The much-anticipated winners of this year’s Student Accommodation Awards have been revealed.
Agency Team Award
Sponsored by Abodus
Highly commended: The Property Marketing Strategists
JLL’s student team has participated in some of the largest recent purpose-built student accommodation deals, including working on GIC/Greystar’s bid for Student Roost. The team claims to have worked on 75% of all agent-represented student bed deals in the UK in the past year, worth £3.8bn in buy-side transactions and £1.2bn on the sell side.
Deals include the disposal of a 347-bed PBSA scheme in West Hampstead, London, and the sale of a client’s 2,171-bed PBSA portfolio.
JLL said its PBSA team demonstrated deep market knowledge and ran a highly competitive process.
Judges said JLL showed “good depth to its offering” and demonstrated an ability to “exceed the expectations of its clients and manage complex transactions with ease”.
Climate Crisis Initiative
Sponsored by Shoosmiths
EcoSync uses data and AI to create a carbon footprint of student accommodation buildings to provide room-by-room control to heat occupied rooms to optimal temperature.
With a wide range of student nationalities, preferred ‘comfort’ temperatures within accommodation vary significantly.
EcoSync’s data shows that student accommodation buildings are empty 70% of the time and that through outdated boiler control systems and inflexible building management systems, up to 60% of energy is being wasted.
To solve these challenges, EcoSync created a dynamic energy management system in which building managers set precise temperature schedules on a room-by-room basis and in-room QR codes give students instant access to a simple mobile interface to fine-tune temperature.
The firm’s second-generation solution launched in autumn 2021 has delivered reductions of 28% to 57% in heating-related carbon emissions across a number of buildings.
The judges said: “EcoSync’s mission is very impressive. It has demonstrated an impact in student living experience while lowering carbon emissions across a number of buildings.”
Highly commended: Sodexo and Northumbria University
Since they started working together a decade ago, UPP and the University of Exeter have delivered more than 4,000 rooms.
East Park Phase 2 at the university’s Streatham Campus is their latest joint venture. The 578-room project features innovative design and a sustainability-first approach that puts mental and physical wellbeing at its heart, achieved by engaging with the university, students and the wider community.
The campus includes a strong natural habitat, comprising woodland, lakes, gardens and open spaces in-keeping with the local area. Residences are laid out across three terraces, with a green spine to connect all levels.
The design incorporates features that combat isolation, including bookable social spaces for group activities and larger kitchen and dining areas.
The judges praised “a consortium approach” and how the PBSA developer and university worked together from the very beginning to ensure what was being built “fully addressed the institution’s and students’ needs”.
Developer of the Year
Sponsored by Yardi
Winner: Nido Student
Having developed, managed and operated student accommodation across the UK and Europe for more than a decade, developer Nido Student saw unprecedented growth last year. As a result, it now operates 7,824 beds internationally with a pipeline of more than 3,000 beds.
In May 2022, Nido announced a partnership with investment manager Nuveen Real Estate to open and operate its first PBSA scheme in Nido Bryggen in Copenhagen, Denmark.
In one of the greenest cities in the world, Nido worked closely with architect Arkitema and interior designer A Designer at Heart to create 443 modern and comfortable student rooms, communal spaces and facilities including multi-tiered roof terraces.
Only recycled, reclaimed, biodegradable, sustainable and natural materials are used in the development.
The judges said: “Nido has delivered excellent builds for the sector this year and truly focused on its commitment to ESG. Its passion shows through the end product. It is clear students are involved and considered in every part of the design.”
Health & Wellbeing Initiative
Sponsored by Student Crowd
Winner: Student Roost
Highly commended: Kings College London
Over the past year, Student Roost has further strengthened its student health and wellbeing support, having recognised that the effects of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis are adding to existing pressures.
In addition to social spaces and events designed to encourage friendships and communities, a wellbeing strategy has been created that focuses on protecting residents.
This approach is supported by building strong partnerships with universities, public sector organisations and charities.
Over the past year, Student Roost has produced a catalogue of new policies and operational standards on antisocial behaviour, wellbeing and accidents/incidents.
The firm offers 24/7 customer service teams and 40 trained mental health first-aiders as well as a presence on social media channels to connect and engage with residents.
“It is clear that wellbeing is a central core to Student Roost’s strategy,” the judges said. “The link to universities is particularly impressive.”
Sponsored by CRM Students
Winner: Tide Construction and Vision Modular Systems
As the construction industry seeks ways to reduce waste and carbon emissions, Tide Construction’s approach using volumetric modular systems manufactured off site is gaining traction.
