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How Unite Students has supported students through the Covid pandemic

Approximately 60% of checked-in students are currently living in our properties, which we expect to rise further following the end of England’s stay at home rule on 29 March. So, how are we currently supporting students in their accommodation? Students share details of some of the support they’ve received during lockdown.

Supporting students in self-isolation has been a crucial element of the last year, although balancing the needs of those isolating with concerns about staff and student safety has sometimes proven a challenge for the sector. However, as the only purpose-built student accommodation provider with a 5-star rating from the British Safety Council, Unite Students has previously proven its commitment to keeping students safe and secure, and the current circumstances are no different; we’re currently the only student accommodation provider to be a Covid-19 assured workplace.

Adapting to the current challenges involved upgrading our digital capabilities to allow more services to be provided, or requested, remotely. Alex, a postgraduate Computer Game Engineering student at Newcastle University, agrees he got everything he needed while isolating at his studio flat in Wellington Street Plaza.

“There was a five-day isolation period until my negative test result came through, but during that time I was in contact with Rob and Charlotte in reception, who looked after me and brought me anything I needed,” he said. “And the building has a deal with local restaurant Pizza Punks to deliver pizza straight to our doors if we want it, which is great!”

We’ve recently written about our mental health strategy, in which all our city staff have a part to play, and Alex says that this has been clearly communicated: “The team have been really clear that they’re here to help if you need help with your mental health – but they’ve not bombarded us with messages about it, which I appreciate.”

He previously lived in a private rental with his friends, but found it frustrating to wait for his landlord to fix maintenance issues. In lockdown, he’s been especially grateful for the support our maintenance team provides: “It’s so calming to have problems repaired quickly, plus the maintenance team here are localised and aren’t going to that many places, which reassures me. I can’t speak highly enough of them.”

Having spent the first lockdown and the summer in Europe with his family, the maintenance team were even more important to him than they might normally be, checking that his belongings were safe. But there was an unexpected benefit to this.

“One of the guys noticed my collection of miniature models. When I got back, he asked me if I was into painting miniatures – it turns out that’s one of his hobbies too!” he says, adding, “We’ve really bonded over it.”

Matias, an Economics student at the University of Leeds, wasn’t able to visit his family in Colombia over the summer like he usually would, and has been grateful for how friendly, sociable and helpful the reception team have been at Sky Plaza.

“The people in reception here are absolutely brilliant – they are really friendly, constantly have smiles on their faces, and always go the extra mile to make the accommodation the absolute best they can,” he said. “They recommended British food and sweets for me to try, and clearly signposted the latest procedures within the building as well as different universities’ mental health resources.”

We wrote in December about the reasons for students remaining in their accommodation over Christmas, and how to be inclusive and respectful of these students. But with health concerns taking centre stage throughout 2020, some students who would normally spend the festive season with family found themselves unwilling or unable to do so due to self-isolation or vulnerable family members, and now the government has said students can travel over Easter, we will surely see some students choosing to do the same over the forthcoming break. We know how crucial it is that students who remain in accommodation over the holidays feel supported.

Max, a first year Fine Art student at Leeds Arts University, was just one student who stayed in situ over the winter break because of concerns about her family’s health. While she was able to spend Christmas with some of her flatmates, our staff had a little gift to keep on-site students entertained. “Reception here gave out Christmas gingerbread house kits if you signed up for them, so I got one,” she said. “It was really fun, although I didn’t do very well. It’s not the best thing for an art student to admit, but my decorating skills aren’t great!”

We recognise the challenges students have been through in the last 12 months – the uncertainties and sudden changes, the restrictions on a normal university experience, and the understandable frustrations and upset these may have led to. We are proud to have offered a range of support options, both those outlined here and beyond, to the students who live with us. Take it from Alex. He says, “Being here makes the best of a bad situation, while living through a pandemic – I’ve been taken care of very well.”