‘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.

Fantastic Bries & Where to Find Them

By Thomas Hodgson, AKA Thodge

One thing had been troubling me for a while in my time as SJCR (St John’s Common Room) Treasurer. We spent far more money on sports than we did on societies. If only there was something we could do to boost society expenditure.

It was on a walk to Finchale Priory that the idea for Cheese Soc was born. “What if the SJCR bought cheese, and gave it out to the members for free?” Free cheese for all. A beautiful vision, and one which would endure throughout the society’s life. Henry, Andrew, Chris, Abi, Esther and I discussed the idea on our walk, and settled on making a society for cheese, led by a Cheese Board, and headed up by a Big Cheese. I made a post in my fresher’s group to test the waters and it got lots of likes, so I was assured that the demand was there. The people wanted the cheese. They just needed me to bring it to them.

Cheese soc walk

But this walk happened post-exams in my first year, and we didn’t have any JCR meetings left until my second year. Cheese Soc would have to wait, as we needed to ratify the society and get funding. And so Cheese Soc remained an idea over summer, dormant, but not forgotten. Like a piece of cheese that you’re saving for later at the back of the fridge.

Second year arrived, and it was time to form the society and get some funding. Thankfully the common room treasurer at the time (me) was also keen for Cheese Soc to come into being, and so funding shouldn’t be too hard to secure. First though, we needed a motion to create the society, which I prepared for the first meeting of term.

However, there was a catch. Ruth (Vice President) and Dan (Treasurer), my two “known” cheese board members at the time, were watching a play on the night of the meeting, and the rest of the JCR exec insisted that I couldn’t propose it myself because it wouldn’t look very impartial. And thus it fell to Zoe Cranmer to propose the motion that would birth the society.

The mood in the room was tense. The motions section of the meeting was drawing to a close, with Cheese Soc being the final motion before hustings for MCR VP. You could’ve cut the tension in the room with a cheese knife.

Zoe boldly proclaimed the greatness of cheese to the baying crowds while I watched on with great trepidation. The crowds were not sated by Zoe’s husting, and began to bombard her with queries. “Will you comply with health and safety procedures?” asked one person. “How cheesy would you say the society will be?” asked another. “How will you purchase the cheese?” “Where will you source it from?” The relentless questioning continued relentlessly.

Nevertheless, Zoe trooped through boldly, and the motion was carried on a victorious AYE. Cheese Soc was born.

Following the meeting, many more people realised the greatness of cheese and its namesake society, and opted to join the board. We gained Andrew (Publicity), Nicola (Social sec) and Priya (Cracker consultant (we consulted her about crackers, she didn’t talk to crackers (If she did, she’d be the one who was crackers))) and we were set to go. We held our first (and, as it conspired, only) cheese board meeting in person, which occurred in the Bowes room a few days after the SJCR meeting. We got our plans in place, and were ready to meet, but for one issue; we didn’t have any money to buy cheese with. We would have to return to the SJCR.

Once again, I wrote a motion that I didn’t propose, but this time Dan Foggin wasn’t watching a play, so was able to give the motion. We requested a mere £80 for our first meeting. Dan spoke well, but Sophie Nicholls repeatedly questioned the need for that level of money. “Market cheese is expensive” she said, “and you’ll be buying loads of cheese”. “Do you need that much money?”

“Yes” replied Dan, which was exactly what I was thinking at the time.

But Sophie’s final question was notably odd. “What will you do with leftover cheese?” she asked. I was confused by this; why would there ever be cheese left over?

Fighting through the opposing forces once again, Cheese Soc struck itself its second AYE. With the society ratified and funding secured, we were ready for our first meeting.

The society met for the first time on 23rd November, which is famously known for being the day directly before the 24th November. The board took our first trip together to the covered market, buying Black Bomber, Northumberland Nettle, Camenbert Rustique and Blue Stilton. We wrote funky little cards with the names of the cheeses and a couple of details about them. It was looking pretty funky. We were ready for the students now, but were the students ready for cheese?

They were! Crowds came pouring through the door! I then told them to stop pouring through the door and to queue nicely instead, and soon there was a queue out the door (which admittedly only required about 10 people, as the room wasn’t very long, but it still felt impressive). We got over 50 people throughout the course of the night, and they valiantly worked together to devour all of the cheese. I victoriously sent pictures of the empty cheese packets to Sophie Nicholls, asking what we should do with the leftover cheese. She replied “top effort”, but I could tell it was killing her inside.

