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.