Building positive Town and Gown relationships

15 Feb 2021
By Tatjana Walker, Area Manager at Unite Students
Tatjana Walker, our Area Manager for Leeds and Sheffield, has been a part of the UK Town and Gown Association (UKTGA) from early on in her career with Unite Students. As the only PBSA representative on the UKTGA steering group, she shares what she’s learned from the group, how universities and accommodation providers can benefit from these networks, and what’s next for town and gown relationships.

Encouraged by my Head of Operations, I originally joined UK Town and Gown Association shortly after joining Unite Students in 2016. I didn’t know too much about it before getting involved, but it quickly became clear how important it was to be a part of it. Accommodation is a hugely important part of establishing positive town and gown relationships; it can be a source of friction between students and local residents, and students are also affected by local issues - for example, crime. 

As I became more involved, I saw that UKTGA worked hard to equip, empower and enable a diverse network of professionals from universities, student accommodation providers and the cities they operate in, furthering community engagement in doing so. Being a part of this network has helped me to understand the intricacies of town and gown relationships across the UK, and realise that without establishing real partnerships with both universities and city services, it can be difficult to navigate the world of student accommodation.

As the PBSA sector has matured and evolved, so has the importance of ensuring a strong partnership between Unite Students and the UK Town and Gown Association. UKTGA are a brilliant platform from which to gather extra insights on community impacts, be alerted to any developing patterns of local behaviour that might affect our students, and develop further connections that allow us to harness local opportunities and navigate any challenges ahead. My work on the steering group has enabled me to further develop existing relationships and initiate new contacts and partnerships between Unite Students and some of the universities we currently work with. 

In today’s world, issues with Covid-19 have resulted in a new set of challenges we have not seen before in town and gown relationships. Only recently, our UKTGA steering group were invited to host a round table session during the virtual CUBO Winter Conference, focusing on challenges and best practice in building trust and confidence with local communities in the age of Covid. A key topic up for discussion was the community implications of student migrations across the UK, and the world as a whole. It was agreed that it is more important than ever to share best practice and ensure that a high level of engagement and true partnership is created between cities’ ‘gown’ bodies - universities and PBSA providers - and ‘town’ ones, including the emergency services and city councils. 

The steering group have recently held our 2021 strategy planning day, and are hoping to make this year our most successful yet. Our vision is to be known as a pioneering and professional community of practice in the field of town and gown relationships across the UK, whilst providing opportunities for connection, learning and sharing. We are hoping that we will be able to further support this vision with our annual conference and various webinars which are still to be announced for 2021. Our UKTGA Conference is the primary gathering of officers and practitioners from across the UK and beyond, where sharing best practices is highlighted as the critical function of our organisation.

At Unite Students, our purpose is to create a ‘Home for Success’ for every student living with us, and to achieve this providing a joined-up approach to the student experience. Students’ experience can’t be separated from the local communities in which they live, particularly when it comes to off-campus living, and so being a part of UKTGA enables us to effectively collaborate and ensure local services are working with us to provide that. UKTGA’s purpose - ‘Building communities together’ - also encourages collaborative thinking, and cements the partnership. We are all stronger when we work together.

Learn more about the UK Town and Gown Association here.

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Tatjana Walker is an Area Manager at Unite Students, managing over 10,000 beds across Leeds and Sheffield. Prior to this, she was a Head of Passenger Services within the airport industry, and worked as a member of the operational management team at Loughborough University prior to that.