From this point, Cheese Soc rolled on as gloriously as a wheel of cheese rolling down a hill. The benevolent SJCR Treasurer (still me) generously gave us an annual budget of, like, £250, so we were set for the year. We held another meeting in each Epiphany and Easter terms, electing a new Cheese Board in the latter.

Cheese Soc played a key role in the fresher’s video that year, with a half-minute long speech from me forming the crux of the video. They also gave me some cheese to eat while talking about the society, so it was a massive win on all fronts really. Free cheese remained the key principal of Cheese Soc.

Cheese Soc proved hugely popular in our first year at the fresher’s Sports & Societies fair (probably because we were giving out free cheese). The numbers on our Facebook group swelled, but it was growing clear that 1 meeting a term was not enough to sustain the cheese lust consuming our members. We would need to push for a budget increase. Sadly I was no longer SJCR treasurer, and so could not grant this budget myself; this fell to Fraser Arnold.

Thankfully Frarnold and I were on good terms. I thought this meant we could get loads of money, so I asked for £500 a year in the hope of moving up to 2 meetings a term. This was sadly rejected, and we ended up settling on £380 (2 meetings for every term except Easter, as that was exam term, plus a bit for the fair). And thus Cheese Soc received a poisoned chalice, in a way. Yes, we were getting more meetings each year, but our per-meeting budget had dropped from £80 to £70. The crowds at Cheese Soc could get pretty ravenous; would £70 of cheese be enough to sustain them?

No, it turned out, and in Cheese Soc’s biggest tragedy since Sophie Nicholls’ questioning, we ran out of cheese less than half an hour into the first meeting. People kept arriving at the door, seeking cheese. “Where is the cheese, Thodge?” they would ask me. I was forced to answer, despondently “we’re ran out”. This wasn’t how it was meant to be, Cheese Soc was meant to provide free cheese to all. How could we provide free cheese to all if we ran out of cheese?

I therefore adopted my new budgeting tactic of “buy more cheese and don’t worry about the budget”, which seemed to work out fine as by the end of the year, we had somehow underspent enough to not be at risk of a budget cut.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Cheese Soc was about to enter a time of great change, and I was about to make a decision that would greatly change the future of the society in ways which I still don’t fully understand; I was about to step down as Big Cheese.

It was coming up to time to elect a new Cheese Board and, while I was still set to be a student for another year, I had begun to look to the long-term future of the society. It had ran well for the past two years, but if the society had never known leadership besides mine, how would it cope when I suddenly disappeared? I didn’t want to graduate just after stepping down as Big Cheese, and so instead, I decided that the society should have a new Big Cheese for the upcoming year, to give time to iron out the handover.

George would be that new Big Cheese, with a Board consisting of Laura (Secrebrie), Fergus (Treas-gruyere) and Victoria (Hallouminations officer). George and I took a cheese buying trip together where I believed that I explained the key principles of the society (free cheese for all), but while the first meeting featured a good spread of cheese including baked cheese goodies (Laura Baker lived up to her name), publicity faltered somewhat. I hadn’t properly explained the importance of publicity and getting mentioned in Comms emails (as it had been somewhat of a given for me last year, given I was also Comms) and turnout was sadly low. Cheese was left over. Somewhere far away in Wales, I could hear Sophie Nicholls laughing at me. Would this be the end of the society?

No! Cheese Soc rallied, with plenty of Facebook spam for the future meetings. Baked goodies continued, and I had enough time observing the society to be able to understand what needed to be written into a handover type document. Hopefully, by stepping aside and letting someone else take up the mantle of Big Cheese, I had secured the future of the society.

Cheese Soc lives on to this day, with Peter as the newest Big Cheese. I got a society award for my work with Cheese Soc, which I feel is my biggest victory from my time as a student. There are still roles open on the Cheese Board for this year, so if you’re fond of cheese yourself, feel free to try and join on.

Cheese Soc shall endure. “Free cheese for all” shall endure. Cheese nostra Victoria.

A pre-show interview with SJCCFS team 2018

SJCCFS stands for St John’s College Charity Fashion Show

By Reeya Gadhvana

In anticipation of the upcoming charity fashion show here’s a short interview to get to know our SJCCFS Committee and their thoughts on the event.

