No alcohol, no problem

Toby Crewe

You might be scared at the prospect of going to uni and finding out that the social life is just alcohol fuelled partying, I certainly was! I’ve lived a completely sober existence. But I’ve found that whilst, yes, there is a lot of drinking, I can still have a great social life without any booze. Hopefully this little post will show you that you can have an amazing time, just like I do.

The choice is yours

Obviously you don’t have to drink. I’ve gone along to many bars, and bar crawls (including last night as of writing this, shout out to St. Mary’s Frisbee) where I haven’t had any alcohol. Everyone will be fine if you choose a soft drink or mocktail instead (and if anyone does have an issue, well they’re probably not worth your social time anyway). Many of the bars have been trying to cater more towards those of us who prefer the sober life, and have been expanding their selection of soft drinks and mocktails. St. Aiden’s is a great example of this, they have put rules in place to prevent customers from ordering excessive alcohol, and offer lots of other great drinks. It’s a favourite of my girlfriend and I when we want a chilled evening together.

The toastie bar

You can also simply choose to go to grab a drink (this is especially nice at your own college) with just a small group of friends for some great, relaxed, gossip. I do this lots with my friends on the red chairs outside the Mary’s bar. We can (and often have) sat there for hours and hours with a few soft drinks just catching up with each other. In our group, non of us drink much, instead we gravitate to the toastie bar. Most colleges have a toastie bar, (a toasted sandwich for some non-Brits) where you can get snacks for a reasonable price. (My favourite is the veggie supreme at Mary’s.) A personal highlight of mine is a late evening toastie after revising in the library.

Socialising isn’t always at night

But your social life doesn’t need to be in the evening, certainly I’ve spent lots of time throughout the day with friends. A favourite is trips to cafes and restaurants. We’ve got some amazing ones in Durham, from the Instagram ready Flat White, to the amazing cakes at Treats, the hidden gem of the Pump House cafe, and the student classics like La Spaghettata to name just a few. My friends and I often celebrate the start or end of a term with a trip to one of these restuarants or cafe’s together. I’ve never run out of options to choose from, even now in my third year I haven’t been to anywhere near all of them.

Dining together

Beyond that, my friends mostly live in at St. Mary’s college (which is catered) so we make a point of trying to spend meal times together. Whether it’s planning the day over breakfast, a quick chat over lunch, or a full catch up over dinner. This constitutes a serious amount of our time together. When you start at Durham, if you are at a catered college I would strongly recommend you try and sit next to lots of others at meal times, it’s a really great way to make friends quickly.

Formals and balls

Your college will have formals and balls, which are the highlights of the social calendar for many. There will be lots of people around, and it’s great fun with a close group of friends. Balls can have quite a bit of alcohol, but there is no pressure for you to join in yourself. Formals are much less alcohol driven, though they will usually offer wine with the meal. I’ve been a regular attendee of formals, and the masquerade ball at my college (with photobooth pictures as proof).


Another great option are through hobbies and activities. At Durham we’ve got plenty of societies for you to take your interests to the next level with likeminded others. I’ve found myself playing Carcassonne, Dobble, and others with GameSoc. And PhotoSoc have been a great resource in the last year. Many of my friends have also found places in one of our many orchestras and musical groups. We even have multiple purpose built student theatres for the dramatic ones of us.

Park run and sports

I’ve also found sports to be a great way to spend my time here. I had never played ultimate frisbee before joining Durham, but now I’m in my second year of representing my college. I’ve also found myself joining Parkrun on Saturday mornings for an energising 5km run along the scenic river route (if you’re nervous about getting into running, Parkrun is possibly the most supportive environment to start with, their volunteers are wonderful). The gist is, if you play a sport, or want to play a sport, there’s something for you at Durham.

and there’s more…

There’s even more attractions throughout Durham too. We’ve got some great cinemas (my main groupchat with friends is still named after the time we went to see “Everything, Everywhere, all at Once”); make sure you check out Gala, they have very affordable tickets, as well as live performances. We’ve got Crook Hall, as well as some university attractions like the Botanic Gardens, which are beautiful. Lots of amazing countryside for walking, I’ve even seen wild deer within about a mile of the city centre. Make sure you take a look at Pelaw, Low Burnhall, and Houghall woods, all on the outskirts of the city centre. And some brilliant museums that are free for students to visit (the Castle tour was a personal highlight). With all these on my doorstep, there hasn’t been a shortage of things to do with friends!

You can have an amazing time here, and you don’t need to worry about alcohol. There are lots of us in the same boat. You can relax here, and be yourself.

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Toby Crewe

Hi, I’m Toby, and I’m a maths student at St Mary’s College here in Durham. I keep busy with walking, ultimate frisbee, and photography.

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