Skip to main content


Below is a blog written by Jonathan Akpakpavi, a research assistant on the Pro:NE Project, where he reflects on his time at Durham as a Master’s student and discusses his experiences of the North East as a racially minoritised individual.

The close of the academic year offers students the chance for well-earned rest and relaxation under a seemingly never-ending sun. We’re also encouraged to reflect on the year that has gone by. As both a Masters student at the University, and a Researcher with the cross-institutional project Pro North East, I have been left with plenty of food for thought, as well as a new, and somewhat unexpected, appreciation for the uniqueness and richness of opportunity offered by study in Northeast England.

First, some honesty; I was not particularly thorough in my research on County Durham before accepting my offer. In what can only be described as ‘North London obliviousness’, Durham was somewhere ‘up north’, and the ramifications of such a move – acclimatising to a much quieter city, for instance – were secondary to the university’s reputation and the academic opportunities offered by my faculty. Naturally, I would not recommend this kind of approach to anyone, and I can already feel the incoming reproach of all UCAS advisors. I also won’t pretend as though the course of postgraduate study was perpetually smooth; but I can confidently say that, especially as an aspiring lawyer, the North has not failed in offering unique professional opportunities, but has instead shown itself as a dynamic forum for new ideas.

Leaving for the moment the famed rigour of being a postgraduate, my time with Pro North East has allowed me to see firsthand the academic fervour present in the North, best demonstrated by our inaugural conference at Teesside University. As part of our institutions’ commitment to unlocking conventionally untapped potential, the conference showcased ideas and aspirations from various backgrounds; there was an infectious enthusiasm to share ideas, a commitment to propping up the incoming generations of academics, and a confidence that the Northeast of England was a wellspring, not an impeder, of ground-breaking research and collaboration. With this event as a springboard, the project hopes to continue to pave a way for new BAME academics, through 1-on-1 mentoring and an ambitious Development Strand; watch this space!

However, it was not only in academia that this dynamism would manifest itself. It is not news to anyone that the commercial primacy of London almost inevitably means the commercial neglect of other cities, especially further north. For any student hoping to make it big in business, it would appear self-defeating to willingly place distance between themselves and one of the richest capitals in the world, even in spite of recent attempts at ‘levelling up’. For me personally, the headquartering of leading firms and chambers in the south, as well as the curious fact that the majority of high-profile and northern-originated disputes are heard in London courts, made for an unappealing situation.

Fortunately, professionals in cities such as Newcastle are very aware of the difficulties faced, and have responded with an especial zeal, offering various events and networking opportunities which rival, and sometimes even exceed, those offered in the capital. Ready examples include the Newcastle Business and Property Court Forum, an organisation which seeks to revitalise practice in the North of England. Their talks were accessible and thought-provoking, but also interestingly gave the opportunity for students to exist on a level-footing with seasoned professionals.

Perhaps what struck me the most over the past few months was the existence of an underlying philosophy which seemed to drive law and litigation in the North, in a manner unlike any other regions. While attending special lectures or drinks receptions, I realised that these gatherings were spurred on not only by a belief in justice and a desire to spread knowledgeability, but by what can best be described as legal and professional self-determination. Cities like Newcastle have, almost out of necessity, evolved into impromptu frontiers for regional law, and litigation has become an instrument not just for justice, but for policy and community – the twinning of law and politics is something I have always found interesting. The result was a particularly enriched understanding of regional law and commerce, one which will undoubtedly remain with me in future practice.

Prior to studying in Durham, I was immovable in my desire to further my legal studies, and eventually work, in the capital; perhaps I still will. But my obstinacy has thawed, and I am excited to see what new opportunities germinate from northern institutions. Looking back on the past nine months, it is crystal clear that, while quieter, the north is by no means dormant; perhaps it’s my duty to stop sleeping on it.