Durham Union Society
Free Speech Since 1842
|Location||Palace Green, Durham, England|
|Members||3000 in residence, 24000 worldwide|
|President||Rebecca Livesey (Josephine Butler College)|
|President-Elect (Immediate)||Andrew Lloyd (Collingwood College)|
The Durham Union Society is a debating society founded in 1842 by the students of the Durham University. Commonly referred to as the "DUS" or "The Durham Union", it is the university's largest society with over 3,000 members. Until 1899, when the Durham Students' Union (DSU) was founded, the society acted as the university students' union.
The Union was founded in 1842. The purpose of the Union was, and remains, a counterbalance to the collegiate system, allowing students from the University's different colleges to meet both to debate and socialise more informally. The first debates were held in the reading rooms of Hatfield Hall and University College. In 1872 the Society moved to what is now the Palace Green library, where the University’s first purpose-built debating chamber was established. The Union Society acted, at this time, as the central social unit for the students of Durham University. The Durham Students' Union was developed in 1899 to take on this role, though the DUS has retained its social side.
To this end, the society bought the old site of St Aidan's College at 24 North Bailey to create a social club (naming it the 'North Bailey Club' or, more informally '24'). This contains a bar which is open to all DUS members; a snooker room; a reading room that the DUS uses for functions, such as post debate entertaining, and an en-suite guest room that can be hired out by members. Student members also have the opportunity to rent large bedrooms as student accommodation. 24 North Bailey is also the setting for the vast majority of the Union regular social events.
By 1977, debates were so well attended that the original debating chamber was no longer adequately large enough. It moved across Palace Green to the Pemberton Building, which sits in the shadow of the Cathedral. The Union Society has been housed there ever since. The building and debating chamber are also used by the university for lectures and examinations.
The Union Society still maintains its offices and debating chamber on the Palace Green World Heritage Site, as well as 24 North Bailey. It hosts weekly debates featuring prominent external speakers, as well as inviting address speakers and holding social events. Recent speakers include the actress Imelda Staunton; BBC Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine; radio and television personality Nicholas Parsons; Channel Four newsreader Jon Snow; Met Chief Sir Ian Blair; London Mayor Boris Johnson; film critic Barry Norman; 'Rocky Horror' writer and Crystal Maze presenter Richard O'Brien; director and food critic Michael Winner; Oscar nominated actor Patrick Stewart; the Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Shirley Williams and the former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
The Union also excels at competitive debating, having won the European Universities Debating Championship in 2005, and more recently having teams reaching the final of the European Championship, Oxford IV, Cambridge IV and John Smith Memorial Mace and the quarter-final of the World Universities Debating Championship. It also hosts the prestigious Durham Intervarsity competition, the Durham Open and Durham Schools; the world's largest residential school's debating competition.
The social highlight of the year is the annual Ball held in Michaelmas term. The programme for the evening varies, but usually consists of a champagne reception, dinner, music, and after dinner dancing. The 2006 Ball was held in Auckland Castle., the 2008 Ball was held in Beamish Hall and in 2010 it was held in Lumley Castle.
The main committee in the Society is the General Committee. To gain membership of the General Committee in the first instance, a member must be elected to one of the various sub-committees in the Society:
- House Committee (to organise the logistics of Friday night debates)
- Consultative Committee (composed of College Secretaries)
- Sponsorship Committee (to raise money for the Society)
- Social Committee (to organise social events)
- Press & Speakers Committee (to organise public relations and assist with the invitation of speakers)
- Debates Committee (to organise debating activities)
At the start of the academic year, elections take place for all these sub-committees by single transferable vote (STV) system.
Once a member of the General Committee, an individual can be nominated to become an officer of the Society.
There are two additional sub-committees:
- Rules Committee (to oversee elections)
However, to gain membership of this sub-committee, the candidate must already be a present or past officer or a present member of another sub-committee. The committee is chaired by the Returning Officer. All Past Presidents in residence and any Presidents-Elect are ex officio members of this committee.
- Debates Selection Committee (to run competitive debating)
Made up of the Director of Debating, the President, the Treasurer, the Debates Training Secretary and the Debates Competitions Secretary, DSC decides which members of the competitive debating squads will go to which competitions and who will be Durham's Judges. DSC also select the members of Debates Committee (Novice Training Coordinator, Intermediate Training Coordinator, Advanced Training Coordinator, Outreach Coordinator, IV Co-Convenor, Open Co-Convenor and Schools Co-Convenor) for approval by the general membership at an ordinary meeting
Standing Committee and Presidency
The most senior officers of the Union (President, Treasurer, Secretary, Director of Debating, Social Secretary, Sponsorship Secretary and the Custodian) sit on its Standing Committee, which meets weekly and is responsible for the running of the Union from day to day. Members (except for the president) are elected to serve one year terms (though due to the way the Union elects is President elections happen all year round) and continue until their successor is elected. The same is true for the Union's Junior Officers (Press and Speakers Secretary, Steward, Assistant Secretary, Assistant Treasurer, Publications Secretary, Assistant Social Secretary, Assistant Sponsorship Secretary, Debates Training Secretary and Debates Competitions Secretary).
The DUS President is elected two terms in advance of their term and serves for only one term (i.e. the Michaelmas President is elected in Epiphany term), and is responsible for inviting speakers for debates, forums and addresses and for organising certain internal debating competitions. In their manifesto they will promise specific debates and forums along with stating which socials they wish to run. The DUS President wears a Scholar's gown faced with palatinate purple ribbon.
- Mo Mowlam MP (Past Secretary, Labour Minister of State, most famous for her work on the Good Friday Agreement)
- Crispin Blunt MP (Past President, Conservative MP for Reigate & Minister of State)
- General Sir Richard Dannatt (Past President, former Chief of the General Staff).
- Mark Elliott (Past President, author of several books on Azerbaijan and travel in Asia)
- Edward Leigh MP (Past President, Conservative MP for Gainsborough and former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee)
- Gabby Logan (Past Assistant Sponsorship Secretary, BBC sports presenter & contestant on BBC1's Strictly Come Dancing 2007)
- Giles Ramsay (Past President, Founding Artistic Director of the Trident Theatre)
- Dianne Hayter (Past Member, Former General Secretary of the Fabian Society)
- The Rt Revd Richard Blackburn (Former President; currently Bishop of Warrington in the Church of England)
- History Durham Union Society, Accessed October 2006
- The Times Monday, Mar 18, 1912; pg. 4; Issue 39849; col G
- 24 NBC Durham Union Society, Accessed October 2006
- Tuesday night Addresses Durham Union Society, Accessed October 2006
- Durham Union Society Msquarade Ball. Colin Cook, December 2006
- Why Get Involved Durham Union Society, Accessed October 2006