As part of our Winter Congregation, it was a great pleasure to be joined by some of our alumni to celebrate 50 years since their own graduation.
Pictured L-R (front) Geoff Blurton, Richard Horton, Chris Goodair, Adam Nicholls, Yvonne Murphy, Robert Barr OBE, Jackie Walker (back) Sue Simpson, Anne Woodhead, Pauline Keavey, Jane Simpson, Geoff Simpson, John Wilbrahim, Andrew Richardson, David Chadwick, Tim Legge, Janet Brown, Jeremy Brown.
As this was the first such event since before the pandemic disruption, it was lovely to welcome representatives from Classes of 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1974 to join our new graduates at Durham Castle and then to one of the Congregation ceremonies in the magnificent Durham cathedral, followed by a well-earned afternoon tea at Hatfield College. Our Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience), Jeremy Cook OBE, hosted the event, joined by several College Principals and colleagues from our Alumni Engagement Team.
Much will have changed since our Golden Anniversary graduates enjoyed their student years in Durham in the 1970s. The seventies was a decade of change, both societal and technological. This was the first decade to see desktop computers and hand-held calculators in schools, ABBA won Eurovision, children were playing with Rubiks cubes and the BBC brought us the Open University.
This was also the first decade following the 1970 Age of Majority Act in Parliament. In reducing the age of majority from 21 to 18, students were deemed adults and the University was no longer ‘in loco parentis’. Mixed colleges soon followed, beginning with Van Mildert in 1971, the opening in 1972 of Collingwood as the first purpose-built mixed college, and then St John’s in 1973.
For some of this group, this was a first visit to Durham in nearly 50 years, whilst others amongst them may feel like they had never been away. The afternoon proved a great opportunity to share memories of University days.
We heard from Dr Robert Barr OBE (Geography, University College, 1969-72), who told us about living in Lumley Castle in his first year (at the time it was University College accommodation), then returning there on his wedding night - and then staying there again last Wednesday, before visiting Durham on Thursday!
David Chadwick told us some of the great stories from his University days:
‘In those days there were no mobile phones and when it was felt necessary to phone home we used a number, which I now suspect was one used by engineers when testing a line, and could phone from the pay as you go call box free of charge!’
David was at Grey College, which, in a tradition that still remains today, required undergraduate gowns for all formal dinners. He recollects a visit from the Bishop of Durham:
‘There was the grand occasion when the Bishop of Durham attended formal dinner and just before he came some villain inserted dry ice into the jugs of water on High Table causing quite a stir. Not the impression the Master wished to create!’
Another of our alumni, Geoff Blurton (Anthropology, St John’s College, 1970-73), told us about his introduction to Durham, which was through a colleague whilst he was teaching in Kenya – showing the effect of alumni advocacy even in the 70’s! He wrote to the University and was enrolled on a BA (General) course reading Theology, Sociology and Anthropology. He was soon upgraded to the Honours course and graduated in the Great Hall at Durham Castle. During his time at Durham, Geoff served as an Officer in The Salvation Army interacting with Church of England ordinands at Cranmer Hall – this was likely to have been a forerunner of St John’s current ecumenical outreach programme.
The afternoon was a great opportunity for reminiscing and really embodied the affection and strength of connection amongst Durham graduates. They really enjoyed meeting our newest cohort of alumni, who are just embarking on their journey post-Durham. Their experiences and University networks will support them and we look forward to welcoming them back to Durham in the future.