6 Years of John’s

by Katharine Cheston John’s Graduate 2018 


Arriving onto the Bailey one Sunday at the end of September 2012, my parents’ car heavy with boxes and my heart heavy with nerves, my life as a Johnian was just beginning. Parking outside St John’s twelfth-century chapel amidst cheering and clapping, I was greeted by a group of friendly, energetic Freshers’ reps who gladly unpacked the car and showed me to my room. It was the best start to life at John’s, and the row of interconnected Georgian townhouses quickly felt like home.

Six years later, as I prepare to leave the familiar, cobbled Durham streets and plunge into new challenges, I naturally reflect on my experience. While a Google search can tell you, for example, that John’s was founded in 1909 and in 1973 was the first of the Durham colleges to become co-educational, there is so much more that makes up the day-to-day life at John’s. Whether you ask freshers or alumni, all Johnians remark upon certain aspects of college life:

Firstly, that John’s is a close-knit community. We are the second smallest college (behind St Chad’s), meaning that friendship groups are inevitably large and extend beyond those sharing your corridor or in your year. Staff know students by name, and one Johnian told me that his favourite bit of the John’s community was the ability to go down to the bar in the evening and always find people to share a drink with. The postgraduates in the MCR (Middle Common Room) have their own social and study space, but regular social events provide ample opportunity to socialise beyond common-room boundaries.

This lends itself well to the welcoming and diverse atmosphere of the College. John’s prides itself on being a community where, regardless of your background, you can fit in. There are a huge amount of societies to join – from the Bailey Theatre Company, to John’s Music Society, to Cheese Society – so there’s always something to get involved in – and you can even create your own. Sport at John’s is inclusive and the range of sports is hugely varied, with both men and women’s teams competing at College level, and we boast a successful Boat Club for those who wish to improve or to start rowing.

John’s is a very supportive environment, enabling students to get the most out of university life. The Senior Tutor and her team are the first point of call to discuss any challenges you may encounter during your time at university, and every undergraduate is allocated a Pastoral Tutor to meet with termly. There is also a peer-support system run by the SJCR Welfare team, who run daily drop-in sessions, and also organise activities such as yoga sessions and movie nights.

There are also brilliant social events. John’s students organise two balls every year for the whole College community: Bailey Ball in November, and Summer Ball in June. There’s also John’s Day, held in June after exams, where the whole of College gets together (hopefully in the sun!) to enjoy the famous raft race on the river, live music, and entertainment on the college lawns. Day-to-day, there is a lot of social space to be found around college, including our popular cellar bar and the recently renovated common room. The College dining room, which looks out over the gardens, also provides opportunity to chat to friends over mealtimes and to meet new people. Both John’s students and even students of other colleges say that John’s food is the best of all the Durham colleges, and being a catered college definitely contributes to the friendly atmosphere.

Finally, whether John’s was your first choice or if you were randomly allocated, everyone comes to agree that John’s is the best. It’s often said that once a Johnian, always a Johnian, and whether you move on after graduation, or stay for 6 years like myself (or even more!), you’ll always be welcomed back.

5 months in Brussels in 5 Moments

Hi, I’m Ruth, a finalist in French and German. I spent five months of my year abroad in Brussels and it has easily become one of my favourite cities. The Belgian capital has a really special atmosphere because it’s so vibrant and multicultural and it was an absolute joy to get to know it a little over my time there. Here are five of my favourite spots in Brussels!

#5 Molenbeek Street Art


The Molenbeek quarter of Brussels isn’t somewhere you’d necessarily visit on the tourist trail but it’s well worth a visit if you love modern art. The canal especially is a hotspot for street art as I discovered when I was exploring the city with friends. The walls of the canal and many of the buildings are covered in amazing graffiti and paintings, which gleamed in the summer sun!


#4 Parking 58

At a first glance, Parking 58 is just an unassuming car park in the centre of Brussels. However, the highest storey of the car park is open air and basically acts as a giant viewing platform right in the middle of Brussels’ beautiful skyline. From the top of the car park, you can see the Town Hall in the Grand Place and the Cathedral on one side, and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the other. The ideal time to visit is at sunset, but the Brussels skyline is really special at night-time too. If you look closely, you can even see St. Michael standing on the spire of the town hall!


#3 Parc du Cinquantenaire

The Parc du Cinquantenaire or the Jubelpark is in the east of Brussel’s European Quarter. The park is the ideal place to hang out with friends on a warm summer’s day. As well as a relaxing atmosphere in the middle of the big city, there is also a stunning backdrop – the Arcade du Cinquantenaire. The triumphal triple arch was completed in 1905 and, together with the park, commemorates Belgian independence.

