British Property Federation launches mental health and wellbeing guide for student accommodation sector

15 Jul 2019

Policy area: Student accommodation

British Property Federation launches mental health and wellbeing guide for student accommodation sector

  • 65% of students agree that living in their accommodation helped them to make friends, signalling positive role accommodation providers play in supporting universities and students

15 July 2019, London: The British Property Federation (BPF) today publishes a mental health and wellbeing guide for the student accommodation sector.

Endorsed by the Department for Education, the guide has been produced by a working group of representatives from across the purpose-built student accommodation and higher education sectors, with expert insight from mental health and wellbeing charities. The Student Wellbeing In Purpose-Built Student Accommodation Guide can be found here.

Responsibility for student pastoral and therapeutic care sits with university welfare teams, the NHS and professional health services. Student accommodation, however, can play an important role supporting universities and student mental health and wellbeing.

This guide demonstrates the purpose-built student accommodation sector’s commitment to continuously improve wellbeing support. Best practice wellbeing policies are at the heart of this guide which will enable the sector to contribute to the growth of healthy student communities. 

While the guide has been designed primarily for the private purpose-built student accommodation sector, many of the recommendations are equally applicable to university-operated accommodation.
 

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore comments:

“Going to university is a major milestone and can often mean leaving home for the first time, moving away to a new city and being away family and friends support.  

“Our universities are making strides in improving mental health support for students, but student accommodation providers also play a part in providing support.

“It is important for frontline staff to be able to spot the early warning signs of distress and direct students to help, but it is also crucial they are equipped to respond to incidents where problems do escalate.  

“I hope this guidance will help accommodation providers to enhance their policies and procedures concerning student mental health, to help create safe and secure environments for students to thrive in.”
 

Melanie Leech, Chief Executive, British Property Federation says:

“Going to university should be an exciting time in any individual’s life, but for some it is stress-inducing, particularly if it’s the first time living away from parents. Accommodation providers have a role to play in ensuring this transition is as smooth as possible, and that the place students call home is safe and enables them to make the most of their time at university.

“Student health and wellbeing is at the top of the purpose-built student accommodation sector’s agenda, and this guide reinforces the sector’s commitment to continuously improving the ways in which it supports universities and students.”
 

According to Opening Up, a report by iQ Student Accommodation and relationship charity Relate, which surveyed more than 2,000 students in 2018, 21% of university students reported feeling ‘often’ or ‘always’ lonely, and 74% of students said making friends and building meaningful relationships is one of the biggest challenges at university.

However, there is a significant opportunity for the student accommodation sector to positively contribute to improving student wellbeing. With 65% of students saying that living in their accommodation helped them to make friends, this shows the important role that accommodation providers can play in creating opportunities for greater interaction between students.

The 2017 report Reality Check, published by Unite Students and HEPI, found that students arrive to university in a heightened state of anxiety and excitement, with 61% of applicants feeling anxious about going to university, and 47% feeling unprepared to live with people they don’t know. 13% also said they had a named mental health condition.

The report also found that once at university, first year students often or always felt stressed (59%), felt down or depressed (30%) and under strain (53%).

Student accommodation providers are uniquely placed – at the nexus of academic, domestic and social lives – to create safe and supportive environments for students to build support networks, and to direct students to the right support, should they need it.

This guide also serves to improve understanding among accommodation teams, who can find themselves at the frontline when mental health issues arise.
 

Jenny Shaw, Student Experience Director, Unite Students says:

“As the UK’s largest accommodation provider, our teams work very closely with students 24 hours a day including at times when students are at their most vulnerable. It’s been vital to ensure our people have the right framework, skills and advice to be able to respond in a professional way, and to help students get to the more specialist services they need. I hope this guide will be a valuable and practical resource to our sector, to help us play our small but vital role in supporting student wellbeing at university.”
 

David Tymms, Chair, British Property Federation Student Accommodation Committee and Commercial Director, iQ Student Accommodation adds:

“This guide has been a unique opportunity for collaboration and learning for all those with a stake in student wellbeing. We have received contributions from university bodies, charities, mental health experts, PBSA providers, and the government. We believe that by working together to support student wellbeing, we can all play a part in helping students make the most of their experience at university and equipping them for life beyond.

“As part of iQ’s own ongoing commitment to put student wellbeing at the heart of our strategy, we have embarked on a pilot centred around the issue of combatting loneliness, and we are looking forward to sharing the results with the wider sector, to further add to the positive impact we can have as we collectively focus on this important issue.”
 

A summary of the guide’s key recommendations:

The recommended approach to wellbeing policy outlined in the guide is divided into three categories: staff training, wellbeing policies and a proactive package of holistic wellbeing initiatives.

  1. Staff wellbeing training is critical as it ensures those on the front line are able to deliver effective wellbeing support, this guide includes recommendations for training in active listening and communicating, mental health first aid and signposting.
     
  2. Wellbeing policies should implement a case management approach to ensure that students in distress receive a co-ordinated and cohesive response from their accommodation provider. The guide details the best practice for case management and the procedures which should be in place. All reactive policies should be understood as part of an overarching wellbeing strategy.
     
  3. Proactive package of holistic wellbeing initiatives should be considered by all providers. These packages should include an events and social activities programme, health and wellbeing information, advice and guidance campaigns and resident assistant teams. It is recommended that proactive provision takes into account student transition issues, loneliness and exam stress. Providers should also consider how they can utilise and/or align with university wellbeing initiatives.

It is important that accommodation providers look at their wellbeing protocols on a frequent basis and update them in accordance with the developing needs of both tenants and university partners. To assist, this guide includes a self-assessment tool, which outlines what providers should consider for their reactive wellbeing protocols in 2019.

The guide also provides insight into legal requirements, and a guidance note and template on information sharing.