When lockdown began at the start of March, we knew that the impact on the physical and well-being of our students could be immense if we did not put the right measures in place.
We immediately surveyed all our students and nearly half of them said they would be staying – maybe because our accommodation consists of self-contained studio flats – and not clusters with shared kitchens/ lounge. But also because of the Government announcement on the 27th of March asking university students to stay put and not travel home.
We knew, given the unprecedented times we were in, we had to put our immediate efforts into maintaining the well-being of everyone.
And we’re so pleased to say the response from our students was overwhelming, with many of them telling us how we made a significant difference to their mental health.
“The weekly emails to check up on residents are very good. Also, the staff leave wonderful notes and snacks at your door which certainly boosts your spirits. They have also moved to stream workouts and yoga on Facebook lives."
"The staff make trips to people's rooms and provide small gifts and leaflets saying they are their for us, with information about help!"
Our efforts were also highlighted in the Global Student Living webinar “Student Accommodation through Lockdown”. The insight company had looked at thousands of students’ responses to the National Student Housing Survey and highlighted our care during the pandemic as making a real difference to students.
So what did we do during Lockdown?
On a practical level, we continued to operate security 24/7 and put in place an additional dedicated team living on site 7 days a week. We also immediately switched to offering on-line support via our website 7 days a week, 9am until 10pm.
We decided to go ‘above and beyond’ for anyone who needed help and this has included providing a shopping service for self-isolating and vulnerable students and providing all NHS students with free laundry cards.
We’ve been able to make small but noticeable offers of help, such as loaning yoga mats to students so they didn’t have to buy their own, or handing over a vacuum cleaner to a student with a dust allergy.
We worked with Royal Mail to adapt our delivery service and provided free bikes to help students with exercise in line with Government guidelines.
How we protected our residents’ well-being
We know loneliness and boredom would be an issue (as confirmed by the Office for National Statistics this week) and more or less immediately switched activities online – offering free fitness sessions and free mindfulness classes.
One student added: “This is understandably a new thing for everyone, so I had low expectations but the online mindfulness classes and email communication was a pleasant and welcome surprise.”
We also increased our mental health support and dropped postcards through our residents doors to check they we were okay. We operated a daily well-being call for those that were finding things difficult. We were also able to work with the university mental health teams on a number of individual cases, helping to ensure the safety and well-being of those with greater needs.
Our students have told us of their immense gratitude for all of these gestures, including comments like “I’m 100% [happy] with the help and support I’ve got through this lovely company”.
We also started a gift delivery service, making safe drop offs of Easter eggs, art kits, games, food and drink as well as other small gifts to keep morale high. We have kept this up throughout lockdown and plan to continue this until the end of the contract.
And it made our students smile. Their comments included:
"I noticed the treats you’re far too kind"
"Happy Easter! Just want to say thank you for your gifts, it’s really made my day, especially during this difficult time Thank you again"
"Really appreciate this! 😭" And our social media feeds were full of people who wanted to say thanks back.
Our mental health support in 2020-21
We’ve always prided ourselves on our well-being support and our plans for 2020-21 are no different. We’re looking at the ways we can help our students navigate the ‘new normal’, from mini-support bubbles to late night chat services.
We’ll be revealing our plans soon, but you can rest assured our students’ well-being is our number one priority.