“In a nutshell, it was one of the greatest trips I have ever gone on in my life … it is an opportunity that I would suggest to any future Foundation student to take” – Maria Tsigonia

I have always enjoyed travelling and discovering the world. When an academic trip to Prague was announced, I was thrilled, not only because I had never been to the Czech Republic before, but also because I had never had the opportunity to participate in a poster conference whilst representing my university; it was especially interesting to participate in this conference, seeing as some of the researchers’ interests coincided with mine. It didn’t take any further thought before I applied, and four months later I was on a plane to Prague together with a group of twelve fellow students. I had no extraordinary expectations for Prague as the only sources and information that I had consulted were a travel guide that my mother bought for me during Christmas and a quiz that we were given in class (and one that we did not do particularly well in).

Despite starting from zero and knowing two basic Czech expressions, namely “dobré ráno” (meaning good morning) and “dobrou noc” (meaning good night), it only took a day for me to fall in love with the city. Maybe it was the architecture, the colours, the food or the aura of the place. We had a day in Prague and it began at around 10:00 am, with delicious eggs and sandwiches at the breakfast table, which gave us the energy to walk more than 15,000 thousand steps that day. Early in the day, we split into groups of two for a practical reason: it is hard to find a place to sit in restaurants and bars for fifteen people in most places in Prague – the Czechs don’t particularly like large groups.

So, six of us were ready to explore the city of Prague. We printed our day tickets and caught the tram, which is the easiest and fastest way to travel around the city. At this point, I need to remind you that koruna is the currency of the Czechs, and pounds or euros are not your friends in this country. Our first stop was outside the Palladium, a huge shopping centre, where lovely puppets, various souvenirs and lots of food surrounded us; after we smelled all the delicious foods in the market, any effort for building a bikini body proved pointless. We followed our instincts (along with Google Maps) and headed towards the Square. There were many shops around us, and the atmosphere created a perfect symphony. We walked outside the “Divadlo Hybernia”, the main theatre in Prague, where ballet and opera performances take place, and there was a man who was playing his violin on the pavement so beautifully, giving us the impression that we were in another era. Bubbles, the smell of Chimney cakes (cakes which are unique to Prague) and taking hundreds of pictures in front of the church of Our Lady Before Týnwere a few of the things that we did; one of us even took pictures with a dancing bear, and it was a great laugh for all of us.

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We visited various shops in the city, but the one shop that drew our attention was the original shop of the puppets in Prague; it made me feel as if I was part of a fairy tale. If only I had more space in my suitcase!


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After exploring the main Square, we discovered a ‘hidden’ restaurant; we tried some local dishes, and of course beer. Beer in the Czech Republic is extremely cheap (£1 for a pint!) and it was simply great. With full stomachs, we decided to continue our self-guided tour. We crossed the Mánes Bridge and it was beautiful. The sun was bright and, having not seen anything apart from snow in Durham, it was a wonderful ‘gift’ for all of us.

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We started walking uphill towards the Castle. The buildings were aristocratic, artistic and it was a lovely walk until we reached the famous stairs; there were so many, but we found a spot where we rested for a while. The view was breath-taking and there was a small tower that reminds me of Rapunzel’s story.

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‘Aristocratic’ buildings on our way to the Castle.

The famous stairs and Rapunzel’s tower.

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After half an hour we finally reached the top just in time for the changing of the Prague Castle Guard. It was too crowded but we managed to take a good look.

Coffee was essential afterwards. We had a cup of coffee at Starbucks (where else!) and enjoyed what is arguably one of the best views in Prague. The downhill was very pleasant, as you can imagine.

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We had several hours left before meeting with the rest of the group so we decided to go to the New Town and the Dancing House.

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There were not many things to do, and so we decided to sit at a lounge bar that we encountered on our way. Two hours later, we went to the Žižkov Television Tower, which is 709 feet! We then started running to catch the tram, and thankfully we made it. We were breathing heavily as if we had run a marathon; it was probably the beer. When we arrived, everybody was leaving, but we were more than happy to stay and try the cocktails. Each cocktail had an impressive presentation; fumes and special effects intrigued us enough to post Instagram and Snapchat stories! It was a modern place. On our way to the hostel, we found a Burrito place with good prices. Needless to say, our first day was a success.

