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Let’s get together with Durham’s Staff Networks

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Finding people who have similar interests as you, similar concerns and similar ambitions can inspire you to achieve more, while also giving you the chance to inspire others.

Staff Networks at Durham are designed to do all this and more. The Networks are about people, making change and providing supportive environments to inspire a feeling of belonging.  

As Wednesday 8 May is National Day for Staff Networks, we thought we’d take a look at the networks that have developed at the University to provide support for staff with a wide variety of interests.

Research from the National Day for Staff Networks Campaign Committee in 2020/21 showed that following Covid restrictions, 51% of workers wanted to join a network as they returned to working in shared physical spaces.

At Durham, every colleague can access Staff Networks in areas as diverse as:

  • First Generation University Graduates Network
  • Disability Network
  • Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Network
  • Women@DU Network
  • International Staff Network
  • Carers Network
  • Mothers and Mothers-to-be Network
  • LGBTQ+ Network.

Our new Carers Staff Network

One of the latest Staff Networks to be started at the University is the Carers Staff Network.

Launched in March 2023, the Carers Staff Network helps to create a supportive environment for all members of our community. The Network provides a space for people with caring responsibilities to create a nurturing and understanding community for caregivers at Durham University. It aims to create a positive environment to help members and share up-to-date policy and information that may be useful.

Penny Hawley (Research and Innovation Services) and Nic Kendall (Biosciences) are the organisers of the Carers Staff Network.

Penny Hawley and Nic Kendall
Penny Hawley and Nic Kendall

We spoke to them to get more details about the Network:

Why was the network started?

The Carers Network began with a conversation between two colleagues in the Housekeeping Team. Nic Kendall was talking with another colleague about the stress of caring for parents and how much better it was to talk with someone who understood. With the support of the EDI team and other staff networks, we (Nic, Penny and Lisa Smith who has now left the University), volunteered as co-chairs to take the network forward. 

What are the aims of the network?

We know from our own experience how lonely it can feel and how difficult it can be to keep working while you have caring responsibilities. Sometimes it can feel like you’ve already done a day’s work before you start! Being a carer isn’t a protected characteristic, like age, disability or religion, but with legal changes such as the Carer’s Leave Act coming in this month, we hope we can create a supportive environment for carers, and work with the University to retain and support colleagues who combine their work with caring responsibilities. 

Our own experience is that while being a carer can be tough, we’ve developed skills such as resilience, flexibility, problem-solving and empathy. All of these are really valuable in the workplace, so we’re also keen to celebrate carers and our contribution.

Who can join the network?

People in a range of situations are welcome at the network. A carer is anyone who looks after a family member, partner or friend who can’t cope without support for their illness, frailty, disability, mental health problem or addiction. The care provided is unpaid.

Colleagues who may be exploring a diagnosis for a neurodivergent family member, but who might not consider themselves to be a carer, are also welcome. Caring responsibilities can be stressful and impact on work, and support from managers is also key, so in future we hope to support managers and other colleagues too. 

We’re a small group of 23 colleagues but with one in seven people in the workplace in the UK juggling work and care according to Carers UK, we know there are many colleagues we haven’t reached yet.   

What’s happened at the network so far?

The Carers Network launched with Jan Burden from County Durham Carers coming to share useful information and tips. 

Since then, we’ve had drop-in sessions and a talk from Professor David Croisdale-Appleby - chair of Dementia UK, BeyondAutism, the Royal College of Physicians and our own Business School’s International Advisory Board - who came to speak to us about the value of caring.

Following our launch session, one attendee confirmed the value of the network by saying: “Being a carer for my daughter can be extremely isolating, draining and at times frustrating. It can be difficult talking to other members of my family for fear of being judged for my feelings. Having the Carers Network and being able to talk with people who can relate and allow you to offload your feelings without judgement is a lifesaver. The information received from Durham County Carers was also fantastic.”

Do you have regular meetings?

Our original aim was to have monthly drop-ins, but we found it difficult for working carers to come along regularly in person, so we’re now looking at other ways for us to connect. This includes upcoming events such as:

We're looking at setting up some peer support for when caring is overwhelming. We’re hoping to arrange a wellbeing retreat and craft activities in future too.

Find out more

You can find out more about the Carers Staff Network on our DU Hub intranet.

We’ll be featuring our other Staff Networks in future issues of Dialogue.

Look out for upcoming issues but in the meantime, you can find out more about all the staff networks at Durham or email



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