Students challenge Students’ Union over river safety

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After the deaths of two students last year and an assault on a Durham student in the past month, students are speaking out about the lack of river safety in Durham.

The area of biggest concern is between Klute and the College of St Hild and St Bede, where the path is poorly lit and the river exposed with no railings or barriers.

At the Durham Students’ Union Assembly on Wednesday 29th October, students raised the issue of river safety as a matter of concern.

Dan Slavin, the Student Union President, was questioned on the matter at the meeting, as neither river safety nor alcohol awareness were points on his action plan for the year.

When questioned, Slavin said that he had been working with the University and the emergency services, and that the safety of students was of “paramount importance.”

He also said that the possibility of putting up fencing down by the river would not be feasible as the stretch is owned by various different parties, namely the University, the Council, and the Cathedral.

Additionally, bouncers in Durham nightclubs will be receiving ‘vulnerability training’ in the coming months.

Calls for better river safety have grown since Durham students Sope Peters and Luke Pearce were both last seen around the stretch of river between Old Elvet Bridge and Hild Bede last year before their bodies were later recovered from the river near the area.

Palatinate spoke to a student who attended the meeting: “Dan’s attitude was that it was the individual’s responsibility not to get themselves in that condition,” while another said that the Union was only looking at “campaigns” rather than “practical things.”

Another student in attendance felt that “very little had been mentioned about the twin issues of riverside safety and alcohol awareness,” and believed that they should be addressed as a pair.

“If we can’t change something like [this] then the student body is truly useless”

According to a student who spoke to Slavin, he also allegedly said that this “wasn’t an issue in Stockton.”

The chairman of the Assembly meeting reportedly shut down the discussion because it wasn’t focused on the points in the action plan.

Slavin could not be reached for comment.

Alleged reports that a CCTV camera on Bath’s Bridge has not been switched on by the Council as an attempt to save money, provoked a response from one student who told Palatinate “if we can’t change something like that then the student body is truly useless.”

Students seemed to agree that the whole path along the river does not need to be changed, only certain sections where there have been previous incidents.

Palatinate spoke to a member of the Health and Safety division at Durham County Council about the issue of river safety in Durham City. They told Palatinate that “water safety in Durham City is a matter of concern”, describing it as a “hotspot” which is on their “agenda.”

The Council commented on the problems with erecting railings on the riverbank, saying that the “length of the riverbanks in England [is] huge,” and that they “can’t fence them all.” However, they noted that “there are areas where there is an increased risk,” highlighted by the recent incidents near Hild Bede.

They confirmed that the “issues are under review.”

The Council also said that “alcohol has a big part to play as well,” and that there is a “massive issue around education.”

Professor Graham Towl, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Warden at Durham University told Palatinate:

“The recent tragic incidents have reinforced our drive to communicate clearly with students regarding their safety and wellbeing.”

“The recent tragic incidents have reinforced our drive to communicate clearly with students regarding their safety and wellbeing.  We are doing this in partnership with Durham Constabulary, Durham County Council, and Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service.

“During Induction Week, we arranged for representatives from Durham Constabulary to give presentations to our students on the dangers of alcohol, providing advice on how many units are in different types of drinks and guidance on safe drinking.

“They also advised students about staying safe on nights out.  The Freshers’ Representatives and Welfare Officers reiterated these key messages throughout the week. The Police have a robust plan in place to help ensure safety which complements the activities we run.

“The excellent Students’ Union and our Colleges run sensible drinking campaigns and raise awareness about student safety around the city.  Safety messages have been reinforced by the Colleges following recent events.”

Last year, York University lost two students to drowning. This month York City Council is launching a £100,000 river safety campaign, which will involve replacing life rings and installing fencing alongside the River Ouse and River Foss.

There will also be a student-funded campaign where students will be paid to patrol the riverbanks at times when there are likely to be students leaving from local nightclubs and making their way home.

Slavin told the Assembly that night wardens are “not appropriate” in Durham.  The  Student Union Executive Committee expressed concern as to what would happen if someone was hurt or killed while a student was on duty.

One student at the meeting argued that, while a perfect solution may not be available, surely a safer one could be found. The student later told Palatinate that they weren’t sure if the committee “didn’t hear or didn’t listen.”


2 thoughts on “Students challenge Students’ Union over river safety

  • I tweeted Roberta Blackman-Woods about river safety. She just ignored it and went on tweeting about how bad the Tories are. I have never seen a public statement by her about it.

  • Dear Sir/Madam,

    I am part of a group of North East young people who are representing NCS (National Citizen Service) Catch 22 as a part of Cohort 3.

    We are really passionate about River Safety and have been working towards making a difference in the measures in place for rivers. We have successfully created an awareness video about River Safety which include the dangers, current safety measures and some statistics. We have taken inspiration from the Durham University students that have took it upon themselves to marshal the riverside in light of the Durham Chief Constable saying “it is ludicrous for officers to be put on riverbanks to stop bright young things falling in.” They want to ensure there is guidance in place for any people they believe to be in danger.

    Would it be possible for you to share our video to increase awareness nationally but most particularly in our region. Our safety video has already had over 1500 hits on our Facebook page in two days and we’d like continue to build the momentum.

    Our video:
    Facebook – RSA – River Safety Alliance

    For another part of out project we will be at Newcastle Quayside this Saturday handing out leaflets and showing our video to further raise awareness of our campaign.

    Best Wishes,
    National Citizen Service: River Safety Alliance


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