Property sector puts heads together to improve student mental health by Rebekah Donaldson, Surveyor at Allsop

by Johnny Clayton on Wednesday, 23 October 2019

I wrote a blog nine months ago on the importance of wellbeing in student housing. Since then we have had a major breakthrough; in July, the British Property Federation (BPF) launched a mental health and wellbeing guide for the student accommodation sector and a £14.5 million programme to help reduce the number of suicides at university in England. With 80% of students saying their accommodation impacts their wellbeing, these are welcome steps.

The student housing sector has evolved quickly in the last 20 years, with students now able to choose from a variety of high quality homes. However, today we are faced with the dilemma of what students want vs. what students need; for example, many want their own space but need an element of social integration to minimise isolation and a sense of loneliness.

As a sector we are now starting to understand the importance of wellbeing and placing this at the core of student housing. With recent YouGov figures revealing that one in four students suffer from mental health problems, it is no wonder that developers are designing new accommodation with this in mind.

With 84% of students surveyed by the British Property Federation (BPF), saying they are unhappy with their accommodation, this is to be welcomed.  BPF’s research, the National Student Housing Survey 2019, concluded that 65% of students agree that living in their accommodation has helped them to make friends, reinforcing the positive role that accommodation can have on wellbeing.

The BPF guide demonstrates that the property sector is committed to improving student wellbeing and mental health and will ensure providers of student accommodation have well thought-through policy addressing wellbeing at the heart of their schemes. The paper is divided into four sections:

  • Why provide effective wellbeing support
  • Responding to student wellbeing issues
  • Supporting student wellbeing
  • Providers’ legal responsibilities

The key recommendations for the industry can be found fewer than three categories: staff wellbeing training, wellbeing policies and holistic wellbeing initiatives. Staff wellbeing training is the first port of call as student housing operational staff is often the first point of contact for students in accommodation and they need to be able to actively listen and have a good sense of awareness. Training is widely offered and easily accessible. Unipol (who are actively at the forefront of student wellbeing in housing) provide staff training and research.

The formation and implementation of wellbeing policies is also important. The guide provides details of case management and procedures that could be introduced.

The third is holistic wellbeing initiatives; this includes events and social programmes that encourage good health and integration. I covered this in my last blog (link above), the importance of communal areas and this is something I believe the student housing sector is becoming very good at offering; we just need to ensure that the offering isn’t left at students’ own discretion and is actively encouraged by management. This recommendation also requires accommodation providers to have an understanding of the stress a student undergoes in the transition into university life – loneliness, exam stress, change of culture, living away from home etc.

The paper also includes a self-assessment tool, whereby providers can assess their wellbeing offering and policies and look to improve. The nature of wellbeing in student housing is more widely recognised than ever before and we now have government backed funding and a BPF guide to help assist in providing the best accommodation and support to students

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