The firm, which recently completed the world’s tallest modular PBSA scheme in Lewisham, south-east London, can lay claim to producing modules producing 41% to 45% fewer carbon dioxide emissions than traditional methods of building student living schemes.
A study by University of Cambridge and Edinburgh Napier University academics found that Tide sites at Gants Hill in London and George Street, Croydon, saved 28,000 tonnes of embodied carbon emissions – the equivalent of the carbon dioxide absorbed by 1.3 million trees in a year.
Using the modular construction approach, projects are substantially quicker to build than conventional construction schemes, often resulting in a 50% to 60% saving in construction time, bringing down construction costs.
The judged referred to the approach as “a great way to build faster and more sustainably”.
International Operator of the Year
Sponsored by ASK4
Winner: Student Depot
Student Depot, the largest PBSA developer and operator in Poland, has responded rapidly to challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
The platform runs six buildings and has six developments in its pipeline, totalling 5,570 beds. It uses its operational knowledge and customer feedback to design schemes featuring indoor and outdoor gyms, TV/cinema rooms, games rooms and music areas.
Having responded to the Covid pandemic with high standards of sanitary procedures, Student Depot has addressed the challenges posed by the war in neighbouring Ukraine.
Student Depot employees were trained by a psychologist in how to talk to people affected by the war trauma and all Ukrainian students had the opportunity to host family and friends for as long as needed. The platform also offered rent discounts and transferred deposits to the rent account so customers could allocate funds to other needs.
The judges described Student Depot’s response to Covid and the war in Ukraine as “impressive”.
Investor of the Year
Sponsored by Irwin Mitchell
Winner: Kexgill Group
‘If we can’t make this fun, we should stop doing it’ is the motto of Kexgill Group, an investment firm that self-manages the majority of its assets in the UK.
The firm has recently moved to an ethical, community-focused approach exemplified by its Liverpool development USP, which, when refurbished, will feature rare three-bed clusters.
Although Kexgill’s net asset value has increased by 99% in the last seven years, the firm said it was “motivated about the student experience, not just a spreadsheet yield”, embracing the lower-income international postgraduate market.
It has developed links to local churches, arranged airport transfers, offered free wifi in selected outside zones, developed communal herb gardens and undertaken an art trial leading to an on-campus gallery.
The judges said: “Kexgill has a deep understanding of the student market and in particular the needs of different groups of students.”
Highly commended: Knight Frank
The specialist student team at law firm Shoosmiths has this year advised on several transformational PBSA deals, which helped deliver full-year revenues of £19.8m, up 39% from the previous year.
The firm advised Locate Developments on the development of a multi-million-pound student development in Oxford, being constructed on an existing supermarket site that requires redevelopment as part of the project.
It also advised London & Scottish Property Investment Management on various student development sites across England to identify, plan and resolve rights-of-light issues.
Other student deals included advising Lloyds Bank on the refinancing of the construction costs of three student accommodation blocks in Liverpool and advising Moorfield Group on the purchase and forward-funding of a student accommodation development in Colchester, to be developed into a 280-bed PBSA building.
The judges lauded Shoosmiths for having a “highly successful year” for its extensive client list that includes “many of the leading PBSA providers”.
Operator the Year
Sponsored by ASK4
Winner: Unite Students
Highly commended: Fresh
Unite Students is the UK’s largest owner-operator of purpose-built student accommodation, providing accommodation for 74,000 students. During the pandemic, it provided a range of financial support to students affected by closures and lockdowns.
Students not living in their accommodation were able to apply for a 10-week rental discount and four-week complimentary tenancy extension during summer 2021. This contributed towards more than £100m in financial support.
The firm has shone a spotlight on hidden disadvantage and inequality throughout student accommodation in the UK in its Living Black at University report, published in February 2022.
In response to the findings, it founded the Unite Students Commission on Living Black at University, which brings together national and professional bodies and charities to take action on key recommendations.
“Unite has also been the only PBSA contributing to the Suicide Prevention Strategy,” noted the judges.
Private Halls of Residence Award
Sponsored by Torsion Group
Winner: Student Roost, Hollis Croft, Sheffield
Opened in 2019, Student Roost’s flagship accommodation, Hollis Croft in the heart of Sheffield, has proved a huge success story.
The site is split across two main buildings and includes a 19-storey tower comprising flats, studios and apartments. Residents are also offered the ability to tweak usage of a room over time.
