Student accommodation in Lancaster with a positive environment
- Credit: Steven Barber
Accommodation for students in Lancaster can help to boost their mental health and wellbeing - and their grades
Wellbeing and good mental health begin in the home, and that's particularly true if you're a student, according to one Kendal couple.
Tom and Philippa Charrier believe they've found a gap in what would seem like a saturated market for student accommodation in Lancaster, which is home to two universities. Not for them purpose built studio flats in anonymous blocks - they prefer to transform some of the city's Victorian terraced houses into homes from home with student wellbeing at their heart.
Nationally, about a third of students experience difficulties with their mental health and Tom and Philippa plan to help change that situation locally.
'As a mum of three, it's horrible to think that parents are sending their children away from home to university and they are coming back with mental health issues,' said Philippa.
She had dipped her toe into student letting years ago and enjoyed it so when the couple decided to start a family and wanted an occupation which would work around having children, they founded Fat Properties.
'When we began looking around properties, we were horrified at the quality of some student accommodation,' said Philippa. 'I had a child on my hip and one in my belly and knew I wouldn't want them to be living in those conditions.'
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And Tom added: 'With property investments, there's a lot of people creating spaces for people to live in without having a basic understanding of the importance of the physical environment and the impact it can have on people.'
The couple's ethos - designed for wellbeing - encompasses everything from the location and architecture of properties to the internal layout, interior design, furnishings and even the materials used.
And they have plenty of experience to call upon.
Philippa is a trained architect and urban designer who has worked on projects in the UK and Australia where the couple used to live.
In 2010, she was one of the first people in the country to be awarded the title of Recognised Practitioner in Urban Design and a year later won an award for urban design excellence. She was also a finalist in the 2019 Enterprise Vision Awards.
Tom is a landscape architect who has worked on large residential and commercial projects across the UK and internationally.
They chose to focus their attention on Lancaster because it was a university city not too far from their own home which they share with their three children aged two, six and eight.
'The buildings are incredible,' said Philippa. 'The great thing about Victorian terraces is that they have big windows which let in lots of light and high ceilings which work perfectly for us.'
The couple currently have several properties scattered around south Lancaster in carefully chosen locations. They have to be in areas where students feel safe walking home at night. Each property takes between three and six months to turn round and has a fully equipped living, dining and kitchen space. Bedrooms are spacious with double beds and a quiet, well lit area for study with a comfortable chair and big desk.
They make sure their homes have plenty of social space and try to always have a table in the kitchen around which all the students can gather and prepare healthy meals as well as feeling comfortable enough to invite friends.
'It's not just about interior design but also the quality of the spaces and what we allow the students to do,' said Tom. 'We encourage the students to make the space their own and they can personalise their rooms. During viewings so many people have asked if they can stick things up on the wall as many landlords don't allow it.'
One of their satisfied customers is 19-year-old Luke Pottage who moved into his home in October.
'As soon as I walked into the house, I knew this is where I wanted to live,' said Luke who is a second year accounting and finance student at Lancaster University.
'I spent my first year living in a flat on campus and there didn't seem any escape from university but living here is very different, much more homely and welcoming and my mum was amazed at how clean it was!'
Luke, who is originally from Leeds, shares his home with four female students and it's in a good location for the city centre and the university.
'As landlords, Tom and Philippa are really caring and the communication is great,' said Luke.
The design of each Fat Properties home is based upon what the Charriers describe as the four quadrants of wellbeing - focus, fitness, friendship and finance.
Philippa and Tom believe financial gain and doing social good don't have to be separate entities.
'Having a business without a purpose doesn't sit well with us,' said Philippa. 'We're designers and love to create great spaces.'
They have produced a scorecard to measure students wellbeing which they are currently trialling in their own properties with plans to expand it to other accommodation providers and universities.
They're also conducting research which involves following students from freshers to graduates and finding out how the quality of their accommodation has affected their wellbeing - the type of research that's commonplace in the commercial sector but is lacking in higher education.
The couple have also been working on a book, due out this winter, which features this research and draws on their extensive design and business experience. The book is targeted at potential property investors and explains the importance of wellbeing and some of the issues facing students today.
It also provides guidelines to choosing the best investment properties and designing them with a focus on their tenants' wellbeing as well as understanding the concerns of their potential neighbours.
Tom said: 'A lot of people can be concerned about having student accommodation in their area but if they're managed well and students are respectful and not having parties at 2am, their concerns go away.'
As a new year begins, the Charriers are looking to the future with optimism as demand is always high for their properties and they plan to grow their business.
'We want to take the same values which are central to our student homes and possibly use them to provide holiday accommodation and long term, we're also looking at providing homes for professionals,' said Philippa.