Our Student Accommodation team caught up with Rebecca O’Hare Assistant Director Residential life and Accommodation Office at the University of Leeds. To find out what she loves about Student accommodation and what top tips she would provide.
I, like many of my colleagues and peers unexpectedly fell head first and somewhat naively in to the world of student accommodation. As a child, when posed with the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, you were more likely to hear me say the words ‘artist’ or ‘kids TV presenter’. The word ‘student’ combined with ‘accommodation’ was never on my radar.
Everyday is vastly different from the previous…
Many careers can claim the above. However, in student accommodation, regardless of whether you work in operations, student support, residence life or even finance, the situations you encounter, the student stories you hear and the problems you solve will ensure that no two days are the same. While it can be said that working in student accommodation is somewhat a cyclical experience, the diversity of situations you encounter will ensure you gain the opportunity to deploy a range of skills. Your knowledge base on topics including emergency responses, events management, building compliance, disciplinary procedures, appropriate and effective signposting will increase and soon, the phrase “I haven’t seen that before” will become one of your go to expressions.
We don’t bite…
The network of professionals working in the UK student accommodation sector is small. Large in comparison to some countries but beautifully pocket-sized in that should you require advice, assistance or a sympathetic ear to a complex or unusual question, there will be someone, somewhere who will say “Hey, I’ve experienced that, here’s what I did”. Supportive membership organisations like AMOSSHE, ASRA, ACUHO-I and CUBO provide you with ample opportunities to learn best practice, hit the ground running and mingle with like minded individuals keen to get to know you and your role. I’m lucky to call many initial acquittances now life long friends and take great comfort from the fact I can pick up the phone to them at a moments notice.
Remaining young at heart…
What I enjoy most about my current and previous roles is that is forces me to remain current. By that, I mean, I take an active approach in understanding what a typical student is generally interested in. Does this mean I have a TikTok account? Yes. Do I create my own TikTok content? Afraid not.
Utilising social media, observing students on campus, asking questions of students and staff in our accommodation and keeping abreast of topics prioritised by our sabbatical officers are some of the many ways I understand what is important to students. It keeps me focused on what I term a ‘student first experience’ and if anything, provides my residence life team with endless Rebecca-isms where by I’ll randomly say “I saw x,y,z on TikTok last night…..we should do that!”. When students are your work, focus and passion, you’ll naturally absorb the trends of the day, week, month or year. You’ll be so up to date you may even understand what a “bones or no bones day” means.
Discover the world on your doorstep…
The UK provides an educational experience that attracts hundreds of thousands of students from all around the world. 1.1 million to be exact. Student accommodation buildings are a melting pot of nationalities, cultures and traditions. There are fun days when you’re learning snippets of mandarin in order to go the extra mile. Challenging days sitting down with a group of flatmates to sensitively diffuse a culturally tense situation and physical days when you’re carrying students luggage as they ask you “Is the UK really this cold?”.
Working in student accommodation, you become part and parcel of the buildings you work in. The multi-cultural communities literally ebb and flow as students swarm in and out on a daily basis. I cannot begin to express the sheer amount of cultural opportunities you will have to participate in and learn from. In short, it’s a gift. As I wrote in this piece many years ago, every property has a story to tell. The fun part? You get to shape it.
Progression, progression, progression…
The sector is booming. In some cities there isn’t enough student accommodation to meet demand (that’s an article for another day). Within a bustling sector there will always be multiple opportunities for the right and most determined of individuals. If you show willing, are eager to learn and truly care about delivering an exceptional experience, you will do well. In fact, you can do very well. Whether you chose to commence your career within a university or purpose built student accommodation (PBSA), there are many talented and knowledgeable individuals within the sector that you can learn from, some of whom I’ve been lucky to call a mentor.
You can and will make a difference…
When embarking on any career, many place the goal of ‘making a difference’ high on their list of objectives. This, within the realm of student accommodation, you will achieve. I guarantee it. Perhaps the difference will be providing an empathetic ear to a worried parent or helping a confused student understand how to navigate their new city. You may help defuse multiple flatmate arguments, teach someone not to mix their darks and whites, share the best place to get a great coffee, or maybe, just maybe, you’ll be the person who taught someone how to defrost chicken and not catch salmonella.
Whatever the scenario, the positive difference we all make in students lives are often charmingly subtle. They are hidden in one to one interactions, quick shouts of ‘how are you?’ catapulted across reception desks, late night flat visits following a noise disturbance, gentle follow up emails after difficult events and multiple exchanges of laughter when they share yet another wild night out story. The student themselves may not recognise the difference and a thank you may never be received and nor should it be expected. Just know, that when totted up, those nuances demonstrate a keen interest, a willingness to care and can often be the reason a lonely student has a good or bad day.
We love catching up with Rebecca and her passion for the sector is something you can’t get away from.
If you would like to explore career options in Student Accommodation please get in touch with.
Hannah Searle email@example.com
Or Anna Kacprzak Anna.Kacprzak@mrgpeople.co.uk