The Coronavirus pandemic brought most of the UK to a standstill in 2020, with shops, pubs, salons, gyms and many more places of business closing their doors in the interest of public health.
Student accommodation was a unique challenge in its own right. With so many young people living on and around campus, the risk of the virus spreading across universities up and down the UK seemed very high. The way we accommodated students had to change to reduce the risk. We specialise in the PBSA sector, and with the 2020/2021 academic year well underway, we believe it’s important to take a look at how Coronavirus has affected the way we accommodate students.
How Have Students Interacted?
A big selling point of purpose-built student accommodation is that it gives students a way to interact with each other, forming communities and making great use of the facilities on offer. While this is still a strength of PBSA, the way in which students interacted with one another in 2020 was drastically modified.
As large groups aren’t encouraged to meet up, small friendship groups have formed instead. While smaller social circles can be seen as a negative, the groups that have been formed have had the chance to become more tight-knit. This is because the students are spending a greater amount of time with less people, creating a more intimate group.
Before the academic year started, universities took to the idea of students forming bubbles with their course mates. However, in a lot of cases, there have been no face-to-face classes. Thousands of students have been doing their courses solely online, which means very few of them have met each other in person.
Regardless of their accommodation — be it PBSA, an HMO or Halls of Residence — Interior Design is key to making sure students stick to their bubbles and reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Communal areas have to be well balanced, with seating arrangements and the amount of space available in the area taken under consideration.
Creating a space that’s appealing but unlikely to be overcrowded is difficult. New necessities such as hand sanitising units and cleaning stations have been added in many areas to encourage good hygiene practices. It takes an expert designer to find the right balance, keeping everyone safe, comfortable and happy.
How Have the Students Coped?
The news headlines have painted a clear picture on how students have coped during their first few months at university. Despite the best efforts of many universities to keep the virus contained and students safe, there are a great deal who feel let down.
Students in Manchester, as an example, have featured regularly on BBC North West. For some, the only communication they’ve had with the outside world has come in the form of short visits from their parents through a gate. At one point, an additional metal fence was constructed around the Fallowfield halls of residence during the night, and the students tore it down in anger.
In protest over their living conditions, students across Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow went on rent strikes to obtain rebates. The University of Manchester offered students in halls of residence a 30% rebate, which will cost the university close to £4 million.
The restrictive measures have had a devastating effect on student wellbeing. University in general can be a stressful time for those who feel unable to keep up with their work, and more support needs to be put in place to help.
As many universities have been holding virtual lectures and seminars, dedicated study areas are an absolute necessity across all types of student accommodation. By having private areas where students can attend virtual lectures, you help them as much as possible by clearing away distractions and reducing external noise.
A lack of human interaction has made student life more difficult. While everyone must maintain social distancing measures, we need to find new ways to encourage safe social activities to try and keep spirits high. This may mean planning more activities but limiting the amount of people who can join in, or hosting virtual quizzes.
Should You Use Certain Materials When Furnishing?
Before we discuss this point, it’s important to note we are not healthcare experts or scientists. The information we’re providing here is based on research we’ve gathered from reputable sources.
Coronavirus has been tested on multiple surfaces, and as you’d expect, the virus can live longer on some materials than on others. Research from the National Institute of Health, followed by another study conducted by Beijing microbiologists, found the virus can survive for up to three days on smooth surfaces such as glass, ceramic, plastic and stainless steel if not thoroughly cleaned.
On porous materials, the virus had a survival time of 24 hours, which is believed to be because the materials dry it out faster. It’s worth noting this study was conducted on paper and cardboard, and studies on other porous materials and fabrics are still ongoing.
There’s no way to categorically say the virus won’t spread if you use one material over another when furnishing to accommodate students. You can, however, make slight adjustments to reduce some of the risks. Glass and plastic tables, for example, could be substituted with wooden ones, which are more porous. Alternatively, you can keep plenty of cleaning products nearby to wipe all surfaces down after use.
It would be much harder to repeatedly clean a fabric sofa than a leather or faux leather one, so you may want to keep that in mind.There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to materials. Hygiene is the most important aspect, and easy-to-clean furniture appears to be a suitable option. If you need help picking the right items for your student accommodation, one of our specialists can point you in the right direction of durable and cleanable furniture.
Doing Your Best to Accommodate Students
This isn’t an easy time for anyone, and student safety is a major concern. As long as you reinforce the necessity of social distancing, keep items and surfaces clean and do your best to help those who are struggling, you’re essentially doing all you can to accommodate students safely.
If the layout of your student property isn’t fit for social distancing, our award-winning Interior Design team can reconfigure your social spaces to keep everyone at a respectable distance while encouraging the growth of tight-knit communities. For more information on how we can help, make sure to get in touch.