First question: Tell us a bit about yourselves and your role on the committee.

Billy (Producer):

The role entails a bit of everything, line management, making sure that the right timetables are laid out so that we know what we’re all doing by certain dates, looking for venues, organising casting, and generally just making sure everyone knows what their role is in the team.

Emily (Creative Director):

I basically run the whole creative side of things, like the theme, the ‘decs’ and making sure everything looks pretty and works together.

Beth (Creative Chair):

I’m Creative Chair, which basically makes me Emily’s right-hand girl, just sorting out model shoots, the walks and the overall theme and decorations.

Holly (Clothing and Branding team):

Making sure we have clothes to actually wear! and presenting clothes in the ways the designers want.

Chris (Treasurer):

Pretty self-explanatory, it just means making sure we stay within budget and that the money is managed well and also just contributing with the other goings on with the organisation.

How do you think the auditions went?


I was happy with the turnout, quality was there, there was the right balance of people taking it seriously and that enjoyed it and people who want to get involved in something new


There was a range of different year groups


There were a couple of surprises!


I think it just shows that last year was a success and people are taking it seriously this year.

What is one thing you looked for in the auditions or something that stood out consistently?


I think confidence is something we were really keen on, because if you can’t be confident in a room full of five people you’re really going to struggle in a room full of 200. So just confidence and people who looked like they enjoyed themselves as well.


The emphasis came through on teamwork. It’s important that we choose people that we know would work together in the coming months


I just wanted people that would really throw themselves into it and have a laugh at the same time.

Is there anything that you are slightly apprehensive about?


I think it’s the usual kind of pre-show nerves with this kind of thing, we can’t really build contingency for everything, there’s always something that’s going to go wrong so I think mainly I am nervous about the things that we haven’t even thought about going wrong.


Because it’s for charity we have to work out factors that, if the fashion show was not for charity, we’d be concerned about. For example, selling tickets. So, it’s always about choosing people that were good in the audition and came through and about choosing people that we know would bring the crowd regardless of how good they are. So, there’s a balance there between choosing the people.


Obviously last year they upped it so much and took it to another level and this year we are excited to take it to the next stage so there are all the nerves about whether we will be as good as last year.

What are you most excited about?


Probably the moment it comes together. Last year it was my favourite point when all the models had gone to get ready and it was literally just us in an empty room looking at all the decorations we had just spent so long trying to get together [Beth was on the committee last year also].


Seeing the guests walk in for the first time and the brands was so cool.


Taking the first look at the clothing was very exciting.


Last year being a part of the audience, the whole thing was exciting then. I don’t know if this year being a part of the committee I will be more nervous to put on the show but the whole thing I am looking forward to.


I’m looking forward to that first walk, just when everything has fallen into place and kind of almost as if it is out of our hands now. It’s the certain point in the show where all the preparations are done just hearing everyone cheering when the first models walk on the stage will be pretty cool.

Finally, is there anything else you want your audience to know before the event?


I think it’s important to remember that the event is for charity. The charities this year are Macmillan Cancer Support and Heel and Toe Children’s Charity, so the right blend of very local and a broader impact there.


Also, get involved and make the most of it!


They’re also charities we’ve had a relationship with for a few years from Johns so that’s also a plus.

SJCCFS takes place Thursday 7th June 2018. 

George in the Dragons’ Den

By George Cowley

My experience with Dragons Den (the Durham University version, not the one on the TV!) began with a chance noticing of a poster for it. I already had a business I was trialing at home in London and so sent off a summary of my business plan to enter the competition on a whim. My business is Band Blend, a project that aims to bring young people aged 11-17 together in bands in a friendly and encouraging environment. It is inspired by a course run by some American summer camps that encourages kids to play music in rock bands, and now we have brought it to the UK! Band Blend wants to give young people the opportunity to develop their performance skills, confidence, social skills, and their musical abilities, as we believe that the key to starting and sticking to an instrument is in performance.

Luckily for me, the Dragons liked the idea and I was through to the semi finals with feedback on what I should include in the semi-final pitch which would improve on my business plan. A few weeks later I went to Durham Business School and pitched my idea to a board of Dragons who run businesses and are local to Durham. They gave me further feedback and a few days later I was lucky enough to find out I was in the final!

