In November last year I had the pleasure of joining a panel at the Class of 2020 Class Conference in Lisbon – ‘Ultimate User Experience; Residence Life for Success’. During the panel, our chair, Paloma Lisboa, Head of Student Accommodation at King’s College London, the other panellists and I shared our views on the challenges involved in running successful Residence Life programmes. Below is a summary of our thoughts at Student Living by Sodexo and the five key principles driving our approach.
1. What is Residence Life to you?
For Student Living by Sodexo, Residence Life is about bringing together a total approach for how we support students who are living with us and thinking about how we improve quality of life at every stage of the student journey.
Building a community whilst ensuring we are providing support in areas such as employability, life skills, wellbeing and mental health, and also having a range of exciting community social events.
It also incorporates our behaviours and attitudes as a team. We are focused on offering students a supportive, home-from-home environment. Our teams are passionate about supporting young people and making sure they feel safe, happy and supported.
2. To someone who is just starting with Residence Life, what suggestions would you give?
You need to understand your students. Students have very different needs, so you can’t take a one-size-fits-all view of events, communication or services. It is important to think about what different types of students may require and also how students’ motivations and needs might evolve during their university career.
It is also vital to get the right teams on the ground. Students aren’t your average residents. They can be demanding and challenging, so it’s important for your team to have the right skillset and mindset, and to love what they do!
3. What are your current challenges connected to Residence Life and what are you doing about them?
Mental health and anxiety are increasingly common in young people. We think it’s important that all of our staff have mental health first aid training and feel confident to flag up issues when they come across them, so we can help students to access the appropriate support services.
Another challenge is how to measure the outcomes of Residence Life programmes. We are more than convinced of the positive benefits of a Resi Life plan that is well-coordinated and delivered, but it can be hard to quantify. This is why we are developing a programme that can have measurable outcomes.
Our top five tips for Resi Life success:
· It is vital to create a sense of community and belonging
That involves creating a community inside your accommodation, but also building the all-important links to the surrounding community.
· You need to look at the whole student journey
Our approach factors in four stages – pre-arrival, arrival, living and departure – and we aim to anticipate and meet students’ needs at each stage of the journey. Giving students a voice and generating resident appetite for becoming involved is critical.
· Get the right balance of students living together
Ensuring student compatibility is examined as part of the allocations process. This is part of the pre-arrival journey for students and helps to eliminate any problems before students arrive. We are starting to profile our students in order to tailor a programme of events to meet students’ needs and expectations. Peer-to-peer support is an area of focus as well. Creating community feedback and a support loop has major benefits for all residents.
· A strong and committed on-the-ground team
Working in student living can be tough. It’s essential that our teams, from Resi Life managers, down to engineers and cleaners, have the right mindset and are 100% focused on the student experience.
· A strong, supportive partnership with the University
Having a link with the right stakeholders within universities and other agencies is vital. It allows us to ensure we create the right Resi Life strategies that are tailored and meaningful, with desired outcomes for everyone.