Our ESG strategy in action

Panel heaters

One of the main environmental impacts of our business comes from energy use by our student tenants.

P49 Panel Heaters 2

In a number of our properties we run electric panel heaters that are manually controlled with high temperature set-points. This has caused the continuous heating of unoccupied spaces that can lead to inefficient energy use and increased costs.

In 2018, we signed up to the Student Energy Project, in coordination with Amber Energy, which encourages students to reduce energy use. One of the initiatives focussed on turning down heating and switching off lights, when not required. A student ambassador was identified in each building, who was responsible for educating fellow students.

In 2022, we took this a step further by installing SmarterDM panel heaters at two buildings at our Victoria Point, Manchester site. Smart panel heaters have helped us achieve energy savings of 30 per cent in occupied areas, resulting in an annual cost saving of around £13,500 and reduced environmental impact, whilst allowing our students to retain control of their apartments with minimal disruption.

Fire safety campaign

We carried out a two-week Fire Safety Campaign across our properties this year to engage and educate our employees and students.

P51 Fire Safety Campaign (1)

Whilst we do all we can to physically reduce the risk of fire, it is important that we also try to influence student behaviour by promoting safety messages and guidance.

The first week focussed on fire marshal training which was provided to every single member of the team in September. During the second week, each site conducted a fire alarm evacuation and set up hotspots in reception areas to drive awareness on how to safely manage the evacuation of students.

In Liverpool, the local fire authority attended our site to talk to our team. They also spoke to students about the risks of fires.

Following the campaign, feedback from the team has shown how they feel more confident dealing with fire education and drills.

We are looking into how we measure fire safety incidents during the next year to see how we can further analyse fire alarm activations, drills and incidents.

Wellbeing

As part of our commitment to enhancing both the mental and physical health of our employees, we have created a separate wellbeing hub on our benefits platform, Reward Gateway.

P53 Wellbeing (1)

Under the headings of Move, Money, Mind and Munch, resources are provided around health, personal finance, mindset and nutrition giving a holistic approach to all round wellbeing. The redesign of the platform also means that resources available to employees are utilised in sites to share with students, further contributing to a positive customer experience.

Particular attention was paid to the mind element of the platform that included audio resources aimed at helping people improve productivity while working and improving sleep.

The relaunch in April, supported by a detailed communications plan resulted in a 250 per cent increase in visits to the site in that month alone. Since April, we have seen over 1,300 visits to the site from 50 per cent of
all employees.

It has also received positive feedback from employees across the business with posts on our internal communications platform, Workplace.

The success of the programme saw us shortlisted in the top five for best relaunch with recognition given through the accolade of the rarely given ‘Highly Commended’ by an independent panel of HR and industry professionals at the Reward Gateway awards in November 2022.

Leadership

As part of our programme to provide opportunities for all stakeholders, we
have initially focussed on the internal development of our employees.

P55 Leadership 2

We partnered with Impellus and invited 25 of our employees, who were identified as having high potential to be future leaders within organisation, to undergo The Institute of Learning and Management certification.

Those invited completed the six-month Leadership Skills Development course in December 2022, with each completing three specialist modules.

During the programme, each participant could choose two additional modules that included communication skills, change and innovation, time efficiency, coaching skills, and managing and appraising performance. The modules required online learning followed by a written 3,000 word assignment to demonstrate an applied understanding.

The group were selected following their formal reviews. The aim was to develop their skills to become more rounded leaders and help service the business’ future needs.

Wellbeing

Customer experience, mental health and wellbeing are of the utmost importance to us as a business both commercially and as a duty of care for the continued safety of our customers.

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Survey data from Global Student Living informed us that there remained areas we could continue to improve upon. As a result, a programme of work was built to address the feedback received and once implemented it delivered significant improvements in our customer survey scores, culminating in our Hello Student brand being awarded Platinum Operator certification.

We recognise from regular third-party customer surveys that a student’s accommodation, both in terms of the quality and design of the building as well as the service they experience can have a marked impact on mental health and wellbeing. In survey data collected in 2022, 68 per cent of our respondents said they felt that their accommodation team cared about their wellbeing, with 64 per cent saying that the accommodation as a whole had a positive effect on their wellbeing. Interestingly, only 37 per cent said that there was a strong sense of community inherent within their accommodation, with 46 per cent saying they struggled with stress and anxiety, 26 per cent with loneliness.

As a result, in 2023, we designed a programme of events for students to engage in, aimed at bringing students together more often and building that sense of community. This started with asking current students if they’d be prepared to help us welcome new students on check-in day in the Summer. For most new students, this can be a daunting experience and the friendly face of a like-minded individual prepared to ‘show them the ropes’, helped ease the transition into their new home. All customers, new and current, both fed back that it was a rewarding and fun experience. We also began a programme to improve further our amenity space, with the provision of more flexible space to facilitate socialising or study in a communal environment. Finally, to reinforce our commitment to wellbeing, we appointed a dedicated Wellbeing Manager who has been tasked with ‘training in’ mental health first-aiders at all our sites. 

Following the roll out of these initiatives, in 2023 we saw a marked improvement in scores received with 74 per cent saying that their accommodation team care about their wellbeing and 76 per cent now saying their accommodation has a positive impact on their wellbeing, comfortably above the industry benchmark for All Private Halls of 63 per cent.

The feeling of a sense of community has seen an incredible improvement from 37 per cent to 63 per cent. The number of residents who have struggled with stress or anxiety has reduced from 46 per cent to 40 per cent and loneliness from 26 per cent to 22 per cent. There is still more work to be done here, but this was a very pleasing improvement, and clear validation that our efforts are delivering results.

