Durham field class reports back
BA Geography first year Tanzina Khatun has just returned from the legendary Durham field class which is part of her degree programme’s module ‘Reinventing Britain’. Here she shares some of her thoughts and experiences when she travelled to Durham with classmates to explore for herself some of the ways in which Britain, and particularly northern England, is changing in an ever increasingly global economy.
Sunday 29th March 2015, Day 1: North East, here comes a Queen Mary Geography cohort!
Today’s the day we’ve all arrived in Durham! A journey averaging six hours (inclusive of an hour-long break for lunch) leads us all to the North East, specifically to St Chad’s College, a college of Durham University. We walk to the Quad (the campus’s communal area for undergraduates) for our group welcome and briefing. “Welcome to Durham!” is one of the first things our enthusiastic module convenor, Dr Tim Brown greets us with as the class settles down. We get a run-through of the events the staff have got planned for us in the coming days as well as a short description of the evening lecture today after dinner. After a dinner of roast chicken, potatoes and plenty of veg, we all head down to the chapel on campus for Dr Stuart Dawley’s lecture ‘Local and Regional Development in the North East of England’. Dr Dawley, an economic geographer from the University of Newcastle provides us with an in-depth look into the history of some of the North East’s challenges.
He shares the idea of “carboniferous capitalism” whereby local and regional economies thrive, on the most part, on the coal mining industry. The lecture features a fascinating insight into the disproportionate impact of austerity in the North East; this provokes me to think of whether devolution would be practical in battling the lack of political power the North East region seems to have at present, and also allows me to sympathise a bit more with Newcastle City Council who, like most councils nationwide, don’t have as much power over the cuts as the people would like them to (controversial point, I know!). The lecture rounds off with what seemed to be a quick-fire question and answer session as so many of us had enquiries about topics like the HS2 and the North East’s resilience to austerity measures among others to pose to Dr Dawley who answered them as honestly and helpfully as possible! We all head back to our (incredibly spacious and comfortable, I might add) rooms after the lecture and I hope most of us rest well before our next day here up north!
Monday 30th March 2015, Day 2: Economics and society in the North East
The next day arrives and Beamish Open Air Museum awaits us! Stuck in the years 1825 and 1913, we get to experience the stories of people in the North East by talking to actors (most of whom are super friendly and knowledgeable about Beamish!), walking into houses and a mine (spotting the joyful PhD students - Amy, Alexandra and James - assisting on our trip and some of the staff), travelling in trams (a funny experience to wave at fellow students like Luana and Yasmin traipsing around town from the top deck of the tram as well as Dr Stephen Taylor and James walking around the on-site Home Farm) and do so much more. The visit to Beamish Open Air Museum is brilliant and two and a half hours genuinely isn’t enough (illustrated by five of us running twenty minutes on the tram- they don’t pass as frequently or travel as fast as our motor vehicular mode of public transport- London buses)! The group splits into three with one group travelling to Consett, another group to Ouseburn and the group I’m travelling with to Newcastle to explore science-led regeneration there. In Newcastle, we visit the grounds of Newcastle Science City (currently one building called The Core) for a talk with Ben Fisher, a representative. Ben tells us how Science Central, Newcastle’s £200m project brings together academics and the public, although we don’t see many members of the general public in the building. The talk concludes with some questions of employment and benefits to the local community. We walk to the Centre for Life, a place which seems to cater better for the public. With a science and research centre, a schools programme and general openness to the public, the Centre for Life seems to bring science to the community and Andy Lloyd (Centre for Life’s representative giving us a talk) confirms this fact by revealing their schools programme- educating children in mainly primary schools. The session here ends with the chance for us to play with all the practical activities the centre offers and many fellow students take up the offer! We return to Durham and relax during the free time we have before dinner and feedback on the day’s events. The feedback session led by our staff as well as PhD students, helps us to summarise what we’ve learned earlier in the day and allows us to think more deeply about our experiences in the Museum, The Core and the Centre for Life. We relate them to wider ideas about the North East’s attempt at economic regeneration. After the briefing, I go out on a walk with my friends to explore the quaint and beautiful surroundings! The main structures I come across are the beautiful bridges allowing us to cross over the River Wear. This part of the city looks beautiful at night!
