'Down and out' debaters at Durham

First published in News The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter (Durham)

YOU might imagine students from Durham University’s debating society and former down-and-outers living in charity accommodation had little in common.

But you’d be wrong – at least according to Katie Binks, who helps run a project under which Durham students teach clients of The Cyrenians homelessness charity formal debating techniques.

“They’re quite different, but you’d be surprised how many similarities there are,” Mrs Binks, partnership development manager at Experience Durham, said.

“There are people who’ve been to university, done degrees, and life’s just turned out badly for them.

“And some of the students have experienced difficult things in their own families.”

The Second Chance project is the subject of Down and Out Debaters, a programme to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 11am tomorrow (Friday, December 22).

The scheme has run each year since 2007, helping a total of round 120 former homeless people, alcoholics, drug addicts and Cyrenians residents.

Participants get eight weeks of training, ending in a formal debate in Durham Union Society’s debating chamber, in the shadow of Durham Cathedral.

This year, the course concluded with a debate on whether national service should be reintroduced, held on Friday, November 30, in front of an audience of nearly 300.

Mrs Binks said: “There hasn’t been an obvious culture clash. The clients have never shown any hostility towards the students or resentment or bitterness.

“They responded well to the students and I think the students might have had their eyes opened a little bit.”

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