Durham fresher’s mum smashes river fundraising target

Anonymous donor gives £1000 to fund improvements to the safety of the Wear

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The JustGiving campaign set up by Janis Penn, the mother of a Durham University student, has nailed its £1,500 fundraising target.

The campaign, set up after the tragic death of Euan Coulthard, is intended to raise money towards river safety measures which may prevent further tragedies.

It was a very generous £1000 donation from an individual who does not wish to be identified which allowed the target to be reached so quickly.

Janis told us: “I do not know the donor personally but I do know of him through family and friends.

“I am overwhelmed by his generosity and the kindness of the size of the donation. Every penny or pound does help, but this donation has allowed us to meet and exceed the target. I cannot thank the gentleman enough.”

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Having reached the fundraising target, the money will be able to be used to help improve river safety.

Janis told us how it felt to know that the campaign has been a success so far.

She said: “I am so pleased and grateful for all the donations already received and it is a bonus that we have surpassed the target set.

“Donations are still being received slowly and any further donations are always welcome. This will allow us to implement safety measures, however small, as they are needed!”

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With a focus on alcohol awareness rather than on the potential dangers of the riverbank area, we asked Janis what she would say to anyone who claims safety measures are not necessary and students should just drink less.

She agreed that alcohol awareness and education was useful but also drew attention to the need to also consider other issues.

She said: “After a series of river tragedies something has to be done. The measures and initiatives have mainly been based on education, general awareness and safety measures like the new ‘student rangers’, a drunk tank, ‘buddy’ support scheme and new bus service. The university is also urging students to drink responsibly, not walk along the riverbanks alone at night and stay with friends rather than going home alone. This will all help.

“However, it seems that the belief by the police and other groups is that the tragedies are purely down to the students lack of responsibility and excessive consumption of alcohol.

“My view is that  Durham’s drinking culture will be no different from that of numerous other universities. Other universities and councils that have encountered similar tragedies have taken decisive action such as putting up fencing… rather than blaming or ranting at drinkers.

“It is acknowledged that drink has played a part in some of the river deaths, but this is not an activity limited to just young people or students.

“I am not familiar with the local area, but, my feeling is that there is a need for an array of river bank safety measures to be put in place as recommending by RoSPA together with the need for City Safety Group to continue to further develop their existing work to inform and educate students about staying safe and their personal wellbeing.”

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She also drew attention to the conflict between the position of Durham as an important city for tourism, with attractions such as the cathedral and castle.

She said: “I am aware of the heritage of the area and that any safety measures should not be an aesthetic intrusion.

“I eagerly await the findings of the report undertaken by RoSPA which will make an assessment of riverside safety and advise of any recommendations to be implemented as physical safety improvements.”

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Janis also compared the difference in responses in Durham and elsewhere where there have been tragic deaths of students related to the river.< "Why does it seem that Durham students' lives are not as important as those students at Bath and York universities? "York Council has announced that it will be investing £100,000 in adding extra protection along the river. Bath Council is also committing to add extra safety precautions. Why has Durham Council been so slow to react?" This is a question unlikely to be answered in the immediate future, with the RoSPA report not due until March. Screenshot 2015-02-26 at 13.31.57

The lifespan of the fundraising campaign is limited to thirty days however and there are only two weeks left before JustGiving will end donations. Janis issued a heartfelt plea to students and their parents to consider donating to the “Safety for Durham Students” campaign.

“We need to raise funds to be able to make a change. I believe that most, if not all, parents will have similar concerns and that no parent would want a similar tragedy to happen again,” she said.

“An online petition calling for improved riverside safety has attracted 15,579 signatures, so there is definitely backing for this campaign.”

Janis also mentioned one of the negative remarks she has received in relation to her campaign, where someone calculated that taking into account the number of people who signed the petition, the average donation was “about 14p per person”.

“This is an interesting question, perhaps we could consider more smaller donations, in order that we can make a massive impact and prove those who doubt wrong. I would still ask every student to donate and to ask their parents to do the same. We can do this, let’s make this fund as big as possible.”

For further information on the “Safety for Durham Students” campaign, visit the JustGiving page