Former Foundation Centre Student Creates New Society – Durham University Blood Donation Society

Louise Webster, a Natural Sciences student studying Biology, Psychology and Anthropology who did a foundation year in 2015/16, has taken the opportunity to found a new society. “Durham University Blood Donation Society” aims to encourage Durham University students to become blood donors.  Louise (known as Lou) is a member of Hild Bede College and is involved in many other societies including Durham University Light Opera Group (DULOG), Hild Bede Cheer (HBC), Hild Bede Theatre (HBT), DU Gym and Trampoling Club, and DU Ariel Arts Soc.

We took the opportunity to ask her a few questions about setting up a new society from scratch and what she has learnt.

Why did you decide to set up Blood Soc?

 There was nowhere in Durham city centre to donate blood within walking distance for students. The NHS blood drives which used to come to the SU had recently been cut due to funding, so I wanted to make it more accessible to donate. Having a society for donors would take out the cost of transport and being in a group environment would make the process less daunting and would be a good way to meet other donors. This convenience and friendly atmosphere is appealing to first time donors.

My interest in supporting blood donation is because I received many transfusions as a baby as I have a heart condition. I also have friends and family members that have received transfusions and feel that is important to encourage donation. Both my parents work in medicine, and my father is a Consultant Haematologist working for the NHSBT (blood and transplant).

How easy was it to set up a new society? What support was available?

 It was a lot of work! The admin was the most time consuming, with risk assessments, writing constitutions of the society, and establishing general rules and regulations. We also had to focus on publicity, digital marketing through social media platforms, and generally getting our society a student following through events such as the fresher’s fare.

We had to apply for funding from the Student’s Union and also raised money through fundraising and sponsorship. We got £200 from the SU to start up the society which we spent on marketing, stash, a banner for the fresher’s fare, pens, but mainly on minibus hire to get our donors to and from the donation session.

What skills/ processes have you learnt from setting up Blood Soc?

  • How to design a budget
  • Methods of gaining sponsorship
  • Liaising with local businesses e.g. to get venues for socials, a local printer shop helped us to get Blood Soc pens and leaflets
  • Organisation and team management
  • Delegation, identifying strengths of team members to ensure people are in the right roles and are happy
  • PR and admin skills
  • Use of social media in marketing

What advice would you give another student looking to set up a new society?

 Have solid ideas which are well thought through, set yourself clear goals and aims and have an idea of the means by which you will achieve. Stay open minded to new routes of making things happen, be flexible to new ideas and be receptive of help from your team.

Having a few contacts in the field you are hoping to set up a society in will be useful to get you started, for example, I knew some of the staff who work at the blood bank.

Be creative with ideas to generate funding and when the going gets tough find new ways to figure things out. Creative thinking with problem solving will drive success as there will be hurdles along the way, logistically, financially and with time pressures.

Choose a supportive team of different skill sets, brainstorm together and know the value of your team members as often they will think of ideas that you never would have.

Be nice to everyone who works at the SU, especially the lovely receptionist, she might give you some free printing!

Be sure to follow their Facebook page for information on sign-ups, donation days and socials



Embedding mental wellbeing in the curriculum: maximising success in higher education


The Lindisfarne Centre, Durham University, Wednesday 22nd November, 12.45 – 3.15pm

A Teaching Focused Academic Network event organised by Simon Rees (Foundation Centre) and Sam Nolan (CAROD).

Key note speaker – Dr Ann-Marie Houghton (Department of Educational Research, Lancaster University).


Workshop report by Simon Rees

The workshop began with three short presentations by colleagues at Durham University to provide an overview of current work in the University.  Alison McManus (Assistant professor: teaching – Foundation Centre) described a range of ongoing projects within the Foundation Centre designed to support and promote student well-being.  These included facilitating opportunities for students to engage which each other and staff in informal settings, peer mentor programmes and mindfulness courses for students and staff.  Neil Graney (Assistant professor: teaching – Business School) provided personal perspectives on the issues, the pressures on students and the impact that poor mental health has on academic performance.  Hilary Osborne (Head of Disability Support) highlighted trends in student disability issues and challenges for students declaring a need for support.