Now, I would like to share with you some of the highlights of our trip.

Firstly, the city of Olomouc is extraordinarily beautiful and peaceful, especially in comparison to the busy and touristy Prague. Everything is within walking distance and the locals are very friendly and welcoming.

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There was an exhibition to the Museum of Natural History titled The Magical World of Optics, dedicated to the 85thanniversary of the appearance of the optical industry in Czechoslovakia; it was well worth the visit. There was also laser show which was fascinating. We felt like international spies on a secret mission! Don’t forget to try the Green Beer while you are in the main square of Olomouc!

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Main Square in Olomouc.


Also, the beer tasting at the Brewery Yokes was quite interesting as we got to taste the seeds that make the actual beer that we had all been drinking for the past week. We learned so many things and we also kept the glasses from the tasting. We also found a restaurant which had the best schnitzel in Olomouc.


One of the highlights of this trip was that we managed to cross the borders and visit another country, the wonderful Vienna! The fact that we planned this on a free day was great for all of us. We took the early train and the trip was pleasant. We had booked a hotel room in advance and spent a whole day there. Vienna is a city that has art in every corner, no matter where you look. I had already been to Vienna in the past, and so I was interested in visiting the Belvedere Palace, a choice that I can assure you I did not regret! A good friend of mine and I paid for a ticket to see a current exhibition.

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Belvedere Castle.

Later on, we walked to the gardens and felt like royals. Entering the main museum of the castle, we went to see the painting of The Kissby the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt among others. We couldn’t take our eyes away from it; it is simply magnificent. Paintings like The Kiss, which are widely known and printed on a multitude of products, take your breath away when you actually see them in real life. Having spent two hours in Belvedere, we walked towards the Resselpark, where people were enjoying their picnics and children were playing on the playground, making our way to the State Opera House. The walk was very pleasant, despite the streets being quite crowded and busy. We were heading towards Stephansdom, the main Roman Catholic Cathedral of Vienna, through the shopping streets. We had lunch and the six of us decided to go to Café Demel, one of the best cake shops in the city. I had a cup of fruit tea (my favourite!) and we ordered hot chocolate and cakes. It was quite pricey but totally worth the money and the queue. We spent our night ata techno party where we all had so much fun. The following day, we went to the train station only to discover that the trains were delayed, and as a result, we missed the day trip to Brno. Fortunately, however, we managed to make it on time for the last dinner of the group.

On our last day we visited the Sedlec Ossuary, or the bone church as we call it. It was a unique experience as there are not many churches whose interior decorations include bones. For some it was spooky and freezing cold. A couple of minutes later, a close friend of mine and I walked into a small café and built up the courage to talk to an Instagram celebrity who had almost 80,000 followers. It was a crazy coincidence that we found her there, and she was very glad that we talked to her. I recognised her through her Instagram posts about Prague, a page that I was following for only three weeks to get a taste of Prague. We had a little chat, she was very kind and took some pictures with us. A couple of weeks later she uploaded one of them on her Instagram page and she tagged me. We gained some popularity too. It is definitely a story to tell from that trip!

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Kutná Hora was a small, quiet village. We didn’t have much time there, but we found a place with the best view and the best Italian restaurant, where we had great pizza.

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Finally, on my extra day in Prague, I visited Charles University in Prague, met some students and had a walk around the main building. I also took some magazines of the University Press to read on my way back and explore the ideas of the students.

In a nutshell, it was one of the greatest trips I have ever gone on in my life; that may sound cliché, but I couldn’t have wished for anything better. The Czech Republic offered us an amazing and unforgettable week, full of adventures and memories that I will carry with me for life.

It is an opportunity that I would suggest to any future Foundation student to take; you won’t regret it!

A final piece of advice: take a camera with you and record some of the great moments you will definitely have on this trip.

Maria Tsigonia





Winner of the 2018 UALL Award for Sustainability.

We are very pleased to announce that the Foundation Centre won the 2018 UALL Award for Sustainability.   UALL is the University’s Association for Lifelong Learning and supports policy and practice across the UK Higher Education sector in part-time/flexible provision, employer engagement/work based learning, and community engagement.

