Changing perceptions of student accommodation development

David Campbell, of Alumno, explains how focusing on building communities is the key to changing how people perceive developers

While large international investment funds continue to commit millions of pounds into UK portfolios of student housing, there have been regional news stories quoting local residents’ unease at yet another student housing development in their neighbourhood.

At Alumno our focus is on changing the perception of these developments, and highlighting the importance of student communities as part of the wider place-building agenda.

From the students’ perspective there is a lot to be gained from living in managed student buildings. They are able, in the majority of cases, to secure a below market all-inclusive rent for a long-term period. The homes are better regulated and more secure than what was on offer in previous years. There is also a transparency and a dependability that arguably didn’t exist previously between student and landlord. 

Where cities have plentiful dedicated student accommodation, the private rental market has received a fresh stock of student houses now available for professionals and families to rent. When reports show a chronic housing shortage in the UK, anything that eases pressure on the rental market can only be a good thing. Students are also a powerful contributor to local communities, leading what there is to offer in terms of local amenities.

However, it’s vital that developers listen to the needs of the local community and not least the students themselves. Standards in student housing have risen and the benchmark is set high – and with this expectations are changing. 

Alumno has two ground-breaking developments opening this month that embody our key place-making agenda of working closely with the local residents as well as the universities to create something which benefits the whole community. 

Sheraton Park, Durham

Based on the site of the former New College Durham at Nevilles Cross, Sheraton Park provides rooms for 418 students. The on-site facilities cater for a mixture of post-graduates, returning students and some fellows, and include en-suite bedrooms, studios and accessible bedrooms. There is also a community room provided for the Sheraton residents on the ground floor of Neville House. 

The three-acre site, located a mile from Durham City Centre, also benefits from high-grade parkland, providing a large green open space for everyone within the new community to enjoy. New residential footpaths and additional street lighting have also been instrumental in transforming a neglected and hazardous site into a safe, publicly accessible area.  

As with all Alumno projects, art plays a key part in the new communal spaces. The new Sheraton Park International Sculpture Garden, features three sculptures on the theme of pilgrimage and journeys. Alumno has worked closely with curator Matthew Jarrett to commission work from three renowned international artists from countries that have strong links to Durham University. A ‘welcome’ poem has also been written for the entrance to the development by North East-based poet Ira Lightman.

The Union, Leamington

This high-quality, fully managed, safe and secure home for students is located next to the Grand Union Canal in Leamington Spa and offers good transport facilities. The Union Leamington can accommodate up to 187 students, and features a mix of ensuite and non-ensuite rooms grouped in studio, five-bed and eight-bed clusters. The cluster flats feature communal leisure areas, along with a shared kitchen/dining room.

Alumno continues its strong commitment to the arts here, again working with Matthew Jarratt to develop a suite of commissions that celebrate the life and work of local artist Sir Terry Frost.

The commissions include a poem by Bob Deveraux, which describes Terry’s early life in Leamington Spa and his journey to become one of Britain’s most recognisable abstract painters. There is also a series of four large cast iron floor plates based on the artists paintings, as well as four colourful digital prints in the atrium of the new building. The cast iron plates are set within a newly designed pocket park named the ‘Terry Frost Space’, which can be used by local walkers and the new students who will live at The Union. 

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