The Home Charter – fostering a safe and secure environment amid Covid-19

30 Jul 2020
By Sarah Dixon, Service Delivery Manager at Unite Students
For years, Unite has been welcoming thousands of students through our doors. For many it’s often the first time they’ve ventured into the world of independent and shared living. 

Living with a group of strangers is something most students will never have done before, and in the light of Covid-19 the uncertainties and concerns about shared living are likely to be magnified.

With this in mind, it felt like the right time to formalise the guidance we usually give on an informal basis, and an opportunity to confirm our own commitment of support. This led to the introduction of the Home Charter, a set of principles and expected behaviours which add up to a culture of supportive community.

Students come from all different backgrounds, with differing experiences and expectations, and they arrive in September ready to make new friends.  Their lived experience to date will feel completely natural to them, after all, it is engrained in them throughout childhood and is, by now, second nature.  So how, when faced with a group of people who all have differing experiences and expectations, do you ensure everyone is able to live comfortably? 

This thought process was the driving force behind the need for the charter and, with the ongoing pandemic, became even more critical.  It was now so much more than ensuring everyone had the same expectations of how and when the washing up needed to be done, or what time was acceptable to play music until. 

Within this context, living safely in a shared space is key and this first iteration of the charter has partly been driven by the imperative of good infection control.  Ensuring social distancing measures are adhered to has to be a key consideration for this academic year and for students to understand and acknowledge the differences in individual comfort levels regarding this is vital. 

We will use the charter to support staff and students, enabling supported, consistent conversations to happen before the need for formal processes or complaints. If we do not support students through this process, there will very likely be unnecessary conflict, and the potential for increased anxiety and mental ill health.

Not only does the charter help promote a harmonious living environment within an individual flat or building, but it also champions respect for the local community. 

We are all aware of the challenges that can come with the mass movement of students into an area.  Town and gown relations can be a challenge at the best of times, but this year the mass movement of young people across the country has the potential to spark concern and conflict. The charter and its associated communications, will help students to understand the impact their actions may have on the local community, and pave the way for all the positives that a vibrant and diverse student population bring to an area.

To ensure students have the opportunity to engage with the charter prior to arrival, it will be shared through a mixture of communication channels, including social media, welcome emails and on our digital “Common Room”.  This helps to socialise the key messages, using the principles of “show don’t tell”, and will include student-created content to help normalise the behaviours that lead to a positive living experience. 

This content will help students to have the initial conversations about how they want to live together when they first meet their new flatmates, and to be confident about holding one another to account on anti-social behaviour. Starting these conversation early is the key to mitigating those little niggles that can quickly become major issues, if not tackled, in shared living environments.  And in this Covid world, where tensions are already running high and anxiety levels are increased, it has never been more important to be respectful of everyone around us.

 

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Sarah is a Service Delivery Manager at Unite Students