Carpe Diem

We all have those days. It certainly doesn’t help that it’s a Friday, and a rainy one at that. It’s the kind of day where Hannah just nearly finds enough time to buy and eat lunch, only then remembering that she had packed food from home. After a morning with back-to-back meetings, Hannah’s head is swimming with a seemingly inexhaustible list of tasks that she intends to complete before the day ends. There’s always, always work to be done. When she’s not in the meetings, Hannah spends her time in the office trawling through her inbox and this week has had the onerous task of writing a large number of creative briefs.

My day isn’t off to the best start either. Due to a mix-up with our schedules, I am half-an-hour late to meet Hannah, and we have to rush across the City to our meeting. Once out on the road, Hannah immediately perks up. She’s not a desk person, she reminds me for the millionth time. Despite the traffic, we arrive ten minutes early to Millennium Square for a meeting of the Parish Council’s Planning Committee. There I see some familiar faces from the Parish Council Meeting, including John Ashby. This is my fourth meeting with Councillor Ashby, whom I interviewed personally and saw in action during a Community Engagement Task Force meeting. People and things in Durham have a peculiar way of intertwining. The area’s habitants seem, under my third-party gaze, more connected than they think. From dinner parties and other seemingly random situations, I have met so many people directly involved in the changing nature of the city-university relationship.  

I’m pondering these coincidences when the Parish Council meeting begins. Hannah is particularly interested in the progress of the student accommodation investigation, and the Chair has graciously brought this item forward which will allow us to leave earlier given the anticipated discussion on some of the other agenda items. Though it appears but a small favour, it is actually a show of good faith towards the university and respect for Hannah’s efforts that we are facilitated in this way. Likewise, when the Parish Council invites her to speak on the issue, Hannah appreciates their consideration of her opinion. Recalling the previous, more formal Parish Council meeting in which Hannah was hampered by her own hearing and lack of familiarity with the formalities of public participation, she seizes the opportunity to promote the work of the task force, personally thank Councillor Ashby and share as much useful information as she can. The more information the Parish Council has, the more effective their decision-making. At the same time, Hannah has to communicate to the Parish Council, and the public at large, that there are limitations to the University’s power.

Presently, the Parish Council is struggling to accurately represent the distribution of students across Durham. The lack of data has made it almost impossible for the Parish Council to have confidence in the effectiveness of the Article 4 Direction that limits the construction of new student housing in areas occupied by a certain percentage of students. The Parish Council’s proposition is to validate their data using the University’s student registry. It sounds like a simple solution, but it isn’t. Students’ personal information, including their addresses, is protected by data privacy laws. Hannah explains this to the Parish Council, adding that she is working with the University legal team to investigate an alternative approach. Although her news isn’t so optimistic, the councillors take a moment to appreciate how valuable it is to have Hannah as a contact person with a direct line to the University.