous; the fellow college principals at the Bailey and hill colleges could not be a more interesting, inspiring and supportive bunch.”
A Latin motto
The new self-catered college will strive to “attract more students to the university from state schools in the North East of England”, and Professor Luckhurst said that “I will do everything I possibly can to enhance that social mix”. Some might argue that a Latin motto is out of place for a college so committed to social inclusion, but Professor Luckhurst explains the process of choosing it.
“I think that regarding tradition as being in some way challenging or elitist would be wrong. I’m very determined that we should be inclusive. This is a decision of our scholars as well as of staff. They wanted a Latin motto because they see it as being part of the Durham tradition, as being part of the tradition of a great world-class university, and because they see it as being aspirational.” The Principal does stress, though, that the motto had been approved by the university in both languages, and so “if in future, when we have a larger student community, people would prefer to use it in English, that’s absolutely fine”.
The college motto is the Latin “Libertas, aequalitas, civitas totius Mundi”, which means “freedom, equality and global citizenship” in English. The crest, in purple, features an owl, which will become the college’s mascot.
Durham’s students rally round their colleges, and the name is always a crucial part to that. It’s what sets a certain sense of pride – Castle, St Cuthbert’s, Collingwood. So the name ‘South’, an accurate but rather unimaginative addition to the collection, seems rather underwhelming for a new college. Indeed, when Palatinate staged an April Fools’ joke announcing that the college would be called ‘Vine College’ after broadcaster Jeremy Vine, many students were left confused why this was seen as funny. It isn’t unreasonable to name a college after a famous alumnus, after all. But Luckhurst defended the logic behind ‘South’.
“I should stress that Jeremy Vine is a friend of mine, we were colleagues at the BBC, Jeremy is very open to that kind of joke and he’s a great journalist and dedicated loyal supporter of Durham University. It was a very good April Fool’s joke.”
The reason it has stayed as South, then, is to attract a large donation in return for a name change. “If somebody wishes to make a substantial donation to the college and rename it, or to the University in return for naming rights, that would be great, but that’s a decision that’s been taken, that was taken before I came.”
If you were to choose a time to bring hundreds of freshers into a completely new college aiming to bring about a distinct identity, an ongoing global pandemic would not be top of your list. Luckhurst is confident, however, that South will be ready, and that more widely – virus or no virus – the new facilities at the Mount Oswald site are some of the best Durham has to offer.
“We take possession of the buildings themselves on the 1st September, and we move in then – and when I say ‘we’, I mean me and my administrative team, the porters, the reception staff, and the pioneer scholars. If we are operating under social distancing rules, that period of preparation will be used very diligently to ensure that we can operate effectively under social distancing rules.”
In a hint at what Michaelmas may look like for all of us, the Principal added “Our rooms are built in such a way that it would be possible to create households – communities of people, groups of eight or so, could genuinely work together as a bubble. But that’s something that’s being considered throughout the university. We really do have some advantages, and we will make full use of them. The modernity and the sheer comfort of the facilities at South does make it really quite easy to look after people effectively”.
Working with the city
It’s no secret that, though Durham University is valued locally as a source of employment and prestige, and its expansion over the last few decades has in some ways widened the rift between students and locals.
The new Principal maintains that the University and city should work and are working together, and that South is no exception. “The city is our partner, not our opponent, and I’ve already conducted several open meetings with the local residents near Mount Oswald, who’ve been really good and engaged and happy to talk to us. In the Hub, there are specific allocations of time for the local community to use the facilities, and the same in our outside multi-use games area, which is very high-quality too. So this is about partnership, and certainly not about antagonism.”
“The whole college is designed with space at a premium and with communal space built into the design”
Professor Luckhurst explains that “South is part of the solution, not part of the problem. South is part of the solution because it offers students the opportunity to live in very comfortable accommodation in communal groups and expand the university’s offer of university-owned accommodation in wonderful college settings, it reduces the pressure on private housing in Durham. So in that sense, it’s a direct attempt to address the challenge of housing in the city and I think it’s a very successful investment.”
How exactly this solution will manifest itself, when two-thirds of the fully realised college community will still presumably depend on private accommodation, and when there has been no indication of more university-owned accommodation for non-freshers to balance out the increase in students, is unclear.
“South has been built as a college. The accommodation is not simple rooms for students to live in.” The central Pitcairn building holds host to a fifty-seater library and study space, which will house some core textbooks for students. What’s more, “there are genuine communal facilities at South. There is a wonderful terrace, we have a bar and a café which adjoins the JCR. It’s fully equipped with musical and audio-visual equipment, so you can show films, play music, have dances in that space. We have an active MCR and SCR with accommodation upstairs. And that’s just the dedicated South College shared facilities.
“Then we’ve got the Hub, which we do share with John Snow, but in which we’ve got the largest college gym in Durham, the dedicated South College music room, a shared larger music room, a drama rehearsal studio, an exercise studio, and a dance floor. South is going to be having weekly formals in the Hub. It hosts 300 seats when using it to dine, 500 places if you’re using it as a theatre or music venue. And I should stress that the Hub is about the best equipped theatre and music venue in Durham. It has got its own green room and fantastic audio-visual installation. It’s an incredible place to perform.
“All bedrooms in the college have three-quarter sized beds. There are large landings in the townhouses, landings on which there is more than enough room for people to sit on a chair and work if they don’t want to work in their own rooms. The whole college is designed with space at a premium and with communal space built into design.”
As if that wasn’t enough, “we’ve got very generous grounds too. I know the weather isn’t always great, but we’ve got a lake which will rival Van Mildert’s, with a walkway all the way round it and very nice lawns as well. So, plenty of opportunities for students to study outside their rooms and very large rooms to study in as well.”
With these vast facilities, South might become a top choice for prospective students. The newest addition to Durham’s community of colleges launches at a critical time for universities. Professor Luckhurst hopes that his innovative drive, and the support of the university, pioneers and first freshers, will make South a staple of the Durham experience for many students in the years ahead.
Images: Durham University