May 3, 2021

10 steps to fostering a sense of community in student residences according to The Class Academy

During The Class Academy module on Community & Residence Wellbeing, we identified ten steps to fostering a sense of community which can be tweaked per organisation and property.

In April, The Class Foundation launched its first Academy module on Community & Residence Wellbeing. The course brought together players from the student accommodation industry including operators, suppliers/agents, higher education institutions, and investors. Together we discussed the tools needed to foster a sense of community in student residences. We quickly uncovered that each property has its own unique profile and while some initiatives may work for one, it does not for another. Nonetheless, we identified ten steps to fostering a sense of community which can be tweaked per organisation and property.

Short term initiatives

  1. Listen to and involve your residents
  • Short regular surveys / polls can be posted in forums and/or groups which are managed by you, this is a straightforward way to engage and collect up-to-date insight. It can be 2-3 questions each week to keep your finger on the pulse.
  • Focus groups are a terrific way to gain in-depth answers to your unanswered questions. Make sure you go in with a clear purpose, have a variety of students and hold them a few times throughout the year, this will help you gain a better understanding of your current cohort. TIP: put a small budget aside for incentives, this will help with attendance. TIP: If someone impartial can hold these, e.g., student union it is good to show you are really listening.
  • Host a mid-year survey to gain feedback on what has happened so far and what the residents want more/less of. You can also use a survey to create quick wins with a ‘you said, we did’ campaign.
  1. Identify quick wins and easy to organise events
    We recommend creating an event schedule but, in the meantime, you can run easy to organise events that require little or no investment. A few ideas: arts & crafts activities, movie nights, games nights, and BBQ’s. In the long-term you can also consider asking students from the community to lead on these activities.
  1. Launch hobby-based support groups
    Connect people who have the same interest and allow them to assign a space and time to meet. You can kick start this by posting sign-up sheets online or in the common rooms. A good place to start is with popular hobbies such as football, reading, music, yoga, and gaming. Having a space for gaming competitions is inexpensive and can provide a focus for shy residents.
  1. (Re)evaluate your spatial design
    Can you add some personal touches to the spaces to make them more inviting i.e., play music, add artwork, get rid of the magnolia walls, and add comfortable seating? In case you would like to dive deeper into this topic, you can now register for The Class Academy on Spatial Design for PBSA & Coliving.
  1. Organise anything food related
    A way to a student’s heart is through food. It is not only a clever way to engage with students, but it also improves general life skills by offering cooking workshops. You could also provide cookbooks/recipe cards which residents can contribute to. Try to keep it fun and social by hosting themed events and/or creating smaller groups of people who have similar interests/cultures.

Long term initiatives

  1. Invest in student staff
    Peer to peer operations is important in helping create an environment that students want to live in. Not only do tenants feel more comfortable around like-minded individuals, but you also have the capacity to gather feedback directly from the ground. Make sure you invest in creating infrastructures that support these ambassadors, such as giving them the freedom to run their own events and empowering them to be community leaders.
  1. Create a programme/brand identity
    The brand identity of your residence life programme should be present at each touchpoint. A few ideas to help improve your programme’s identity:
  • Create a distinctive brand for your programme and stick to it (name, colours, style etc but also think about hashtags and photo opportunities such as a ‘selfie space’)
  • There can be pillars to your programmes i.e. wellbeing, sports, networking, and study events/groups but the overarching brand should be easily identifiable. These should align to your company/university vision and mission.
  • Your staff will help ‘sell’ your events so make sure your (front-line staff especially) are invested in your programme.
  1. Identify collaboration opportunities and partnerships
    Begin by mapping key stakeholders who will benefit your residents and work on building a relationship with mutual objectives and goals.
  • Identify local general practitioners and invite them in to help increase sign-ups.
  • Work with local charities i.e., well-being support, LGBT movements, under – represented groups, and volunteering opportunities.
  • Increase engagement and relationships with surrounding universities. We recommend connecting with the Head of Student Support Services – let them know who you are, that you accommodate their student population and ask them who to contact if there are serious concerns regarding any of you residents.
  1. Analyse success and train for further improvement
    Build key performance indicators related to your programme into employees’ performance reviews and identify training opportunities for further development. Your team will benefit from training on mental health awareness, how to promote boundaries, and how to have difficult conversations. Members who complete trainings are more confident and will be more likely to feel empowered moving ahead.
  1. Plan now and reap the rewards  
    Having a 6-month/yearly plan can help the team be invested. It also gives you room for smaller events to be slotted into the timetable spontaneously. With proper preparation you can create strong brand awareness and hype around the events whilst making it easier to allocate budget and resources. Having a lead per initiative can help manage the process and ensure the programme runs smoothly throughout the year.

We hope the above steps guide your organisation in launching or fine-tuning your community and resident wellbeing programmes. In case you have additional questions about this topic and/or the academy, you can reach out to our team directly. We would like to take this moment to thank the module lecturers, case providers, and students for setting the standard of this industry-led training programme! A special shout out to Paula Dalziel, Rebecca O'Hare, Elizabeth Cox, Irupé Barroeta Pereira, and Eleonora Guardini.

The next Class Academy will be on PropTech for Future-Proof Buildings as we discuss the technology needed and demanded by the next generation. In case you wish to join, you have until May 4th to register.

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