Ann-Marie Houghton incorporated themes from these presentations into the main workshop and led an interactive discussion on inclusive curriculum design (ICD).  Ann-Marie discussed the principles of ICD as:


  • Anticipatory
  • Flexible
  • Accountable
  • Collaborative
  • Transparent
  • Equitable


These principles have been established with the Higher Education Academy (

Ann-Marie explained the two continua model of student mental well-being and brought the participants attention to the Animated Minds project.

These short films use real testimony from people who have experienced different forms of mental distress.  The aim of the films is to help dispel myths around mental illness by giving a voice to those people who have experienced these difficulties first hand.


The workshop continued by considering themes of curriculum infusion and how different subjects can incorporate relevant content within modules.  Student “hope” was explored as encompassed by developing Agency and Pathways for students. The components of wellbeing were discussed as well as issues of disclosure.  Ann-Marie brought the workshop to a conclusion by considering how these issues can be addressed at a programme design level.

The organisers would like to thank all those who participated in the workshop and would welcome suggestions and contributions for future meetings.


What does literacy have to do with science? Launch of the ‘Year of Science’


What does literacy have to do with science? Two of our Foundation Centre staff, Alison McManus and Simon Rees, are involved in a large-scale project to explore this topic. Working alongside colleagues from the School of Education, this September they launched the Year of Science, a year-long programme of events to raise the profile of science whilst linking it to other aspects of the primary curriculum in County Durham.

There is a pressing need for increasing the profile of science and aligning scientific inquiry within the context of other core subjects, particularly as the National Curriculum now places greater emphasis on teacher-assessment of science. Moreover, it is important that teachers recognise the significance of science as a core subject and are able to make cross-curricular links.

Science is too often relegated to third place in schools’ priorities, but by making strong links with literacy its position may be enhanced. Students who prefer one subject over another will be more engaged through the use of overlapping topics and cross-curricular links. Having said that, the teaching of science should be more than just coverage through other topics taught in the curriculum, so the launch event helped to uncover methods for teaching scientific thinking as well as will emphasising ways in which science and literacy can be taught and learned in a symbiotic way.

The launch event was a Teacher Training Inset day for the Peterlee Partnership ( ) with 34 schools in East Durham taking part. The event was led by Durham University’s School of Education in conjunction with the Peterlee Partnership and involved sessions on the use of debates, developing students’ questioning and critical thinking skills. The keynote address was given by Lord Robert Winston, doctor, scientist and television presenter.  His presentation was engaging and thoughtful, encouraging teachers within the Partnership to think carefully about the value of both science and language.

Simon and Alison presented a model debate and led a discussion on whether or not science and literacy can be better taught together. They also dressed up in period costumes and Simon took on the role of nineteenth-century scientist Michael Faraday in order to deliver Faraday’s famous ‘Chemical History of a Candle’ lecture.  This reconstruction was well-received and provided the catalyst for an activity which schools will complete over the coming academic year.  Schools in the Partnership are going to each select a different scientist to feature during some events for children during the year. Suggestions included Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Guglielmo Marconi, Rosalind Franklin, Albert Einstein, Ada Lovelace, and Steven Hawking, with many schools opting to allow their pupils to choose. This will help broaden the scope of science in schools and create a focus for learning. We look forward to seeing the results later in the school year in a really exciting programme of events.


FAQ’s: Previous FC students share what questions they had before starting their courses

As ever when we start something new, we are brimming with questions about how the next year will unfold, what people might be like, how we’ll manage new challenges, what is expected of us etc. So as a little taster to answer all these questions, students who have completed their foundation year at Durham answer their top questions and share any tips they have for those soon to be joining the foundation centre community.

Will I be able to keep up with the work load?

The Foundation Centre is a great starting point for finding your feet and easing yourself in if you have been out of education for many years but don’t be fooled, you do need to apply yourself in this year too! It really does put you on a good footing for year one.

Will I make friends like me?

Truthfully, yes and no! You will meet like-minded people who you will enjoy spending time with outside of the classroom as well as people who will challenge your way of thinking. Don’t see this as a negative, It does prepare you for the wide mix of people you will meet in year one. Do engage in debates and discussions with others to get a sense of the full perspective available on a subject.

How much work should I be doing in Foundation Centre?