Hollis Croft boasts a cinema, karaoke rooms and a hosting kitchen, encouraging residents to cook and eat together in larger groups. The 24/7 onsite team uses these spaces to run a wide range of inclusive events, while residents also have access to The Neighbourhood App, which helps them connect with each other.
The development offers flexible payment options and payment plans on request, having provided Covid rent discounts during lockdowns in 2019-20 and 2020-21.
Judges called Hollis Croft “impressive” and praised the development’s luxurious communal areas, outdoor courtyard, gym and wellbeing features such as mental health first-aiders.
Sponsored by Yugo
Winner: Lydia Jones, chief executive, Housemates
Twenty-three-year-old founder and chief executive Lydia Jones launched Housemates in 2019 after experiencing problems finding and booking student accommodation herself.
The student accommodation marketplace now helps students find accommodation across 50 cities and is expanding globally. It aims be a cheap and low-risk way to fill a bed compared with other platforms.
This aim is to benefit the student, eliminating uncertainty from the process, and to allow providers to fill beds faster and at a lower cost.
When the student accommodation market stalled during the pandemic, Jones continued to improve the product by working closely with the industry and bringing on board new staff members from large tech firms and leading PBSA providers.
“Lydia showed tenacity to get it set up and has grown it impressively,” said the judges.
Social Impact Initiative
Sponsored by StuRents
Winner: The Unite Foundation
The Unite Foundation, an independent charity set up by PBSA owner and operator Unite Students, provides support to students who have been in care or are estranged from their parents. Such students often face considerable barriers to accessing and completing university.
In its first decade, the foundation has invested £13m and supported 500 estranged and care-experienced young people to go to university.
The scholarship scheme offers free accommodation for up to three years of study, plus wraparound support such as a welcome pack on arrival, a named contact, a student-led online community and ringfenced work experience placements. Crucially, the accommodation is available 365 days a year.
The foundation also developed a student-led community for all care-experienced and estranged students, co-created with students themselves.
According to the judges, the foundation “has consistently supported students on their educational journey”.
University Halls of Residence Award
Sponsored by Glide
Winner: Cryfield Village, University of Warwick, R H Partnership Architects
Designed by R H Partnership Architects in response to a survey of more than 2,000 students, the Cryfield Village development at the University of Warwick offers a variety of accommodation types, rental rates and social groupings, helping to foster a more diverse and equitable community.
The concept delivers a new village of 14 buildings on the university’s first brownfield development site, including 828 student rooms, six apartments and three houses for wardens, along with a central social hub – the Village Hall.
Every aspect of the design has been considered to create a cohesive community under the mantra ‘Living, Learning, Together’, reflected in its architecture, interiors, furniture, branding and wayfinding, even the design of duvet covers.
By flexing the brief and delivering rooms smaller than previous University of Warwick standards, the students have gained valuable space for community interaction, all through the simple reshaping of physical space.
The judges described Cryfield Village as “an outstanding development”.
University Team of the Year
Winner: Residential Services, University of London
At the University of London’s eight intercollegiate halls, which house 3,500 students from 36 institutions, great effort has been made to achieve high levels of student satisfaction and create inclusive, supportive communities.
Initiatives introduced include: a new website; a new accommodation management system; a clean kitchen competition; and a private housing fair, bringing together students, housing advisers and exhibitors to help students plan their next year’s accommodation.
Residential life and health and wellbeing events were introduced throughout the year, including marking cultural celebrations such as Diwali and the Lunar New Year and awareness days such as University Mental Health Day.
Student satisfaction surveys showed that within six weeks of arriving, 79.1% felt they belonged in their hall community and 81.8% said they would recommend their halls to others.
“The stand-out elements of this entry are the use of data to back up claims, and the strong and evidenced response to inclusion and sustainability,” the judges said.
Unsung Hero Award
Winner: Louise Evans, True Student
Louise Evans, a housekeeper at True Student’s Birmingham development, does extraordinary things for others without ever seeking credit.
From sewing buttons on to guests’ clothes, to providing food hygiene advice, to personally caring for individuals, Evans has done it all, according to colleagues and students.
She joined the True Student team in August 2020, having worked in the hotel industry for 25 years. Her colleagues say her passion for exceptional guest service and bubbly personality set her apart from many of her peers.
Having an autistic daughter means Evans understands the importance of effective communication with every student, whatever their needs or circumstances.
The judges said: “We can often forget how vulnerable our residents are and having a member of staff that has the heart of a teacher is invaluable – for the residents and her fellow colleagues.”