The past year has taught us that PBSA must provide more than a comfortable bed and a desk: at the heart of the offering should be student wellbeing and experience. During this ongoing period of uncertainty and increased anxiety, PBSA providers have a responsibility to support this.
Living spaces should provide an environment in which the minds of tomorrow are not only sheltered, but actively encouraged to flourish – and this is only made possible if measures to support wellbeing are integrated into every element of the student offering.
If spending the past year at home has taught us anything, it’s the vital importance placed on the living space to uplift us and keep us inspired. These spaces must feel comforting, flexible and fit for our lifestyle, and the PBSA should be no different.
Going to university is a major change for many young people as they navigate independence and discover new friends, places and interests; with the added stress of the pandemic, it’s likely that some students may struggle with their mental health.
Alongside the desire for accommodation that goes beyond simply being a living space, in these challenging times of social restrictions and increased isolation, students may need to reach out for additional support. Therefore, it is vital that PBSA providers adapt so they are still able to maintain resident wellbeing monitoring, even when residents are not as physically visible.
Scape, for example, has launched a student app to enable team members to respond and provide adequate care for all residents. This provides all the information a student may need about their accommodation while social contact is reduced, including the benefits they have been offered such as quarantine bundles and online social events.
The app also offers mental health support: students have the ability to contact a mental health trained resident manager at a touch of a button, while maintaining social distancing.
This is proving popular with students – however, as some prefer to remain anonymous, all residents have also been provided with a Togetherall profile. This enables members to post anonymously about their feelings and reach out to others in similar positions.
Alongside these initiatives, students also benefit from a partnership with student mental health charity Student Minds, who will work closely with Scape to enable staff and students to care for their own mental health and that of those around them. It’s always vital to encourage students to share their experiences, but perhaps this is now more important than ever.
(Tom Scape, founder and global CEO of Scape)
PBSA providers should demonstrate a passion for bringing people together – shared spaces and experiences foster feelings of belonging to a community and connectedness to others around them, even if this connection remains largely virtual for the time being.
A feeling of being part of a vibrant community means that students gain another level of support – each other – and that the sense of isolation is reduced. There are many opportunities to encourage students to interact in the nurturing environment their accommodation provides, for example through socials or focus groups for students to voice their opinions.
Events and initiatives like this demonstrate that you’re providing far more than a room: you are providing an active community that is there for support.
One of the key ingredients for creating a sense of community is the team that brings the building to life. These are the people that residents will meet and interact with on an everyday basis, so it is imperative that these staff members are carefully selected.
Every team member, from reception to maintenance, should be considered part of the family, so residents see the same familiar and friendly faces and trust that they will be taken care of.
The feeling of comfort that can be gained from a daily chat or vent about exams with a favourite member of the front desk staff shouldn’t be underestimated - this consistent reassurance that support is available can help to ground students, making them feel safe and at home in their accommodation.
In addition, as students are used to having an active social life with a full calendar of things to do, it’s important that PBSA providers maintain a sense of student community by providing alternative activities while residents are spending more time alone, and bringing back in-person events once restrictions are lifted.
Offering meaningful and exciting initiatives and events encourages student to connect outside of the lecture theatre - whether in-person or virtually. Whether it’s wellness, new skills, cookery, health or fitness, Scape works with experts from all fields to help students learn something new, connect with one another from the comfort of their rooms, and feel part of a much bigger supportive network.
The design of the building itself is another vital factor in developing a strong sense of community and wellbeing among residents.
Everything from the layout to the materials and finish must be designed to give residents everything they need in the smartest and most sensitive way possible. Shared spaces, for example, should be much more than just aesthetically pleasing.
When social mixing is permitted, it is important that students are offered spaces that are functional for both communal studying and social activities, so they are encouraged to spend quality time together, highlighting the vibrant community that they are part of.
The continued strength of the PBSA sector demonstrates how important the sense of community, and the improved wellbeing that comes as a result, is to communal living and a good student experience.
Where students who choose to let from private landlords often chop and change both where they live and who they live with every academic year, choosing a PBSA provider such as Scape can ground them in a more permanent-feeling community and give them a real connection to their living space.
This reassurance that they have a stable, nurturing and inspiring environment in which to spend their university years means their young minds will be free to grow, learn and go on to great success throughout their adult life.
*Tom Ward is the founder and global CEO of PBSA provider Scape