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A new model for student leadership: Our updated resident ambassador programme

Unite Students launched its student ambassador scheme in 2016, allowing students to lead on suitable events within their accommodation and be a friendly face to new students. This year, we’ve overhauled and rebranded it as the resident ambassador scheme: Pin Yiong, one of our strategy team Intrapreneurs, shares what the new-look initiative looks like.

Having welcomed most of our students into their new homes for 2021, our revamped resident ambassador programme is in full swing. Its goal remains the same, with ambassadors delivering the voice of their communities by running events and supporting fellow students. However, from this year onwards it will be more ambitious, with more ambassadors than ever before as well as extra staff support in the shape of our new resident ambassador champions. These champions will lead the programme and take up a coaching role to our resident ambassadors, providing guidance and support throughout the academic year.

Over the last three months, we have rolled out a ‘Fresh Start’ ethos to our city teams through a series of nationwide events. During these, we put out a rally cry encouraging them to get involved with the scheme – one to which they’ve responded magnificently. After just eight weeks, we have appointed a champion in every city, and got 99 resident ambassadors on board from 450 applications to date.

So far, our champions have had to balance the process of welcoming our new students, keeping our buildings safe and secure, and also getting to know who their potential ambassadors might be. Sofia, our champion in Leicester, found two of her resident ambassadors while chatting to them at reception. One expressed excitement at the opportunity to organise events, meet new people and relieve the academic pressure he was experiencing on his masters programme, while the other got in touch with Sofia online and detailed plenty of amazing ideas to enhance the experience of his fellow students, with a focus on inclusive events to ensure residents from different countries felt welcome during their stay with us. Needless to say, they were both hired!

For most of our students, academic success is paramount, and so we want the scheme to work for them – so they are able to choose their ambassador working hours to suit their availability. We are also proud to say that we pay them the real living wage with London weighting, as we know the financial challenges that come with being a student. We share the same vision as our university partners in supporting the students who live with us and understand how important it is to help our ambassadors balance their time and finances, as by doing this we can ultimately help them to achieve their version of success.

Our ongoing 2021/22 student preference survey has given us insight into students’ passions and what they were most looking forward to at university. From a pool of 18,000 students and counting, the question with the highest response rate was one asking them to share their interests; this information will help our ambassadors to run relevant events within their buildings. This stays true to the goal of the ambassador programme: we will listen to the voice of our students and deliver an experience tailored to them and their interests.

So far, we have seen a wide variety of ambassador-led events, ranging from city scavenger hunts, Ikea trips for student essentials, monthly newsletter updates, and my personal favourite – ‘Mullet Madness’ down in Portsmouth, in which a local barber offered free mullets to residents. All these events focused on one thing: helping our students find friends and take a step towards forming communities in their properties.

This is just the beginning for the ambassador programme. We will have a minimum of one ambassador in every property by the end of the year, ensuring all student communities living with us have a voice. As October draws to an end, we are planning a national webinar in which ambassadors can get to know one another across different cities next month, and in December we’ll be asking for their feedback on the programme so far.

We have seen how badly Covid has affected the university and student experience over the last two years. But now, as the world is bouncing back, we will deliver what we do best: providing students with a home for success.

Want to learn more about the resident ambassador scheme? Two of last year’s ambassadors share their experiences of taking part in the programme.