Scrapping the Durham University Street Angels: A Callous Decision

The picturesque River Wear has claimed the lives of three students in fifteen months

The picturesque River Wear has claimed the lives of three students in fifteen months

Following the tragic deaths of three Durham University students in the space of fifteen months, there were a host of reactions to student drinking culture. Many criticised the tendencies students have to drink “excessively”, blaming us for these accidents, instead of taking other factors into consideration. I think I can speak for the majority of students when I say that this reaction was undeserved. Yes, we have a tendency to drink more than any other age group, but the culprit was more the dangerous river, rather than any of the individuals.

Instead of taking action and making the river safer, people immediately pounced on the “irresponsibility” of the students. Chief Constable Mike Barton told the BBC that:

“We need to look at the personal responsibility of young men and women who are coming away to university starting their lives and who need to behave a bit more socially responsibly…It is ludicrous that society is asking me to put police officers on the riverbank to stop ‘bright young things’ falling in. What sort of world have we come to?”

These were not the only negative generalisations that Durham’s student body received, however, and this, combined with the fact that York had just spent £100,000 on making its river safer, caused outrage. Despite this unfair criticism at such a sensitive time, Durham students took the initiative, creating a scheme to help change the student drinking culture. “Street Angels” involves a group of student volunteers helping other students on a night out, ensuring people get home safely by handing out food and water, putting people in taxis and generally calming at risk people down.

After such a host of criticisms, this was most definitely a positive development to the terrible situation. This is why I am outraged that the Street Angels project has been discontinued. I find it strange that the University finds it necessary to stop a student initiative that was actually making a difference, especially since we were attacked for excessive drinking.

Although there are several other measures in place, Street Angels provided a hands on solution to the problem. Durham Student’s Union has pledged £50,000 towards a responsible drinking policy, and have re-iterated safety messages, but this will not make an active difference when it really matters. Mike Barton insensitively commented that the students who fell into the river were “so paralytically drunk they were not in control of their bodies”. Although I do not think this was the case, what will help at the crucial time is people making sure that students return home safely. I find it strange that the University finds it necessary to stop a student initiative that was actually making a difference.

Professor Ray Hudson, Durham’s acting vice chancellor, said:

“Durham University’s senior management is treating the matters of student safety and excessive alcohol consumption with the utmost seriousness”.

If this is the case, then every initiative possible should be undertaken. The decision to discontinue the Street Angels sends a negative message to students who are trying their best to make a difference in light of a tragic situation. As one of the volunteers said:

“I feel that the decision to scrap the Street Angel scheme is ill-thought out and quite frankly, callous. Our presence on the streets does not facilitate excessive drinking, but is a safety net if something goes wrong…

“Ironically, one of the key messages we worked on as part of the Durham SU campaign – to look after your friends and peers when on a night out – is what the University is sabotaging by cutting the Street Angel scheme. Street Angels are the physical embodiment of Durham students coming together after a tragedy. For the University to cut the Street Angels would be to kill a little of what makes Durham great.”

Therefore, I urge you to sign the petition to bring back the Durham University Street Angels.

Read it in Palatinate here. 

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