It’s still so unreal that we’re here in Durham, England. Apologies for the late post– the first weeks here have been extremely busy for us! At first, it felt like I was so far from home, but soon enough, I noticed many similarities between the two Durham’s. Just as Duke plays a major role in the Durham community in North Carolina, Durham University has great influence on the surrounding neighborhood here in England. Moreover, both cities have experienced alike problems in their declining industries, tobacco in North Carolina and mining in England, and taken on similar approaches toward economic revitalization.
I currently work at Changing Lives, specifically the Fells, a hostel with 49 beds for homeless men coping with drug and alcohol dependency problems. My new placement is a stark contrast from my last one at the City of Durham Office of Economic and Workforce Development, where I worked with children from low-income families. Changing Lives is one of the largest nonprofits in northeast England and provides accommodation services for people experiencing homelessness. At the Fells, we’ve had numerous opportunities to interact with the residents such as playing soccer at Durham University, volunteering at a local church to build stone pathways in a nature reserve, and preparing food for a BBQ that welcomed back previous residents as well. Not only have we gotten acquainted with the residents, but we’ve also gained a better idea of what happens behind the scenes when these men are referred and admitted into this project. We realized that it isn’t a simple process to get an individual registered at the Fells and the high turnover rate just adds to the complexity of this procedure.
In North Carolina, we pretty much just jumped into our placements, since the city was basically in our backyard during our time at Duke, so we were all somewhat familiar with it, but Durham, England is an entirely different story. To make the most out of our time in England, we first had to learn about the history and culture of the Durham here through various enrichment activities such as visits to the Killhope Lead Mining Museum, Beamish Open Air Museum, and the Durham Cathedral, to name a few. A lot of people consider four weeks to not be enough time to accomplish much, but I honestly think that with careful thought and consideration, I will be able to leave behind a tangible contribution at the Fells. In our short time here, we have already been constantly hearing about the discrimination that these homeless men face from the community. To combat the pervading view that these men are worthless, we are creating a newsletter detailing some of the outreach activities that the residents have been involved in. We hope that our newsletter will bridge the disconnect between these homeless men and everyone else!
Whether it be the fish and chips that I’ve had way too often or the fun British slang that my co-workers use at Changing Lives, there are so many things to love about the Durham in England and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me in the remaining weeks.