60 seconds with… Brian Welsh, Chief Executive Officer – NIDO STUDENT

How was the re-opening of your business and how was it carried out in line with safety procedures put in place to allow social distancing?

Nido Student was quick to act on the physical, mental and financial pressures on students wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic. While many students chose to return home after the outbreak in late March, many did not — so, we have remained open throughout. For those students who decided to stay in residence, the Nido team were on hand to support them. 

We implemented stringent social distancing and hygiene measures, including the provision of hand sanitiser in communal spaces, enhanced deep cleaning and the installation of Perspex screens. Signs and guidance were also posted throughout our buildings, while all staff outside of the reception area were required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE). Furthermore, a member of the Nido team was made available 24 hours a day seven days a week to provide support, help and guidance to students should they need it. 

The mental health of our residents has always been a key priority and, subsequently, we became the UK’s first PBSA provider to launch a comprehensive virtual events programme in response to Covid-19. Since March, we have put on more than 120 events — with more than 18,000 total viewers — to help students stay connected and stay happy, from cookery classes, lunch-and-learns on Pride and BLM, florist workshops and more.

How is the general feeling and feedback from your customers now the lockdown is over? 

Nido has always valued the wants and needs of our students first and foremost, so we are always carrying out polls, focus groups and surveys. 

In July, we conducted research into what students thought of Nido’s response to Covid-19 and discovered that 79 percent of students rated Nido’s handling of the pandemic either “good” or “very good”. Students also praised Nido for offering excellent and regular communications to students as well as unparalleled levels of flexibility, including the introduction of our flexible bookings policy, allowing students to: 

  • Arrive up to 90 days late with no charge
  • On-hand support from the Nido team when they arrive after 90 days
  • No need to pay if they did not get a visa or place at Uni
  • Have the option to align their contract to their new course date.

The introduction of the scheme meant we saw a 30 percent rise in bookings overall, while some residences enjoyed a 50 percent rise in bookings.

Testimonials we received from students also supported Nido’s handling of the global health emergency. 

One student wrote: “The way the Nido team handled and ensured social distancing during lockdown was remarkable.”

Another said: “Nido have shown high professionalism and also been extremely reasonable offering refunds to students. This has been massively appreciated by myself and I'm sure others. Communication has been excellent, and any questions I have asked have been answered quickly.”

What role has technology played in supporting your re-opening plan?

Keeping up with the pace of new technology and integrating it into our residences accordingly has always been a central tenet of Nido’s approach. Across our new buildings, we have installed Bluetooth locks, smart lighting and Spotify stations, contactless access points and high-speed WiFi. 

Additionally, our entire customer journey is accessible online — including building tours, document signing and answering questions and queries. 

As mentioned previously, we were also the first UK PBSA provider to launch a comprehensive virtual events programme in response to Covid-19 — shifting our entire physical programme over to Instagram. This has proved immensely popular among our students, and so far, we have generated:

  • 120+ events
  • 18,000+ views
  • 3,300+ monthly views
  • 66 wellbeing-focussed events
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What market trends are you seeing since re-opening?

The role of parents in the decision-making process when it comes to choosing where their child will live is more important than ever. Students across Europe are facing the first-ever post-Covid academic year, one which will be marked by distanced and virtual learning in lieu of physical lectures. Parents, therefore, are acutely aware of the fact that their children will be spending substantially longer periods of time in their accommodation, and so are prioritising safety, wellbeing, connectivity and high-quality more than ever before. 

Digitalisation, though, is the name of the game now. We continue to communicate digitally with our residents with regular, updated content via a number of channels to ensure we can spread positive messages, community updates and new ideas and ways of staying connected to keep our residents knitted into the community.  Ensuring this content and communication is relevant and streamlined will stand businesses in good stead now, but also going forward.

What positive lessons do we need to learn from what the industry has been through? 

Covid-19 has accelerated many changes that were already underway in the PBSA sector, with wellbeing, in particular, having already been high up on students’ wishlists well before March 2020. 

In addition to the increased role of parents in the decision-making process, we have also discovered that despite the prospect of months of virtual and distance learning, around 85 percent of Nido Students still want to leave home for their studies. Furthermore, interest from international students continues to hold steadfast, with applications from China, India and Hong Kong surging by 24, 23 and 14 respectively. 

However, the savviest of operators will embrace flexibility as the best policy for the post-Covid world. In such uncertain times, students — and their increasingly influential parents — will be drawn to operators that go the extra mile protecting their student not only physically and mentally, but also financially. 

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Date Published: 2nd November 2020