Joining forces on fire safety

Upgrading fire detection & alarm systems in student accommodation in Leicester has marked the start of a national reinvestment programme

Student accommodation provider Unite Students manages 130 properties in 23 university towns and cities. Housing more than 43,000 students, the company has recently announced a £40m reinvestment programme. Dubbed ‘homes for success’, this includes upgrading wifi provision, installing LED lighting and enhancing safety and security features.

Fire safety is one element in this programme, with fire detection and alarm (FD&A) systems due to be brought up to the same standard across the company’s portfolio. To this end, Unite has established a framework agreement with technical service providers Attivo and formed a working relationship with Gent by Honeywell. The first joint project was at the Filbert Village building in Leicester, where the existing Gent FD&A system was upgraded.

Andy Somerville, commercial director of Attivo said: “The requirement was to upgrade the system and put the latest technology in place. The existing infrastructure was sound, so we used the original cabling to install the new technology. We installed a Gent Vigilon solution with six new panels, more than 20 loops and in excess of 700 separate devices.

“We upgraded the detectors in each of the bedrooms to Gent’s dual optical heat multi-sensors with sounders which combine the most advanced sensing technologies with alarm functionality. These will provide a highly reliable form of protection and reduce the occurrence of unwanted false alarms.”

The upgrade was carried out over a two-week period, with the system tested and up and running in time for the start of term. “One of the main challenges on this project was the fact that it was a live site, as there were still a number of students staying in the accommodation over the holiday,” says Somerville. “The installation had to be coordinated with the facilities and compliance team which went very well and the whole system upgrade went very smoothly.”

Attivo work with Unite Students by providing advice and support on existing Gent FD&A systems, while the company has also formed its own national compliance team which carries out programme and project management across its portfolio. “This latest installation is another sign of Unite Students’ commitment to invest in safety for the benefits of any students residing in its properties,” says Andy Somerville. “The commitment shown to the safety of students is refreshing to see and it’s a pleasure to be in partnership with an organisation that approaches life safety in this manner.”

Dave Edwards, compliance manager for Unite Students, adds: “Our ‘homes for success’ purpose ensures we strive to create the right environment for our students to succeed as they make the transition from home life to independent living. We work closely with our university partners around the country and a large part of this is the safe, compliant accommodation we provide.

“We realised, as a business, that to fully control this we needed to complete as much of the compliance maintenance with our own in-house teams. We invested in four regional compliance maintenance teams, made up of mobile technicians, which enabled us to achieve the required accreditations.

“We also recognised the need to have a support mechanism for additional technical resources. Attivo Technology is one of our partners of choice and has been instrumental in supporting us as we established our teams. The Filbert Village upgrade highlighted this partnership in action as Unite Student fire alarm engineers worked alongside Attivo’s own staff. This close partnering is further enhanced by Gent by Honeywell, who not only worked closely with us on the upgrade, but has also provided excellent fire alarm courses for our engineers at their Leicester Training Academy.”