In the last 20 years we have seen the student accommodation industry change and evolve. From 1995 onwards, we saw the rise of the private sector. The introduction of the en suite bedroom, lots of beech veneer, six-bedroom cluster flats as standard, with no common rooms.
All about design
From 2007, it was all about design; lots of white everywhere, larger windows, fitted furniture, internet, ¾ beds, contemporary design colours and vinyl flooring. Greater flexibility of spaces in kitchens, more design-led furniture and common rooms started to reappear.
About this time, we saw the rise of the Millennials: the Facebook, Twitter, coffee shop generation. No need to be in the library, they wanted study/learning space in halls. They wanted to be seen in cool places, surrounded by their friends, and common rooms are great because they can enhance the student experience by creating strong student communities.
In terms of buildings, it has now become all about the designer hub, a stylish place for residents to be seen. We have seen a response to this change; for example at the University of Edinburgh, who have created a hall with a single kitchen for 400 residents. Unipol have Greystacks, in Nottingham, which is a large town house with 12 people sharing the kitchen/common room. Both of these models can help to create great communities.
Common rooms are great because they can enhance the student experience by creating strong student communities
One of our buildings, Sir John Cass Hall, is a traditional hall with long corridors, very small rooms, communal shower and toilet blocks, communal kitchens and a large common room. In 2000, with the rise of the en suite, I was sitting there thinking days are numbered for this type of building, but how wrong I was. In 2013 we embarked on a refurbishment that kept the existing set up, but really ‘pimped it up’, with standards and style of design as good as anything produced at the high-end of the market, or even hotels. The common room would not be out of place in a trendy café in Hoxton. We introduced a study space, Wagamama-style benches, and vibrant colours along with lots of white.
We recently undertook a survey of our residents and with over half of them taking part we recorded an overall satisfaction rating of 98%. This type of building is significantly cheaper to build, as it is very space efficient.
For future student accommodation, particularly for first years, perhaps we should look back at what we were doing prior to the ’90s, but with a new designer twist?
These halls can help create communities and enhance the student experience and, importantly, can prove cheaper to deliver.
By Allan Hilton, Chief Executive of the Cass and Claredale Residences; a small, successful, charitable organisation that houses 380 university students in East London, with some of the lowest rents in the city.
To find out more about the Association for Student Residential Accommodation (ASRA) visit: www.asra.ac.uk/