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Monday, 23 February 2015

Durham River Safety and Student Drinking Culture

A safer section of the riverside path, notice how those unsightly railings are completely destroying the view.
Within the last eighteen months, three Durham University students have tragically drowned in the city's fast flowing river, with another having to be rescued after also falling in. This has sparked much conflict between the student body and the local police over the safety of the uneven and unlit riverside path and steps. As a Durham student myself, I'm fully supportive of the campaigns to get some sort of barriers and lighting put up along the edge of the river to prevent further tragedies. Controversially, the local police and authorities are blaming these accidents on an "excessive student drinking culture" and are unwilling to accept any responsibility over the dangerous footpath.

This is where I have to question the logic behind police reasoning. Having walked along the riverside path myself, I can see how it would be far too easy to trip and stumble into the river, completely sober in broad daylight. The steep steps and path are unstable and the exposed, muddy riverbank gets exceedingly slippery in the rain. This is especially risky at night as the area becomes pitch black, making following the path challenging even when sober. As a teenage girl I find walking alone at night in the dark highly unnerving anyway so more lighting would improve student well being regardless. Many locals are also against implementing safety measures as it would "ruin the view" of the picturesque river. Funny that because I can't say the crowds of police and search teams looking for a body were overly scenic.

Unsurprisingly, as a British student city, we do have somewhat of a drinking culture. But is it any worse, or even as bad, as every other university city? Surely if we had such an excessive drinking problem there would be a lot more alcohol related crimes and accidents. Yet Durham was actually ranked the "Safest University City in England" by The Complete University Guide, so something doesn't quite add up there. 

Since the harrowing death of third year student Euan Coulthard earlier this year, local police have allegedly imposed a £90 fine on individuals found to be excessively intoxicated in public and there are rumours that clubs will begin breathalysing on entry. Personally I'm struggling to see how fining and sending home drunk students without offering any solution will protect them from either the dangers of alcohol and the river. Imagine if AA meetings told alcoholics "it's fine just stop drinking!", people are not just going to stop drinking in a society where alcohol is centralised at social occasions. Maybe they should consider the reasons why students drink so much (I'm looking at you £9k tuition fees) and tackle that instead.

We can't continue to risk the lives of innocent people and blame those unfortunate enough to be claimed by the river. While educating people on the dangers of binge drinking may be somewhat of a deterrent, physically blocking off the river at night could be the only way to ensure safety. I encourage you to sign this petition to implement safety measures because something has to change before another life is lost.