I’ve just got back from London after attending the LD Events Student Housing Conference at the Congress Centre. I’ve been to this annual property conference for the last four years. This year however was slightly different as I was asked a few months ago to deliver a talk on ‘Design and Innovation‘ in the sector. This was a great opportunity for me and Lewis and Hickey to demonstrate our extensive experience and understanding of this impressive and mature asset class.
We have delivered over 11,000 bedrooms to date and have around 5000 bedrooms in development. These are pretty big numbers for us and it puts us in a small group of other Architects who have delivered this much.
Last night we had a great dinner with close colleagues from Jones Lang LaSalle, Savills, Interhospitality, HG Capital Investments, Balfour Beatty, Regal Property, Kaplan Colleges, Bouygues/ ULiving and Campus Living Villages. It was a good blend of people and backgrounds, with some informed and stimulating discussion on current opportunities in the sector.
The mood at the conference was pretty upbeat overall. The sector has been a bit ‘down’ following a perfect storm of challenges in 2012 which resulted in a reduction in student numbers and occupancy. For the sector this was a worry as suddenly national operators were reporting 85-90% occupancy when 98%+ had been the norm for a number of years. In the wider context, these dips were minimal, especially when you consider 100% asset voids in retail, industrial and office at present. Student Living is still attracting growing and significant investor interest with strong yields to be enjoyed.
The other big news, and recurring discussion today, was about Opal’s recent demise. I blogged about Opal a few weeks back (click here to see it). It was really good to hear both Bob Crompton and Charles Marshall reinforcing that Opal is/ was a strong and well respected business, and that their assets have never been distressed. Their problem was around their funding model and there was a genuine disappointment that Opal have paid the ultimate price. The impact of Opal seems to be strengthening the sector, rather than compromising it as some people were concerned about. Their operator brand strength though has suffered because of all the media coverage. As a result; Universities, Parents and Students will probably avoid Opal accommodation this coming year. This is unnecessary, but people will have their view on this. It was also good to see so many (ex)Opal people at the conference, all still working in the sector in different ways.
In my talk I focused on Branding and “student experience”, the evolution of interior design ideas/ products and the progression of design quality in the architecture. Student Living design has changed significantly in recent years and I believe we are now firmly in a second generation of design/ product.
Following my talk, I was a little overwhelmed by how many people acknowledged and thanked me for my summary. I didn’t anticipate this and I was humbled by the kind words. A couple of people have asked me for a copy of the presentation so I thought I’d post a link to it on here.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW MY PRESENTATION (it’s 7mb and in PDF format).
It was good to see so many close contacts at the conference, the sector has a real property ‘community’ and I feel privileged to be part of it, both personally and of course for my business Lewis and Hickey Architects.
In conclusion; it was a great event to be part of, and of course even better to meet many established contacts and also make some new ones. If you are looking at Student Living development and need some advice, or want to explore some design ideas, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us. Some of our recent projects can be seen here.
You can also contact me directly by email firstname.lastname@example.org, I’d be delighted to talk to you.