A baptism of fire

Karen Burke, Accommodation Services Manager at Sheffield Hallam University, tells us about her role as ASRA Chair and future plans

After being elected in April as the Chair of the Association for Student Residential Accommodation, (ASRA) a position that I have admired for many years, I took the time to sit and reflect on what this actually means to me, the association and the sector. 

For those of you who may not know ASRA, it is a UK- and Ireland-based not-for-profit organisation working for student accommodation professionals in the FE/HE sector. It provides networking and knowledge acquisition opportunities for members through regional meetings, mailbase communication, the ASRA website and social media. It also hosts the largest student accommodation conference annually within the UK and Ireland. The conference provides multiple training opportunities for its members and assists with members keeping up to date on sector developments, challenges and best practice.    

‘We are all working for our student population and have clearly shown that we are an inclusive and forward-thinking organisation’

The association has been in the capable hands of Michael Ball as Chair for two terms. I look forward to building on the great work done by Michael in ensuring that ASRA carries on being innovative, forward-thinking and identified as the leading organisation in our sector both in the UK, Europe and other areas of the world, including the USA and Australia.

I have 25 years experience in the HE sector having commenced work at Sheffield Polytechnic in November 1990 as a supervisor in the House Services Division. I have taken on many roles including Assistant Manager of a catered hall of residence and I moved onto accommodation services in SHU. I am currently the Accommodation Services Manager in Sheffield Hallam University (SHU), a position I have held since 2004. I feel that I have discovered my role in life and think that it keeps me young at heart, even if the body doesn’t always agree!

My experience of ASRA dates back to 1999 when I attended the association’s annual conference which took place in Blackpool that year. From then I was sold on the ASRA experience and feel that each year since I first attended conference, the association has developed meaningful events that each and every one of the members can benefit from. I think that the attendance at regional meetings and conferences, especially in the present economic climate, proves that our HE and FE establishments and private providers also see the benefits reaped from an association that can stimulate interest in topics for all levels of staff in the world of student accommodation. I enjoyed the work of ASRA so much that I decided that I would like to be involved in the management committee when I was persuaded to become a co-opted Training Officer in 2009. I feel this experience has helped prepare me for the role of Chair.

In my role at SHU I have also been involved in partnership working arrangements with private accommodation providers for over 20 years. ASRA has also embraced this ethos and therefore the changes that have occurred regarding the membership have been of benefit to all our members. We are all working for our student population and have clearly shown that we are an inclusive and forward thinking organisation. During my time in roles in the management committee I have been blown away by how ASRA takes the lead in a variety of partnerships, meetings with other organisations and is regularly invited to speak at events in the sector. 

One of my first invitations as Chair was a breakfast briefing event hosted by the British Property Federation at the House of Commons. Here I spoke to an audience of respected figures in the world of politics, HE and student accommodation. What a baptism of fire and a wonderful opportunity!

I look forward to working with everyone as the Chair of ASRA and look forward to continuing moving the association forward and keeping our position as a voice that is listened to, and respected by many leading figures in the HE and FE world.