One month of second year: a review of the start of term

At this point, I am used to uncertainty. Covid-19 cancelled my A-level exams, I ended up taking a gap year, less for the goal of finding myself but out of necessity,  and my first memories of university are punctuated by lateral flow tests every 48 hours and carbon dioxide alarms evacuating lecture halls. However, I hoped that this year these upheavals would be confined to the past and I could get on with just being a uni student. 


Now, it has been almost exactly a month since the start of my second year and, although in some ways I have started on a better footing, the beginning of this term has felt far from stable. Don’t get me wrong, it has been lovely to come back to Durham and see all my friends, catch up with them and laugh the questionable decisions we made as freshers. The little things that make university special, the trips to big Tesco, cheering on friends in student productions, making soup with housemates in our tiny kitchen, these have all been wonderful. However, after just four weeks my overwhelming sense is that this feeling of uncertainty might be the defining aspect of my university experience. 


These are strange times, we are experiencing a cost of living crisis, inflation is high, and our most recent Prime Minister lasted just 44 days in the job. However, the issue that has defined my first month of the academic year, which has of course been compounded by these factors, has been the housing crisis in Durham. When I first started writing this article, I was going to try not to focus too much on housing. As I am sure many others have, I have read countless articles about the housing market, the price hikes, the statistics and the analysis. However, nothing I have read has brought me any closer to a solution. It is overwhelming to be bombarded with what seems to be endless bad news, so I thought I would try to think past it and consider what else has really affected me at the beginning of this academic year. 


However, in Durham you simply cannot escape the problem of housing. I have walked back from nights out and passed my peers camping outside an estate agents to secure a mediocre house. I myself have gone round knocking on doors asking students to show me around their homes because the demand for housing has outstripped the speed at which landlords can organise viewings. I met my college children for the first time in week two and found out that they were both planning to sign a house within the next few days. Can freshers really be expected to work out who they want to live with next year in less than two weeks? 


There is a feeling that this can only get worse, especially as the situation is already so dire and the university has offered almost no help. I personally feel relieved that I am on a three-year course, so I will not have to go through this circus again, but that is such a sad reality. I want to look back at my time in Durham with fond memories. It is true that I have had good times this month, I have started new modules that I am so excited to work on, I have settled into a new house, and made a new room my own. But I have also run around Durham knocking on doors, rung landlords at all hours and watched friends calculate whether they can physically afford to live in Durham next year. These are the moments from this month that stand out to me and I can only hope that future students will not face the same, or even worse circumstances.

Featured image by: cottonbro on Pexels

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