High achievers

Paul Harris from Anglia Ruskin University comments on what the future holds for university residential accommodation providers

As the evenings draw in, I look back on another intense summer of work in the Anglia Ruskin Residential Service that culminated in our busiest arrivals period ever. In common with many institutions, our work to lead up to arrivals began the moment the outgoing students vacated their rooms in June. Immediately following this we handed back a hall to Cambridge University that we had leased for an extended period, started large-scale infrastructure refurbishment of another hall, and moved summer schools and pre-sessional language students in to other halls.

The amount of works to our residential properties in both Cambridge and Chelmsford this summer was extensive. At Swinhoe we embarked on a 10-week project to replace the entire piped water systems, along with individual boilers to shared kitchens, with all-new energy efficient plant. At Peter Taylor Hall, we redecorated the fourth and fifth floor external render, a significant project that could only be realistically achieved by engaging abseiling painters. At our Chelmsford Student Village we continued work on a rolling programme of flat refurbishments.

This summer we accommodated more pre-sessional language school students than ever before, which meant additional allocations considerations to ensure appropriate summer allocation, followed by ongoing accommodation in the context of balanced and integrated communities and fair prioritisation of on-campus rooms.

As A-level results loomed, we again established our ‘house hunting team’ to help those recruited via clearing find private sector accommodation, with our owned and managed accommodation more or less fully allocated by this point. And so began a busy period of recruitment and residential placement, with almost 1,000 students assisted by the house hunting team by the time they disbanded in late September.

Just prior to arrivals, I got a late night call to advise that a new nominations hall was not going to be delivered on time. This prompted a challenging period of days when the provider was contacting students to try and delay their arrival by a few days. We also worked with them and our local colleagues at Cambridge University to source temporary alternative accommodation for those affected who did arrive. A very difficult few days, and a few more grey hairs added, but overall overcome by great teamwork.

Arrivals weekend itself went well, and culminated in our welcome ‘carnivals’ featuring bouncy castles, pop-up sports activities, and even a surf simulator. The food was well received by students, with 1,500 BBQ items given away.

So what does the coming year hold? I think it is inevitable we will continue to see increasing customer demands, both in the context of service and the products we are delivering. This year we saw a slight shift in students selecting modern and purpose-built student rooms in Cambridge, partly as a result of the new private sector options being delivered. This will be a trend to watch, albeit we also continued to see strong demand from those seeking accommodation at the cheaper end of the price range. For those of us operating in relatively expensive locations the need to try and offer supply at all price points will continue and I suspect become increasingly problematic.

In the context of customer service, we are currently scrutinising the results of our dedicated arrivals survey, and hope for a further increase in our ‘overall net promoter’ ratings. Momentum on our ‘REC’ (recreational programme) for residents is also continuing. Events planned for the next few weeks include pumpkin carving, sports events and a ‘FIFA’ Xbox tournament.

Having had our busiest arrivals yet, we are also still seeking further student accommodation, and working with providers to source the right rooms, at the right prices, and with flexibility to meet the emerging needs of students studying pre-sessional courses and commencing substantive academic programmes at various points throughout the year.

W: www.asra.ac.uk

Paul Harris is Residential Service Manager at Anglia Ruskin University.

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