The UALL Award Scheme celebrates projects, programmes, partnerships, and research that promote lifelong learning in the Higher Education Sector.  This award recognises the Foundation Centre’s work in delivering creative Lifelong Learning with proven impact and sustainability.

The award was presented at the UALL annual conference in Cambridge at the end of March.  The Foundation Centre presented a poster at the conference that showcased our work, including how we support non-traditional, mature students and promote sustainability and lifelong learning.

Since 1992, the Foundation Centre (formerly the Centre for Lifelong Learning) at Durham University has developed and delivered a unique adult and lifelong learning programme within the context of a prestigious research intensive university. The University is situated in a relatively deprived region of the North East of England and the Centre actively seeks to recruit potential students within the region. This presents many challenges relating to adult learning, such as student expectations and comparisons with the wider student body. Our central interest is in transformative learning.

Many of our adult learners come to us with only a utilitarian value of their chosen subject, and relatively limited views of how further study might open possibilities in their lives. We aim to provide experience and opportunities for reflection which helps such students transform both their views of their chosen subject, and perceptions of possibilities and opportunities in their lives. We do this through the subject, where our staff provide highly supported and creative teaching (and widely disseminated practices), and through opportunities for interaction between students and students, staff and students, and students with those who have progressed (via peer support). We also offer opportunities for students to get involved in outreach activities and in this way, we believe we foster a culture of continuous learning and the development of new perspectives on the world.

The significant contribution of the Foundation programme at Durham University as an exemplar for the sector was highlighted by the Milburn Report on social mobility in 2013.

The impact and sustainability of this lifelong learning programme has been demonstrated extensively on a sector wide and individual basis.  Staff at the Centre disseminate these innovative developments through a range of journal publications and conference presentations.   We also recently published a book addressing important issues for lifelong learning based on the Centre’s sustained and extensive experience.  Centre staff are also actively involved with a range of professional organisations such as the Foundation Year Network, Teaching Focused Academic Network, the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement and the Royal Society of Chemistry.  Within these organisations, we seek to actively promote lifelong learning issues and also organise conferences for the sector.

Since its conception, the Foundation Centre has supported over 2000 students to continue their lifelong learning journey.  There are many examples of the transformative impact this programme has had on individuals on this blog.

“The beautiful sights and sounds and wonderful people I have met in the Czech Republic and Austria will stay with me forever”. Debbie Corbett shares her experiences and advice after the Foundation Centre poster conference international study trip.

The Czech Republic had never been high up on my list of places to visit. All I knew about Prague before my trip was its reputation for drinking and stag parties. So, in contrast to that ‘very British’ perception, the week we spent there literally blew my mind. Although drinking (particularly beer) is a massive part of the Czech way of life, it was a very small part of what is otherwise a beautiful, quirky, historical and cultured country.

My first opportunity to try the local food came on our first evening in Prague when we went out to dinner as a group. I ordered Goulash from the traditional Czech menu with a light beer. It was evident from this first foray into the local cuisine that neither vegetables nor salad were going to be an expected meal accompaniment during the trip. The Czech Republic does not cater for vegetarians, meat (primarily beef) forms the basis of most dishes. All the meals however, were very tasty (we tried each other’s) but rich, heavy and filling; the beer was amazing and flowed far too easily!

The first full day in Prague we split into groups to explore the city. My group’s first stop was the Easter market. The centrepiece of the market was a huge tree covered in coloured ribbons surrounded by wooden stalls selling food, drinks and handmade crafts, making our first impression of Prague as a lively city full of colour, music, and good food.  The market place was surrounded by the most beautiful (but slightly imposing) Baroque style buildings. I later discovered that this was a re-occurring architectural theme throughout the country, particularly with the Catholic churches and cathedrals.

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We also visited St Charles bridge, the communism museum and Prague Castle. All were well worth a visit. The castle had beautiful views and we got some great pictures! We finished our day in Prague with a trip to the observatory and cocktail bar in the Ziskov TV Tower, the highest building in Prague with views over the entire city. However, it’s not only these tourist hotspots which had something to offer; simply walking around the city and admiring the numerous sculptures, art and monuments was breath-taking.  Prague was described as ‘The Paris of the 90’s’ by Marion Ross and this resonated with me as I explored more of the city, it’s clear that the Czech and French cultures overlap in certain respects. The tastes of the two countries seem parallel in many ways but opposites in others, such as with the more traditional side of the Czech Republic which I was subsequently to discover.