#2 MIM Restaurant

The Mont des Arts has made it onto our top 5 because the view over Grand Place and the rest of the city is absolutely stunning! The hill is the traditional art hub of the city as it’s home to the Musée des Beaux Arts where I spent quite a lot of my time. The Musical Instrument Museum is also located here in a former department store called Old England. I never plucked up the courage to wander around this 9-storey museum but I did make my way to the 10th floor. Instead I preferred to sit and take in the gorgeous views of Brussels from the terrace over a coffee or lunch in the fantastic restaurant (which does an amazing all-you-can-eat brunch with bubbly on Sundays).


#1 La Grand Place (after dark)

La Grand Place de Bruxelles (or Grote Markt) is absolutely stunning and it only gets better after dark! The square in the centre of the oldest part of the capital is definitely my favourite spot in the city. It’s also arguably the most beautiful square in the world (although I’ve yet to meet someone who can argue against this convincingly!).


In May each year the square is lit up for Pride. The rainbow colours adorn the town hall and all the former guild halls and it looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s an amazing display of solidarity and love for all in the most beautiful square in the world!


This article has been adapted from my own blog anitemabroad.com. All my year abroad adventures and travels since are documented on an.item.abroad, if you’d like to see more!

‘Checking In and Checking it Out – A Blind Survey of St John’s Accessibility’?

By Ming Luo, University of Western Australia,

Ming is visiting Durham this summer 2018 as a Matariki Global Citizenship Fellow


What does it mean to be a good citizen?

Each group and individual has their own understanding of citizenship, but many would agree that It means being respectful to your neighbours; that it means giving back to your community; That it means being law abiding and that it means participating in improving and strengthening your country’s institutions.

But what does it mean to be a good global citizen?

I’m an undergraduate student from the land down under, and I have ventured here to the great Kingdom on a quest to explore the concept of global citizenship.

Personally, my current understanding of being a good global citizen is taking all the principles of a good citizen and applying them to the global arena. To me, it involves showing respect to all, wherever you go; being accepting and inclusive of all, independent of nationality, sexuality, wealth, or ability. To me, it means playing a role, in whatever capacity you can, to fulfil the cheesy line of ‘making the world a better place’.

So today, I set out to St John’s to see what I can contribute as a global citizen. As a person living with a vision-impairment, I am particularly passionate about accessibility and the integration of people with disabilities into communities. I believe that it is also an important part of global citizenship, and hence am eager to check out what St John’s college has to offer.

I have conducted experiential accessibility audits as part of the youth disability advocacy organisation that I am a member of back home, and St John’s has so kindly (and bravely) offered up their facilities for my scrutiny. I arrive at the college, and am greeted by a row of beautiful Georgian structures. Though thee seem to be separate structures to the regular street-walker, the buildings have all been amalgamated into one interior, creating a college that is a quirky maze of steps, small windy corridors and half doors. Though this fills the college with a sense of mystery and history, it probably also fills it with many accessibility complaints.

As disability awareness is quite a relatively recent concept, it is no surprise that accessibility was not an aspect that the Georgians considered in their buildings. This unfortunately means that it is practically impossible to make the entire college physically accessible without flattening and re-building the entire thing. However, St John’s has quite an inclusive and egalitarian culture, and have already taken initiatives to work around the restrictions of the physical environment to ensure that people with physical disabilities can be accommodated in the college. I was particularly impressed with the accessible rooms, which were adequately spacious and included a device that would make the bed vibrate if the alarm system went off.

Though there may not be much more St John’s can do to improve the ease of access for wheelchair users, there are little things that can be put in place to increase the accessibility of the college for people with other disabilities. For instance,  contrast markings for stairs and tactile indicators could probably save quite a few vision-impaired or blind people from face-planting down the stairs. Simple English and pictorial signs could be put in place, which could benefit who have difficulties with reading. Dedicated quiet spaces could also be set out to provide break-out spaces for people that may suffer from sensory overload or anxiety. The fact about putting in place such adjustments that many people often overlook or under weigh is that they not only benefit people with disabilities, but can also be useful for a variety of demographics, including the older population, children, or the wider population in general.

 However, perhaps the most important element to access and inclusion are open, friendly and understanding attitudes, and this is a major asset at St John’s. All the staff members I have come across today are warm and eager to help. Negative attitudes are the most difficult barriers to change, and St John’s is already one big step ahead of many, with their open-minded and open-armed approach to accessibility.