This really is where your own self-awareness is important. You know if you are struggling in a subject or don’t really think you understand something. If this is the case you need to speak to the lecturer who will guide you through where you need to concentrate your efforts or ideally take responsibility for your own learning and read further around the subject. Though I know of people who only attended minimal lectures and still passed I also know students who attended most sessions and struggled. Each person has their own abilities, if you know missing a lecture will put you behind don’t do it. You should commit fully to the Foundation Centre to get the most out of it.

What will my contact hours be like?

The answer to this question will depend on the course you are on, although I would say most courses are at least 3 full days per week 10-5 and maybe a half day. Every Wednesday afternoon across the whole university there are no lectures as this time is reserved for sports and societies. This is a great break in the week, well received by students as a chance to catch up and give your brain a bit of a rest! The foundation program is a year of support and guided learning, whilst teaching you to work independently at the same time. Generally you will have far more contact hours in the foundation centre than the first year of your degree for this reason, which is great as you form close relationships with the staff and your classmates. It also makes it easier to structure your time. The timetable changes between teaching block one (the first term) and teaching block two (the second term), as you get closer to exams so there is more free time for revision and independent learning as you get closer to exams and project deadlines.

What is the level of difficulty like across the year?

Like any new course, and similarly the first year of your degree after the foundation year, the first few weeks are very much focused on getting everyone up to a similar level of knowledge before moving on to more in depth topics. As you would expect the beginning of the year is considerably easier than the second term, the foundation centre aims to prepare you as much as possible for embarking on your degree so it is not simply an easy ride!

If this is a particular area that worries you, I would say a real positive is the team spirit of the small class sizes. There are times when your classmates may understand a concept more naturally than you and will help you and the rest of the class before moving on, and equally there will also be times where you may click on to a topic better than others and it will be your turn to help others. The academic skills module may seem tedious at first but it ensures you have all the skills you need for essay writing/lab reports/ maths/ referencing/ presentation skills or anything else relevant to success in your course.

What is the approximate age range of foundation students?

Well in my class the youngest was 17 and the oldest was 52! Everyone had come from such different backgrounds but all came together with a passion for our subject, the atmosphere was great as we had all chosen to be there and had changed our lives to begin this course. It was so interesting learning about people’s previous careers, families and their journey to starting the course. This versatility may even be my favourite thing about the foundation centre!

Is there anything I can do over the summer to help prepare myself?

Keep updated with the news, media and new ventures in your subject areas as these will be perfect discussion topics for the first few weeks. It is important to keep this up throughout your time at university. Continue to be well read, have a shopping spree of new shiny stationary (sharpies are essential) and other learning materials, a laptop is necessary as even though there are plenty of computers available, these are very busy during exam season. The foundation centre provide a university approved calculator at the start of the year for science students so no need to buy one.

Most importantly relax and enjoy spending time with friends and family before a busy term!


The end of an era. Foundation Centre Director Catherine Marshall is retiring. Students and staff thank Catherine for all her hard work.

Some of you might already know that our Foundation director Catherine Marshall is retiring.

Catherine started working at the Durham University Access Programme run by Adult and Continuing Education in September 1994. She was teaching Biology once a week and got so involved that it turned into a full-time teaching position.

We are all glad that it did. We asked staff and students to tell us about Catherine and here is what they had to say.

Staff – She enjoys teaching, but hates marking. Catherine is a very supportive person who has helped numerous students (and staff) with personal issues. Catherine is a friendly, sociable person and is a proud mother of two strapping young men.

Student – She taught us biology and is diligent as a teacher, she is very qualified. She knew how to transfer her knowledge onto her students.

Student – She is a very good teacher, she will stay and help you understand things until she is sure you get all of it. When I first got here I was terrified and Catherine was the one who made me see that you don’t need to be afraid of your teachers and encouraged me to ask for help. She offered me all the support I needed personally and academically.

Student – Catherine taught me Anatomy and Biology and I loved it. She is a great teacher, and person. She is friendly and supportive.

Student – Catherine is approachable, understanding, and her teaching abilities are really something special. I did A level biology, most of which went over my head, and by the end of my first class with Catherine I had fully understood something I had spent weeks trying to revise at home. Her lessons were fun, she has a great sense of humour and went beyond just that topic for a wider understanding of concepts and general applications. Context makes abstract scientific principles much more interesting!