Tuesday 31st March 2015, Day 3: Politics and austerity in the North East
Today we get split into five groups to discover more about the politics within the North East. A variety of people have been requested to talk to each of our groups including a political correspondent from the Newcastle Chronicle, a UNISON Trade Unionist, a UNITE trade unionist and a member of the North East Living Wage Campaign. My group meets Simon Magorian from North East Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and Newcastle Unites and he shares “Newcastle needs to be against racism to prosper economically.” Simon also discusses the counter-demonstrations that the North East UAF organises to racist marches including the recent 3000-protestors-strong march against notorious anti-Islam group PEGIDA. It’s fair to say, most of our group are more educated about the underlying issues which can spread hate after this talk. We then walk around the city centre, along with the other groups, carrying out street surveys to establish aspects of Newcastle such as the uniqueness of its identity and the thoughts of locals on the North South divide. This is a superb experience as we have the opportunity to mix with the locals and I learn, in particular, both how opinions greatly vary on Newcastle being independent from London and how friendly the majority of people I speak to in Newcastle are! The day is topped off with what is the icing on the cake for many of us as we get to pose the questions (we have mentally been formulating for a while) to Councillor Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle City Council. He shares how Newcastle should benefit from devolution discussions and touches on the topic of racism by saying “there is no space for racism in Newcastle” following the recent presence of far-right groups in the city.
On our way back to Durham, we take what-feels-like-an-impromptu but is in reality a well-planned detour by the academic staff and our brilliant PhD students, to the Angel of The North! Seeing the structure up close, close enough to touch it (although I didn’t and still can’t figure out why ever not) is a moment to behold. We’re spending a brief period here before moving on. After our evening feedback session followed by dinner, I go on another night walk around the city, something which proves to be refreshing as all of us had submitted a stress-inducing essay for another module earlier on in the day and the day before.
Wednesday 1st April 2015, Day 4: The North East’s health in times of austerity
We start off the day of learning about the region’s health with breakfast (as usual) and then make our way on foot for a lecture with Professor Clare Bambra, an academic at the University of Durham. During the course of the lecture, we cover many sub-topics from health inequalities in the region as well on a national scale to the relationship between brownfield sites and health conditions. Once again, we are able to ask the questions we’ve thought of over the course of the trip and the lecture. The lecture lasts from 10.30am-11.30am so we’re separating into four groups to visit four people who can tell us more about health in the North East. The other groups meet people from HealthWORKS, Newcastle City Council and the Citizens Advice Bureau while my group head to Sunderland for a presentation by health advisor, Elouise Robinson from Sunderland City Council. The complex we go to - the Sandhill Centre - is at first sight, unique in the way it combines leisure facilities with schools and a library, all in very close proximity to each other. Elouise tells us of the various schemes the city have set up to help counter health problems. These include ‘Health Champions’ (encouraging healthy lifestyles in the community) and ‘Ha’way man’ (designed to reduce smoking in the city). She’s also talking to us about the impact the cuts have had on the health services the council can provide.
We leave Sunderland City Council and enjoy half an hour of free time before being briefed on our assessment. Yes, we have an assessment this evening which is 10% of our marks for this module! It’s a role play on health in the North East; watching others perform and applauding them on what are some excellent performances is a fantastic experience and just one of the many ways that this trip has allowed me to get to know the people in my cohort more! Funnily enough, I was the only one in my presentation to change my name! As Dr Vestra (taken from the college’s inspiring motto “non vestra sed vos”), I played a GP from Sunderland Health Centre (completely fictional!). I won’t reveal any more about it so that you can experience it for yourself when you get here! The night ends with me feeling sad to leave Durham but appreciating the great time we’ve had here so far.
Thursday 2nd April 2015, Day 5: Saying goodbye! Departing from Durham.
The trip is concluding with a mélange of feelings at breakfast ranging from students who couldn’t wait to go home and others who wanted the field trip to continue for a few more days (*coughs* over here *coughs*). Nevertheless, a sense of achievement is up in the air and I feel proud of my cohort for performing as well as they did over the days we spent out and about in the North East! As we hand back the keys to our rooms, I feel grateful for this field trip for everything from enhancing my knowledge of the North East to giving me a first-hand experience of what locals feel about their community’s current climate to the free time I had to make new friends and socialise with existing ones! I recommend this trip to everyone studying in the same field as myself and hope you make the most of it to thoroughly enjoy your academic experience in the North East!
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