Preparing for students’ arrival: What Unite Students does over the summer
Alex Bloor worked in our Manchester and Leeds city teams for seven years prior to becoming the Customer Comms Manager at Unite Students. She shares her experience of what goes on behind the scenes in our properties in order to prepare for the start of a new academic year, and how check-in has evolved over the years.
The lead up to check-in for city teams can be some of the most challenging times in your career, but also the most rewarding. Many of my friends with limited knowledge about student accommodation naively, but understandably, assume that summer is our quietest time. They think that students check out in July, everything goes quiet for a few months, and then they return in September. In fact, life over the summer in our city teams can be quite the opposite.
The process begins as soon as the first students begin to check out in July. Our housekeeping teams arrive, armed with bin bags, and get to emptying away the leftover pizza and empty beer bottles from the windows. It’s a race against time, as our cleaning contractors usually arrive imminently – so making sure rooms are ready to deep-clean is a must. Alongside this, our service team are busy completing check-out inspections on each room, while our maintenance team set to work on ‘check and fix’ to make sure that we catch any repairs as early as possible.
Once the room is clean, we often have people checking in for the summer, or we’ll be housing conference delegates for the likes of Teach First or the National Union of Students (NUS): it’s not unusual to have turned around a room between two to four times ahead of the September check-in. After all of our short summer stays or conferences are done, it’s back to another ‘sparkle clean’ before our final checks are completed. We finish with a check-in inspection, dress the room with mattress protectors and Dig-in Boxes (our bespoke welcome boxes, filled with offers and goodies), do one last wipe round and spray some air freshener – then they’re good to go.
Alongside this, we take the time to get any additional works done over summer while the building is at lower occupancy. This can be anything from pressure washing, to gum removal from the driveways (which is as messy as it sounds). Low occupancy can be a problem and cause some interesting issues. One year, we had closed a building for the summer for a refurbishment, and therefore the boilers had not been quite as heavily used as usual. This meant that as we were heading home at 9pm on the night before check-in, the boilers failed and the water shut off. As soon as it came back on again, we had to check that no taps or showers had been left on by the contractors when they’d been cleaning – so we gathered the team and started on Floor 34, working our way down to check every single one of the 500+ bedrooms in the building to make sure none of them had flooded. I’ll never forget the scream of my colleague from down the hallway and the sight of her fighting against the water whilst in full uniform: she’d prevented a flood but sadly couldn’t avoid a shower in the process!
Once check-in weekend rolls around, you’re tired but have a huge sense of excitement that all your hard work is about to pay off. The welcome process can be stressful, but the camaraderie among the team combined with the smiling faces of the students make it more fun than anything. My favourite part of the weekend is when the day is coming towards an end, and the team are ready to gather to grab some food (usually several pizzas!) and swap stories about how the day went. Every year brings different stories.
After seven summers in the city team, I have to say check-in has evolved immensely. Students are less likely to follow the traditional calendar of move-in, with some students arriving later in the term or even having a January-to-January tenancy, so we have become much more flexible to adapt to this. This includes improving our out-of-hours welcome to those arriving from other countries: we are on hand now to provide the essentials for a comfortable check-in that you just can’t go out and grab at 3am – well, that’s if you describe a cup of noodles as an essential.
There’s no doubt that I’ll miss the whole experience, both the good and the bad. Even though there can be stress, tears, and times when you don’t get home until the early hours, it makes it all worth it to see the happy students at the end, as well as the endless laughs and experiences shared with your colleagues. If one thing takes you from colleagues to a family, it’s a summer at Unite Students.