Adam Deathe, Durham Business Improvement District

I was really excited to interview Adam Deathe. One, because of our Dartmouth College connection–his daughter and I attend the same university in New Hampshire, USA. Two, because since moving to the rural college town of Hanover, New Hampshire, I’ve seen first-hand how an elite university can have wide-reaching impacts on its surroundings. It’s something I’ve discussed with Leah Torrey, my internship supervisor at the Dartmouth Centre for Social Impact, who is also interested in the student as an economic player in local businesses. Lastly, over the past few weeks in Durham I’ve heard more than once that “students are killing the local economy.” Adam Deathe is the Business Engagement Manager for the Durham Business Improvement District (BID) and the perfect person to talk to about the future of the business in Durham.

How have students traditionally engaged with the BID?

It’s only since Hannah[1] started and set up the Community Engagement Task Force Groups that we’ve started engaging with students. Before, I don’t think the Student Union felt the need to engage because they didn’t realise their value to us. The BID is always looking at the bigger picture, but students aren’t always as business-minded, nor is it their job to be. Right now, we are very interested in working with students to find out what they want; for example, Durham currently doesn’t have a store where students can buy a duvet or pillow. We also hope to educate students on the amazing offerings in the city. It would be great to have monthly meetings with the DSU to plan for each academic year to see how we can support each other.

What about your relationship with the University?

In truth, the University has a reputation of doing whatever it wants to do, because that’s what it has always done.

In what ways would you like to improve that interaction with Durham University?

One of the problems I hear from residents is that students living in HMOs[2] push out local residents and artificially inflate housing prices. I think a great deal of these issues could be solved if the University required students to live in college accommodation. I can even see a quarter system being implemented, like at Dartmouth College[3], so that the city is stocked throughout the year to support businesses.

Wouldn’t that be expensive for students? I also can’t imagine students giving up the ability to “live out.”

Yes, you’re right. It would require a big mindset change.

Do you feel supported and valued in your role by DU? 

I do feel supported by people like Hannah who understand and appreciate the work of the BID. But then there are others in the University who don’t know about us at all.

What more do you think DU can do to support you in your role?

We would of course welcome financial investment but having greater access to information is far more important. The more information the University can provide, the better we can advise local businesses. Our greatest asset is our independent voice. We’d love to work with the University to help get their message out to the community.

How did you find about DU’s University Strategy and associated Estates Masterplan and what were your initial thoughts?

I found out through one of the consultations held last year. The BID has always been able to see the long-term development of this project.

So you don’t share the view of some residents that the city is changing too rapidly?

Not at all. We’re seeing a change to an experiential economy, not just in Durham. Durham BID is at the forefront of efforts to “future-proof” the city.  The city must repurpose itself and make the transition from retail to services. We have many selling points: the Cathedral, a Russel Group University, listed streets and buildings. But yes, I realise that there are residents who don’t feel the same way. 

How would you like to see the university change the way it engages with the wider Durham City community as it moves forward with the development? 

The University is on a good trajectory, with the implementation of the Task Force. Again, my advice to them would be to provide more information. Give people more information than they are asking for. That leaves less opportunity for misunderstandings or rumours. 

How would you expect DU the University to respond to that recommendation?

As with any big organisation, the University has a culture of hiding things. They would never want to open themselves up to criticism.

You’ve mentioned the Task Force quite a lot. What do you think about it and how would you rate its effectiveness?

The Task Force has led to an increase in communication and that’s really good. In terms of pure potential, it gets ten out of ten from me; but, it’s too early to fully quantify its effect.


[1] Hannah Shepherd, Durham University’s Community Liaison Officer

[2] Houses in Multiple Occupation

[3] Dartmouth is among a handful of institutions using “the quarter system” which divides the year into four academic terms. Due to our flexible academic plan and the requirement for second year students to enroll during the summer term, there are always students on campus.