Student – Catherine is the kind of teacher that inspires your interest and passion for the subject. If I had a teacher like her when I was at school my academic choices would have been so different

Staff – Catherine is the master of the withering stare, which can be intimidating until you realise she is also usually very understanding and forgiving. She has always been particularly understanding about the importance of family, and made sure to extend extra support to staff experiencing family issues, for which I am truly grateful. She also always makes time for people, whether students or staff, and she genuinely cares about both.  

Student – I loved the random advice that we got from her throughout the year. Such as don’t eat polar bear liver, don’t drown in fresh water, and don’t get stabbed in the liver.

Student – She is the best teacher I have ever had. She is so enthusiastic, engaging, and she brings cookies to lessons. Best academic advisor you can wish for.

Student – She is so approachable, understanding and empathetic. I had some personal issues and I came to her for advice. If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have completed the Foundation year and proceeded onto my degree.

Student – Catherine was my academic advisor as well as teacher for three of my modules this year. She is so knowledgeable and professional. It feels like she knows the answers to everything, no matter what students asked, she provided an answer. She is also incredible at using different teaching styles and I think that’s why we all enjoy her modules so much. She makes difficult things easy to understand and I think I will remember the DNA cookbook recipe analogy for the rest of my life.

catherine with students



We also asked Catherine some questions:

 What is the best thing about the Foundation Centre?

The students – we only have them for a year, but we get to know them so well and we follow their progress through their degrees, it feels like a huge family that keeps on growing. 

Why is the Foundation Centre so special for you?

I feel very privileged to have been part of so many journeys; to feel that I have been able to facilitate students progressing and being able to access an education that would otherwise not be available to them is an honour.

Why are you leaving/what are you going do now? (Just because a lot of students have asked me at the end of the year celebration)

My husband, Adrian, retired last year and we want to spend time together travelling, both abroad to places like South America (I’ve started learning Spanish) and South-East Asia, but also here in the UK – there’s so much beautiful landscape and so many wonderful places in the UK – and we plan to take our dog and our caravan and explore.  I also plan to make more of my garden – I love growing things.  I won’t leave the Foundation Centre completely though; I hope to engage with some projects.

What are you going miss the most?

The staff- we really are very collegiate, all focused on supporting and helping students makes for a lovely working environment.

What can you wish for the Foundation Centre?

I hope that the University continues to value and appreciate the huge amount of skill and expertise in the Centre.  There’s a huge opportunity for the Centre to support students more widely as part of the new Learning and Teaching Centre which is such a positive step forward. 

We are all sad that Catherine is leaving our Foundation Centre family and struggle to imagine it without her.

Staff – I don’t expect Catherine and Adrian to be the type of people who will live a quiet existence at home now that they’ve retired – I’ve no doubt that they will continue to be very active, making the most of their freedom to do some travelling.

Staff – It’s hard to imagine Catherine retired! She once told me she’d love to do an MA in anthropology or similar, and I know she has many interests such as music, camping, good food, travel and reading. I hope she has time to explore these fully while spending time with her extended family.

So we wish Catherine all the very best in this new stage of her life and we hope that she will come and visit us when she gets bored of travelling!

bye catherine!

Ice and Fire

Hi everybody,

My name is Adam Mead and I am a proud member of Durham University Archaeological Department. I am here to tell you about my project Ice and Fire but first I want to tell you a bit about myself. After working in sales it was my passion for archaeology that lead to investigations into possible careers in this area and ways of getting there. My academic journey started in the Durham University Foundation Centre and this was the basic platform of my current success and I will always be eternally grateful to everyone who helped me one my way. They offered me a place on Archaeology with Foundation programme and kick started my archaeological career which is now going from strength to strength.

Now about our project Ice and Fire!



THE ESTON HILLS dominate today’s industrial landscape of the Tees estuary and the rugged coastline of north-east England. The community moors and woodlands are a wildlife haven that also bear testament to human endeavour since the end of the last Ice Age, 12,000 years ago.

The foothills are dotted with the remains of nineteenth-century mines that supplied the iron and steel industries for which Teesside became renowned around the world. Yet this is also a place where prehistoric pioneers recolonized the tundra, following the deer, where hunter-gatherers roamed the wetlands and forests, crafted their flint tools, where Bronze Age ancestors constructed a hillfort and buried their dead under mounds of earth—still visible today.



