Fire safety systems upgrade in progress

Unite Students has announced a new reinvestment programme upgrading safety and security across all its student accommodation

Unite Students, which manages and develops student accommodation, provides homes for more than 43,000 students in 130 properties across 23 of the UK’s university towns and cities. The company rents rooms directly to students and also helps a large proportion of higher education providers meet their accommodation needs.

Unite has recently announced ‘Homes for Success’, a £40m reinvestment programme to ensure it delivers on a set of signature commitments to its students and staff. Safety and security features form a major part of this commitment. The programme includes upgrading to high-speed 20Mb wi-fi, installing LED lighting throughout and launching a new app ‘The World of Unite’.

One element of ‘Homes for Success’ is fire safety. The majority of Unite Students properties feature the reliable fire detection and alarm (FD&A) systems, with a programme to bring the whole portfolio to the same level currently underway. During the past 12 months the company has had a framework agreement in place with technical service providers Attivo Technology Group, and has formed a close working relationship with fire industry expert Gent by Honeywell.

The first joint project, involving the upgrade of an existing Gent FD&A system was at Unite Students Filbert Village building in Leicester. Filbert Village provides homes for 700 students from both De Monfort University campus and Leicester University, and already had a Gent legacy FD&A system installed.

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.”

Attivo deployed a team of five engineers to install the upgraded solution in a two-week period. The system was in place by the end of August, and Attivo put representatives on site to carry out final testing in time for the start of term.

Somerville continued: “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 during the summer. The installation had to be coordinated with the facilities and compliance team, which went very well and the whole system upgrade went very smoothly.”

Unite Students’ portfolio already has a large number of Gent FD&A systems installed, and Attivo work with them on a regular basis providing advice and support when required on the existing installations. Unite has formed its own national in-house compliance team who Attivo work alongside as a partner as well as Gent. The team works as a self-delivery unit, carrying out PPM to the whole Unite portfolio.

Andy Somerville said: “This latest installation is another sign of Unite Students’ commitment to invest in safety for the benefits of any students residing in its properties. 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, said: “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 resource. 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.”

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