Union Society offers vulnerable adults a ‘second chance’

By

Deputy News Editor

Student mentors from the Durham Union Society help recovering addicts and young adults at risk of homelessness master the art of debating in the ‘Changing Lives Project’, formerly known as ‘The Second Chance Scheme’.

The program saw students collaborate with local charities Free the Way and DASH

The program, now in its eleventh year, saw students collaborate with local charities Free the Way and DASH to support the development of those battling drug addiction, domestic violence and mental disorders.

Proving that formal debating is far from archaic, volunteers of this year’s scheme agree that debating can offer transferable communication and confidence skills to those experiencing a lull in their career.

Alice Lassman, a volunteer from the project said: “Formal Westminster debating may not be too useful in itself if you’re not competing, but debating is a composite skill.

“It helps you to form and follow a cohesive argument and to channel your feelings into words”. But it was the change in confidence that coordinator of the scheme, and Durham Union Treasurer, Sarina Rivlin-Sanders, saw the most progress.

Individuals initially shy and reluctant soon gained a “willingness to speak”, as they argued “their own point eloquently and persuasively” in front of a large audience in the final debate.

Individuals initially shy and reluctant soon gained a ‘willingness to speak’

Changing the lives of both participant and student, the 2018 volunteers share an appreciation for the opportunity to “sit down and learn” from the adults they have since built lasting relationships with.

Lassman learned that one of the participants found “enough confidence in themselves to move away to a new job” encouraged, like the many other participants applying to university foundation courses at Durham and beyond, by a newfound intellectual curiosity.

Weekly contests culminated in one last debate within the Union’s chambers, entitled ‘This House Believes that the World would be a Safer Place without Nuclear Weapons’ and was won by the opposition, after which certificates and celebrations were shared.

The scheme is set to run once more in Michaelmas term of 2019

Continuing to celebrate student-community relations, the scheme is set to run once more in Michaelmas term of 2019. Students should look out for an email from the Director of Debating in Easter term if they wish to get involved.

Photograph via Durham University

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