Our heritage is at risk and ICE AND FIRE is a community project which aims to explore, record and celebrate the evidence for over ten thousand years of human life, death, ingenuity and persistence. The hills belong to the community of Teesside as a tranquil haven away from the bustle of modern life. Tragically, the hills are also plagued by acts of vandalism, illegal off roaders—and arson. The wetlands, which preserve evidence for past environments, are being irreparably damaged and the moorland is scarred by vehicle tracks. Our fragile, unique, irreplaceable heritage is at risk. Evidence left behind by Teesside’s first residents is literally being washed away. Fires scorch the thin peat which, until now, has protected the archaeology—evidence of our shared past.

Ice and Fire is a community based project designed to explore and record prehistoric archaeology at risk in eroding areas due to constant vandalism by 4×4 vehicles where artefacts have been found on the surface. Fieldwork will take place during the summer of 2017 and offers the opportunity to be part of a friendly team.



Ice and Fire aims to establish the nature of prehistoric activity and state of preservation with test pits. The project is also going to sample wetland areas with an auger to investigate past environments and conduct seasonal field-walking to assess the broader extent of prehistoric activity.

Our volunteers will have the chance to learn about archaeological fieldwork techniques, recording and finds analysis under expert guidance—no previous experience is needed. Volunteers from different backgrounds will receive necessary training to assess the damage and obtain the relevant data required.

Ice and Fire offers rare opportunity to explore the early prehistory of Teesside, recolonize the landscape for first time after the last Ice Age, recover dating evidence and record surviving features and test geophysical prospecting methods against sub-surface archaeology.

We are promoting our unique heritage and encouraging the community to be proud and save what’s at risk!




Meet the staff – Alison McManus

If you are ever in the mood to discuss literature and poetry find Dr Alison McManus. In our Foundation center she is the main enthusiast in a lot of projects projects such as Durham Book Festival and Poetry Exchange Project.  Here is what we found out about Alison for you.

How long have you been a part of Foundation Centre and what do you do here?
Almost 12 years, I’ve taught a range of modules but am now mainly responsible for English Literature and some of the Academic English modules. I also run some of our outreach projects, including our Family Learning Roadshows and the Poetry Exchange.

What are your areas of interest in your subject?
Last year I submitted my PhD in English Literature, which included both critical and creative components. The creative component is a novel called ‘Branwell & Daphne’, and in brief the book is about famous novelist Daphne du Maurier’s obsession with the ambitious but ruined Brontë brother, who was sacked for ‘proceedings bad beyond expression’ from his final teaching post. I became fascinated by Branwell Brontë’s life and even more intrigued by Daphne du Maurier’s portrayal of him in her 1960 biography; further research uncovered the ways in which the lives of these two literary personalities intersected. The critical component of the thesis examines and establishes a legacy of Gothic fiction, starting with Jane Eyre, while also examining contemporary texts from a feminist and post-colonial perspective, such as the work of Sarah Waters, Alan Hollinghurst and Jo Baker, before a thorough analysis of two novels which belong to that literary legacy of Jane Eyre: Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to teach in the area that I have researched and I love discussing those texts with students.


Alison is treating students with sweets on a Foundation Centre trip

What are you scared of?
Donald J. Trump and his cronies

What are your guilty pleasures?
Cookery programmes, camping (even in the rain), a nice wedge of cheese on a cracker, accompanied by a decent glass of red wine, anything bookish or word-related: countless hours in bookshops and libraries, reading poetry & novels, playing board games & crossword puzzles, being pedantic about grammar J (sorry)

What is your favorite place on campus?
Two places: having my lunch in the gardens around Hilde Bede and I also love the Botanical Garden.

What kind of student were you?
As an undergraduate, I was a dreadful student. I procrastinated and partied far too much. It wasn’t until I came back to education after several years of teaching and traveling that I discovered how important it was to choose subjects that I was passionate about in order to maintain my interest. I also had to learn to be more organised and manage my time more effectively.

What would you advise to your new students coming this year?
I have spent ten minutes writing responses to this question and then deleting each one; it’s impossible to think of something that applies to every student and also doesn’t make me sound too much like my grandmother! Having said that, I think it is really important that students realise how much support there is on offer both in the Foundation Centre and across the university. Talk to someone if you are having problems sooner rather than later.


Foundation Centre on the yearly trip to Bronte Museum