Back in November, I was delighted to be able to represent Durham students in my role as Durham SU President at the first International Town & Gown Network Conference at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. I attended the conference with Durham University’s Director of Student Support and Wellbeing, Sam Dale, to ensure Durham students were well represented, both by the University and the Students’ Union.
One of my main priorities for the year is to develop Durham SU’s community engagement strategy, so this was a fantastic opportunity to hear from other universities about their ongoing work in this area. We were able to share the successes we enjoy and the challenges that we are facing in Durham.
International student community
The Conference was attended by student and staff representatives from 13 institutions, covering the UK, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Canada, the United States and South Africa. With such a diverse range of Universities in attendance, it was fascinating to hear about the different contexts in which they operate and the varying challenges that they are presented with when seeking a more positive relationship with their local community.
A range of similar issues
Over the three days of the conference we attended a number of sessions which addressed different aspects of community engagement. We heard case studies from different institutions and discussed student engagement with local business, also the role of sport in town and gown relations. In particular we shared ideas and experiences of integrating international students into the local community, and student communities in the town and gown context. I was pleased to be able to present alongside Sam Dale, on engagement with Durham’s immediate community, giving a student perspective on the existing work of the University and Students’ Union, as well as the challenges that lie ahead.
I was particularly interested in how student communities at different institutions engage with their local resident communities. For example, how students at Lund University in Sweden have built strong relationships with local representatives, setting up formal structures to discuss common concerns and setting out a clear vision as to how students and residents should work collaboratively. I hope to stay in contact with many of the colleagues that we met at the conference and we will consider how we might be able to apply some of the fantastic work we learned about to the Durham context.
Establishing a network
The Conference also agreed to establish a new Town & Gown Universities Network, with a view to facilitating further collaboration ahead of holding another conference in 2020. I am delighted that Durham University will be a founding member of this network and hope that this will mean the University continues to engage with and seek to learn from the work being carried out by other universities and student bodies across the world.
As well as reflecting on how my experiences of the conference may shape Durham SU’s community engagement strategy, I will be contributing to a report to the University in collaboration with Sam, suggesting how they may be able enhance their work in this area.
Find out more about Durham SU and how it works to represent students here at Durham
Visit the University’s Community webpages to find out how the University and our students, work with the city to make positive contributions to the local community in many different ways.