The Platinum Operator certification from Global Student Living is the highest status achievable, for which we are all very proud. We received a Net Promotor Score (NPS) of +32 in early 2023 and +30.5 in the late 2023 survey, surpassing our target of +30 for the year.

“The property is really safe, very clean and the staff are so lovely and helpful. The regular events mean you get to meet a lot of new people.”

Supriya Student, St Andrews

Developing talent

Having internalised all operations during the past three years and as a service business, we strive to develop and retain talent as a means of delivering great customer service.

Investing In Our People

As a business employing 348 people, we have many highly talented individuals working for us that we aim to identify, train and reward.

We employ Maintenance Operatives (“MOs”) at our Hello Student sites. These individuals are on hand to resolve routine issues arising from time to time in student rooms or around the wider property amenity. Across the MO team within our business, there is a wide variety of skills, competency and knowledge.

Numerous tasks continue to be undertaken by third party contractors when a repair is outside the remit of the MOs knowledge, training or skill set, yet we realise that there is a desire and genuine enthusiasm amongst many MOs to enhance their knowledge to be able to do more or do it better. This is very much in the Company’s interest too, insofar as a more highly trained MO would likely increase the likelihood of same day repair and reduce the cost of reactive third party repairs.

An investment in developing our people and enhancing the MOs knowledge was therefore perfectly aligned to our strategy of providing great customer service.

We created a preferred skills matrix for MOs. This matrix detailed the role profile for future recruitment, whilst providing a benchmark to assess the skills of our current MOs and identify areas for development.

To date, ten MOs have attended a formal ‘Electrical Fundamentals’ course at the Company’s expense. This has enabled them to carry out basic electrical works, safe isolations, re-energising circuits and equipment, fault finding and equipment replacement. A further group of MOs have expressed a desire to complete the course, which is planned in early 2024.

We have also identified MOs who are happy to teach others, for example in carpentry. We have therefore matched MOs with others who have the skills desired, so that they can become more proficient, learn a new skill or just pick up a few more ‘tips of the trade’. A forum has been established whereby MOs can ask questions, seek help or share ideas and knowledge.

We are proud of our employee engagement score and employee retention rate. Initiatives such as this help foster mutual reward.

Enabling our Solar PV Systems to shine

As part of our sustainability strategy to become Net Zero by 2033 (in our operations, property portfolio and energy consumption), we looked at ways we could embrace renewable energy in our student properties. Following extensive reviews, condition surveys and remedial works across our Hello Student buildings, we were able to successfully install solar PV (photovoltaic) systems across 13 of our sites, that are now using energy from the sun to run their buildings.

Solar PV Photo

While we recognised the value that solar energy could bring to our properties, we met various challenges throughout the process. We weren’t able to assess the quality of the solar installation, current performance, reliability and whether the system operated to its full generation potential.

To address these issues, we initiated a comprehensive condition survey and report on each solar PV installation. This gave us an insight into the quality of installation, deterioration of the system components, maintenance issues and current performance. Subsequently, repair works were completed on almost all systems to ensure they were efficiently running and generating energy, as designed.

When all of our existing systems are operational, we will establish a centralised real-time monitoring system. This will analyse the performance of the Solar PV and other building systems. Running alongside this project, we will also look at wider building controls and Building Management Systems (BMS), so we can better monitor and record the performance and generation of each system.

Next year, we plan to identify additional Hello Student properties, which can accommodate solar PV systems. And, our development team is proactively integrating solar PV into building refurbishments, such as those in Cardiff, Summit House and Birmingham's Brook Studios, with the intention of centralising their monitoring. These activities show that Hello Student is committed to maximising the potential of solar PV systems, which will significantly help in reaching our sustainable energy targets. 

Installing EcoSync ‘smart’ radiator controls in St Mary's, Bristol

We have updated and installed EcoSync ‘smart’ radiator controls to modernise our buildings and eliminate wasted energy and money.

St. Mary's

Many of our Hello Student buildings still have traditional ‘wet’ radiator heating systems controlled by manual thermostatic radiator valves (TRV). While these age-old systems are simple to operate, they are inherently inefficient. In response, we have updated and installed EcoSync ‘smart’ radiator controls to modernise our buildings and eliminate wasted energy and money.

We already knew that ‘wet’ radiator heating systems are flawed. As they rely on people to turn control dials themselves to get the desired temperature, they are usually left on for extended periods when they may not be required, e.g. when a room is unoccupied during holidays. This can lead to overheating and rising energy costs.

We also discovered that some of our overseas students were unfamiliar with ‘wet’ heating systems and the manual nature of them. As a result, some students who felt too warm ended up opening windows because they didn’t realise their radiators were set to the highest heat.

In response to these issues, we replaced 78 manual TRVs with battery-free and maintenance-free EcoSync ‘smart’ TRVs, which intelligently monitor, record and control the room heating. With the new system, students can quickly and easily adjust temperatures by using an app on their smartphone and can turn it off completely, if they are leaving the room over the holidays, for instance.

In addition, special sensors have been installed that automatically shut down the heating if a room window is left open, eliminating wasted energy and money. The ‘smart’ TRVs collect data every 5 minutes for every room they are in, which the system learns from and then automatically improves the operation. They can also self-diagnose maintenance issues and can even identify if a student is using an additional heat source, such as a portable plug-in heater.

This upgrade has already reduced energy use by 29%. Due to the timings of the installation, we were only able to gather data from a small part of the heating season. We will, therefore, have more data to ensure it runs to its optimum level over the coming months while rolling out to further buildings.

The new system also identified that the boilers are running more than they need to. In response, a separate project is now underway to optimise this and make additional energy and cost savings.