The final consisted of listening to the five other finalist’s pitches and then conducting my own 6 minute pitch. I was asked some very engaging questions by the Dragons – some of whom were international business owners – which challenged me and inspired me to think further into my business with a more business mind. I went on to win this final round as a joint winner with the only other Johnian, Elliot Mogonet, and so it was all round success for John’s!

Life at the Sharp End

by John Blackbourn, Porter

Most of you will know me as one of the familiar faces in Reception.  I have to say that having been here for nearly seven years the place continues to be a lovely place to work.  Each day is different and brings with it the cut and thrust of working in a ‘pressure cooker’ environment.  I am sure that sometimes you think to yourself ‘what do those blokes do all day in that office’.  Well, you would be surprised at the various tasks that we perform, from being nice and helpful to students to being not so nice to the Amazon man who delivers a large amount of parcels to be sorted for the usual suspects.  Arghhhhhhhhhhh the curse of on-line shopping!  From helping out when you have locked yourself out of your room (again!), to making sure the bar delivery gets to the right place when it arrives at the most inconvenient time.  You see we are on the go all of the time. So next time you come to Reception and find one of us sitting at the computer seemingly lost in the contents of the screen it will be because we have just finished doing one of those many tasks and are getting a well-earned breather.

College Baby

Hi, my name’s Gideon. But you can call me “The College Baby.” I’m the little guy with the heartbreaking blue eyes that you see trying to catch your attention in the dining hall. Someone asked my parents to write about what it’s like having a baby in college, but my mum is too busy doing my laundry, and my dad is trying to finish his PhD this month, so I stepped up.

I live on Cranmer B with my mum and dad. I know it might seem cramped, living in a college flat with two old people (parents do take up a lot of space), but it’s bigger than the womb, so I’m pretty happy. I might not have my own room, but I like to sleep in my little bedside cot beside my mum anyway. It’s called a Snuzpod and I recommend it for easy access to the food source. I even have a spot on the living room floor where I do my morning workouts. (If I didn’t wake up at 6 every morning, I don’t know what my parents would do with their day).

Our flat overlooks the library lawn, so you might hear my mum’s made-up lullabies sometimes (she tries so hard to make them rhyme, I smile even when the tempo isn’t quite right). My parents are from Canada so I have had to teach them some British nursery rhymes like “Wind the Bobbin.” (I don’t think they know what a bobbin is, but I can only do so much). Sorry about the crying, I get a little emotional in the evenings because I don’t want the college fun to end. Shout-outs to Harry Rogers and Jemima Luxton for being my favourite neighbours, who have yet to make a noise complaint. (But who knows what trouble I’ll get up to now that my exams are over).

gideon and mummy

One highlight of my day in college is receiving verbal affirmation from Christine and Dawn in catering. I can always count on Christine to say “You’re gorgeous, you are! There’s my little man!” That never gets old. (Sorry for how my mum slows down the dinner queue). After dinner I like to take an evening walk by the river. I enjoy the tree canopy while my parents chat and the cobblestones bump me to sleep in my pushchair.

My mum and dad may not have imagined, when they were your age, that they would live in a college dormitory when they had their first baby. But I wouldn’t trade this prime piece of real estate and all your smiling faces for a start in life anywhere else! Thanks for welcoming me, St John’s.


The College Baby

Meet Akash

Meet our new Global Citizenship Fellow, Akash Tiwari from India

Hello St John’s,

I’m Akash Tiwari, a 20 year-old pre-final year undergraduate student from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, India. I’m studying towards the completion of my Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering.

Sketching, writing, designing, fitness and other physical activities like indoor rock climbing and swimming are activities that I like to indulge myself in during my spare time.

Just like Durham has three terms per academic year (Michaelmas, Epiphany and Easter), in India we have two terms – Autumn and Spring. Before the start of autumn semester of my final year in July, I will be involved in a summer project with Professor Fernandez of the Durham University Business School. That’s why I’m here at St John’s during May and June.

I am involved in two distinct projects with the Business School. The first one pertains to the field of operations research and is fairly academic, which analyses the self-publishing platforms. The second project is more practical and involves the calculation of the economic impact that the presence of UNESCO in the UK has.

This is my first visit abroad, and having done enough research on my part to limit culture shocks, I’m still expecting surprises from the country.