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The view from Prague Castle.

Our next stop on the trip was Olomouc which is in the South of the Czech Republic in the Moravian region. The commute via rail was speedy and comfortable and like most of the public transport I encountered on the trip, it was extremely cheap, clean and efficient. We arrived at Palacky University via tram from the station and after a quick change went into a large classroom to begin the poster conference. The Czech students were very interested in our extended research projects and asked a lot of questions. Their English was very good and many of them had also made posters to present to us. It was a big confidence boost not only to me but many others in the group as we were able to try out our presentation skills and liaise with another group of students and lecturers on an academic platform. During a conversation about the University with one of our guides, I found out that the building had previously been used as a base for the Gestapo during World War Two. Scratching the surface of many places in the Czech Republic reveals a dark history. In fact, the Czech people seem to embrace their history, not in a nostalgic way, but so that the struggles they have faced as a nation aren’t forgotten. The Moravian region especially I found still bears several scars from both the effects of the world wars and historical political unrest.

Olomouc was to be our base for the next few days and as a thriving student town with most of the amenities of Prague but a lot less tourist trade (and tourist prices) we made ourselves quite at home. It’s a hidden gem of a city with a large student population, it had plenty to offer during the day and a vibrant nightlife scene. The town square in Olomouc also features an astronomical clock, and I discovered that the mosaics and statues of the saints had been removed during the Communist era and replaced by ‘workers’ going about their day to day tasks. The buildings even in this small city were splendid. I visited both the Cathedral of St Wenceslas and the Catholic Church opposite the Museum. Both were immense baroque style buildings with unbounded opulence and grandeur inside. They featured numerous wall and ceiling renaissance style paintings, 10ft high stained-glass windows and wall to floor marble and gold plate. In the context of the rest of the city, the churches seemed to sit on their own as a display of wealth and power and appeared almost gaudy. During a talk we attended, I learned that the Czech people were not considered to be pious and had a historically difficult relationship with the church; which added slight substance to my belief that the grand buildings primary purpose was presence over function.

The modern art gallery and museum sit side by side across the road from the Church and are both worth a visit. I spent three hours in the modern art gallery alone! On the first floor was an exhibition by Inge Koskovaand the top two floors house a permanent exhibition Century of Relativity. The paintings and sculptures are fun to look at and the gallery was designed in an easy to follow way, so could be enjoyed by anyone regardless of their prior knowledge of art. The museum centred around science and nature and had many interactive and fun exhibitions.

Olomouc is also home to the Moravian Theatre I discovered that the operaErnaniwas playing there on Friday night and myself and eight others booked the very reasonably priced tickets. The experience was magical and drenched in traditional glamour; although in typical opera style didn’t have a happy ending for the cast!

On Saturday I had a free day so booked a train ticket to Vienna, Austria, it was a 3hr commute. I arrived at 10.30am and headed straight to the centre to see the Spanish Riding School. The beautiful white Lipizzaner horses began their show at 11am.  The stadium looked like a ballroom with two gigantic crystal chandeliers in the centre and the stands were surrounded by marble pillars. The show was memorising, and the display of horsemanship, skill, training and Austrian cavalry traditions set to classical music was unforgettable. I then grabbed a coffee and spent an hour wandering around the main shopping strip, window shopping at the numerous designer outlets, including Gucci, Chanel, Jimmy Choo and Rolex.

After tearing myself away from the Gucci window I walked to the Natural History Museum in Museum Square. The square was full of life, street performers and bubble machines so I sat down on the grass in the sun for 15minutes to eat my sandwich and watch the entertainment.  In the centre of the square is a giant statue of Marie Theresa, one of the many reminders of the powerful former Austrian Empire and the Hapsburg dynasty. I later learned that the statue is over 20ft high and weighs 44 tonnes, it’s presence is not subtle but very beautiful! The Natural history museum was stunning, its entrance hall and main staircase were adorned with artwork, gold and marble and its dome was visible all the way to the top. The exhibitions were extensive, the collection of beetles alone spread out over two rooms. It also had rooms of animatronic dinosaurs and life-size woolly mammoths and elephants. I would have liked to have more time to spend there, but with only a day, I still couldn’t have seen everything. My main reason for visiting the museum was the evolution exhibits as I will be studying anthropology as a module next year and I felt much more able to engage with this exhibition since learning a bit about the subject last term.

