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Host heads to ASRA!

Here at Host, we’re firm believers in keeping up with (and hopefully one step ahead of) other market leaders within the Student Accommodation sector. We’re keen to explore new ways that we can help our staff develop professionally, whilst also improving the overall experience for our customers at the same time.

This year, three members of the wider Host team attended the 22nd Annual 3-day ASRA Conference in Aviemore, Scotland. And after a lot of waiting around in various airports across the UK, staff members from Leicester, Sheffield and the South West met up in Inverness to complete the final leg of the journey to ASRA by coach.Arriving on Sunday afternoon, we were soon checked in to our hotels and mixing with like minded people from across the university and PBSA sectors. Once settled, we were invited to attend the ASRA Networking Event which began around 6pm.

During this time, there are a number of exhibition stands to have a look at, engage with suppliers and build new business relationships (or build upon pre-existing relationships, its always great to put a face to a name!) The exhibition stands focused around student inventory systems, booking/facilities management systems, student experience, health & safety within PBSA and security.

During this event, we were treated to a farmer’s market dinner, which served local produce of a very high quality! Networking carried on into the night, with new relationships being formed over a mutual shared passion of working within Student Accommodation.

On Monday morning, following a lovely breakfast from the MacDonald Highlands Hotel in Aviemore, we were straight down to business in the conference centre attending an opening speech from Karen Burke (ASRA Chair) welcoming us all to Scotland, and reiterating the importance of networking events and the positive impact shared experiences have upon people doing similar roles across the country.

We attended a Keynote address by Linda Moir, who has held titles such as the Leader of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games Makers and the Director of in-flight Services for Virgin Atlantic. During this address, she spoke about the importance of treating both customers and staff with the same respect and consideration, as well as how by improving staff experience, customer experience improved significantly also.

She spoke about training programs she had implemented whilst working with Virgin Atlantic (Brilliant Basics; Magic Touches…) and how by encouraging staff to get the basics right the magic touches (staff going above and beyond) then became second nature. Linda shared marketing tips and tricks, including how using a ‘cheekier’ approach engages customers at point of contact (an example of this is that Virgin Atlantic’s salt and pepper pots have ‘Pinched from Virgin Atlantic’ printed on the bottom of them).

After the brilliant Keynote address, we then took part in the ASRA AGM. This meeting gives members an overview of the Association’s current direction, status and financial health alongside being able to vote in/out Management Committee members. As our named rep wasn’t present, we secured a Proxy vote in order to be able to allow Host’s views to be counted!

The first plenary session of the conference was Understanding Unconscious Bias led by Laurence Harvey. During this session Laurence gave insight into how often personal prejudice can influence decision making within the workplace, without the decision maker being aware! It was really useful to understand this element of Human Nature, and how it can be dealt with efficiently.

The next plenary session was What if Fish Really Could Climb Trees? by Mel Loizou. During this there was a heavy focus on the relationships between an organisation and the people who work within it, and it was again insightful, and we can take away positive tips from this.

Host were then fortunate enough to have been asked to lead one of the Members Led Discussions, where Christie Lee (Sheffield) and Dan King (Leicester) presented about the Challenges of opening a new build property (and gridlocking the City on move in day!!) Following 45 minutes of them talking about experiences surrounding our most recent mobilisation project (The Elements in Sheffield), attendees were armed with a mass of questions surrounding the subject (which is always good, as at least it means they listened!)

The ASRA Management Committee had then organised a variety of different events for Monday evening, with Ian Bell (South West) attending the Highlands Whiskey Tasting evening, and Christie & Dan attending the Pamper and Prosecco evening. Again, this was a great mix-up, as we were all then able to network with different people depending on where we were eating dinner.Following another lovely breakfast on Tuesday morning, we were back into our final plenary session of the conference and this time it was called 3 minutes to Save a Life; combining compassion with governance in the response to suicide and self-harm risk. The trainer was so passionate, and informative, about how you can help someone, what help is out there this and you left the session with lots of helpful facts and knowing you can provide help to people with a simple question.

For the remainder of Tuesday, we were able to attend a variety of breakout sessions that relate to the Student Accommodation sector. We attended:

‘Social media: I’ll let you into a secret…’ where Jordan Meates from Sheffield Hallam University presented about the importance of Social Media being used to engage students across various platforms, and how utilising the current trends across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Browzer can promote positive user engagement.

‘Students and Drugs’ was informative and involved session attendees discussing the issues surrounding students using drugs within halls of residence. Delegates were split into groups and asked to identify key signs that a tenant had potentially taken drugs. This helped us to learn the impact of different drugs on the body, and how we could best deal with the situation should it arise.

‘Private Sector Accommodation Providers are now more student-friendly than Universities: why is that?’ Hosted by Simon Kemp from Unipol, this session discussed the differences between the private and university sectors. Simon slit the group up, and being from the private sector, staff from Host were placed into a group with members from Liberty Living and Derwent Students. We were able to openly discuss why we felt that our sector offered a friendlier approach, and there was a rather large, slightly heated, debate between the two sectors at the end of the session. Fortunately, we were all able to agree that we were working with the student’s best intensions in mind, albeit in a slightly different way!

‘Alleged Racketeering by Letting Agents: All charges dropped’ by Hilary Crook was another informative session that was well presented and touched on recent changes to the tenant/landlord relationship surrounding the new implementation of the Tenant Fee Bill 2019.

‘Creating an optimistic workplace’ was the final session attended by Host. James & Alix Donaldson from Auctus led this session and it was all about the impact that creating a positive workspace has on employees. The session required lots of audience participation, and again this gave us the opportunity to interact with and meet a variety of different people.

After a busy day of training sessions, the final networking event took place on Tuesday evening. We were treated to a Highland dancing performance, exhibitor prize drawer announcements and a delicious four course conference dinner (including a second course of haggis, neeps and tatties!), followed by an evening of entertainment and dancing.

The team at ASRA put together a video of the highlights from this year’s conference:

We can’t wait for next years ASRA conference in Southport!

Getting serious about the environment we live in.

To become more ‘environmentally friendly’, Host is launching the #HostEnvironmentalPledge campaign to encourage responsible behaviour and drive sustainability across our sites throughout the UK and Ireland.

It’s a simple campaign! If we can reduce our overall utilities (electric, water and gas) consumption by 1% then we will donate £10,000, 2% reduction means £20,000, 3% is £30,000 and so on, to 3 charities; Student Minds, LandAid and Just a Drop.

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