The open spaces and parks in the city were vast so, tired of walking, I splurged on a tour bus ticket to get me to the Schonbrunn Palace. The tour bus turned out to be a great decision, it was nice to see more of the city with the limited time I had. I was issued with headphones and a map when I got on the bus and between the landmarks the bus intercom played Mozart, it was a very relaxing interval between stops.

When I arrived at the palace it was bustling with tourists, there was an Easter Market in the courtyard and I wandered through it with a hot chocolate before entering the palace. The building was huge, with over one thousand rooms and botanical gardens to the rear of the courtyard. I paid for the Grand Tour which was €13 so I could go inside and see some of the rooms, the Imperial tour included lots more but by this point I was conscious of the time. Each room in the Palace was luxurious to the last detail, we were allowed access to the private rooms of Marie Theresa, Marie Antoinette and Franz Stephan as well as the games, dining and grand gallery rooms. I couldn’t help comparing the Schonbrunn Palace to the Palace of Versailles as I walked through the rooms and thought that the unreserved imperialistic opulence of Austria appeared to be a lot more effortless than its French counterparts. I hadn’t left myself much time during the day to try any of the local cuisine, mainly eating on the go so before I got the bus to the station I made a pit-stop at Café Residenz in the Palace gardens. Vienna is renowned for its coffee shop culture. I sat outside in the setting sun, looking out onto the gardens with a latte and amazing chocolate mousse cake which almost looked too good to eat…almost!

The next day of the trip was to Brno, the second biggest city in the Czech Republic. It was in Brno which the political struggles of the Czech workers seemed more apparent to me. Not only were communist worker signs still being used throughout the streets, some of the cities main landmarks had been ‘altered’ by disgruntled stonemasons whose wages hadn’t been paid by the city. Every corner of Brno revealed little oddities, even the drains had been decorated with miniature bronze frog and crocodile figurines. We walked up to the castle which had beautiful views and discovered that there was a goblin exhibition on in the grounds which we paid the equivalent of £2 to get into. Admittance into art and cultural exhibitions throughout the country all seemed to be affordable, perhaps to be inclusive of the local population as well as the tourists. We also visited the Capuchin Crypt which housed the mummified remains of 16thcentury monks and finished our day off with a quick trip to a brewery. That night we went out for a meal as a group where we were all given awards by our lecturers, I was awarded the person most likely to be Czech!

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On our last day on the way to the airport we made a pit-stop to Sedlec Ossuary which, from the outside, appears to be just a normal church; but the inside was very unexpected. The interior of the church had been decorated with more than 60,000 skeletons. Bones and skulls had been used to create a beautiful chandelier in the centre of the church and were hung on the walls like bunting.  The displays didn’t seem at all disrespectful, it seemed to me to reflect the open attitudes of the Czech people towards life and death, plus it was a great use for human bones!

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I feel very thankful to have had this experience and believe that it will it allow me to integrate more into the diverse University system next year. It has also completely shattered my preconceptions of what I thought Eastern Europe to be, broadening my mind massively allowing myself to see outside of my own perceived norms.  It has also completely changed my outlook on life, the beautiful sights and sounds and wonderful people I have met in the Czech Republic and Austria will stay with me forever.

The advice I would give to anyone planning to travel to the Czech Republic next year would be to attempt to learn a bit of the language before their trip. There are a lot of English speakers in the country but once you leave the main tourist spots the English spoken is very basic.

Debbie Corbett

Foundation Students’ International Study Visit at Palacky University a Success

After a pleasant train journey from Prague to Moravia, we arrived in Olomouc at lunchtime to be warmly welcomed by Linda Chmelarova, Deputy-Head of the Institute of Foreign Languages in the Faculty of Education at Palacky University. We introduced ourselves and the Foundation Centre, as well as explaining the purpose of our visit, the Extended Research assignment, and the poster assessment, an increasingly common method of assessment in universities as a means of quick dissemination of research.
We noticed another benefit of poster conferences straight away as soon as the conference began: the students were engaged in lively discussions about wide-ranging topics, from Greek myth to euthanasia to opening an Italian cafe. I was especially excited to see the Czech students’ posters on Austen and the Bronte sisters, and we were all impressed by the standard of work on both sides. The conversations lasted well over an hour; Vaclav Rericha, Head of the Institute of Foreign Languages, commented that we need more of these types of exchange, and we discussed ideas as well as the Erasmus scheme, a scholarship programme which will support over 4 million people to work or study abroad across Europe in 2014 – 2020. 
Vaclav has been at the university since 1967, first as a student and then as a member of staff. He spoke about the number of changes he has seen in Czech society, a turbulent history reflected in the legacy of the building we were meeting in. Once used as a headquarters by the Nazis, later by the Russians, it was eventually given to the University and is now the Faculty of Education. 
Once we had all got settled in our rooms, we reconvened for a welcome lecture from David Livingstone, an American expat who has lived in the Czech Republic and taught at Palacky University for over twenty years. His talk spanned history, culture, literature and the local area, giving us a perfect insight to the city and region, while we were treated to a delicious light meal of fresh soup and sandwiches.
David has a regular meet up with his own students in a nearby pub, and he had kindly arranged for us all to gather in order to continue our conversations. Czech students as well as Erasmus scholars joined us for a wonderful evening of singing and music over locally produced beers, and I suspect there may even have been some dancing later. All in all, an excellent welcome to Olomouc!
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Foundation Centre student Amer Mohammed (right) answers some challenging questions put to him by our hosts
cafe culture posterAntonio’s poster investigated consumer preferences around café culture
james, archaeologyJames presents his research on archaeology
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A lively atmosphere in the bar as students from Durham mingled and played music with Czech students after the conference

Foundation Centre Field Trip to Palacký University – Czech Republic

An early start this morning after a really busy day in Prague yesterday, our group is on the train now from Prague to Olomouc, where we will deliver our poster presentations and meet the students from Palacky University studying English and Education.
In the capital yesterday, students split into groups to visit the main sites and soak up the atmosphere on a crisp, cool, early spring morning. Prague’s trees are nearly ready to blossom, but for now the bare branches are covered in red, yellow, orange, green and white ribbons, as well as colourful Easter eggs, which stand out against the bright blue sky. The Easter markets are in full swing in St Wenceslas Square, with hand painted eggs and other decorations set out for sale, alongside a range of street food to taste.
Czechia is known for its beer, and a swift lager with a baguette filled with sausage or roast ham is hard to beat, or veggies can try a warm grilled cheese served on rye bread with either jam or garlic. Chimney cakes are funnels of fresh pastry covered in cinnamon and sugar, then filled with chocolate or cream and fruit. Those wanting a sit down found themselves spoiled for choice amount Prague’s cafes, restaurants and bars. Traditional meals are beef goulash, roast pork, or potato based dishes.
With bellies full, we spread out across the old town (Stare Mesto), where we had hoped to take in the famous astronomical clock, but sadly this was under wraps for repair (a bit like Durham Cathedral at the moment!). After a spot of shopping, with perfect timing we arrived at the St Charles Bridge at dusk, which absolutely exceeded expectations in the pastel light. Crossing the bridge toward the castle was like being swept into a fairy tale, an atmosphere which infuses the rapt crowds as they pause to rub parts of the sculptures for luck. A dog, a lady, a saint: all shiny and gold from visitors’ hands, while the rest of the statue is an inky black from centuries of exposure.
We had arranged to meet at the Zizkov TV tower at 7, so with time ticking on we jumped in a taxi for a speedy but astonishingly priced ride past the Dancing Building. Once Julie had scolded the driver for charging more than London prices, we rose in the lift to a swish cocktail bar which had a view of twinkling lights across the evening sky. As our students arrived to fill us in on their adventures, we tried out house specialties, including a Twisted Tower. Sadly this was an early night for us as we had to be up and out this morning, fresh for our poster conference.
Follow  on our Twitter account (https://twitter.com/du_foundation) for more updates of the trip.

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 https://www.facebook.com/DUBloodSoc/


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 (https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/inclusive-curriculum-design-higher-education).

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.