5 key takeaways from Europe’s largest student housing conference

Every year, The Class Foundation hosts The Class Conference: a chance for the movers and shakers in the student housing sector to connect, share and be inspired. This year, hundreds came together to explore People, Place and Purpose. In this article, our Head of Research & Sustainability, Penny Clark, recounts her experience at the conference in Amsterdam as well as her time moderating a panel for Coliving Ventures’ satellite event, The Common Agenda for Shared Living.

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    Day 1: Site Tours

    On day one, attendees had the opportunity to visit student housing and coliving homes in Amsterdam, including The Student Hotel, Student Experience, OurDomain, The Cohesion Lofts, and Hoptillepad. Penny visited The Student Hotel Amsterdam City, The Cohesion Lofts and Student Experience

    The Student Hotel Amsterdam City

    The Student Hotel Amsterdam City is The Student Hotel’s flagship scheme. This combined refurb/new build offers both hotel stays and student accommodation. It’s lively communal ground floor acts as a flexible events, coworking and socialising space, with F&B offerings. Their philosophy is that everyone is welcome, and that everyone still has a “bit of a student in them”. Their interior setting communicates this through its playfulness, curiosity and opportunities to connect. 

    The Cohesion Lofts

    The Cohesion Lofts consist of over 200 rental self-contained apartments and 4 commercial lets, with communal coworking, cafe and socialising space. Letting contracts are either 2 or 5 years, and apartments come unfurnished, enabling residents to create truly personalised and longer-term homes. The Lofts are largely occupied by young professionals, with some students, and the community is engaged through a regular series of events, which are arranged by both staff and the residents themselves. 

    Student Experience Minerhaven

    Student Experience consists of 600 self-contained studios, plus ample communal spaces and facilities, including a gym, garden, study space, and rooftop basketball court. Studios are 21 msq with independent WiFi connections, and students can stay from anywhere between 2 months to 2 years. 

    Sustainability Features

    We were particularly impressed at the steps taken to embed environmental sustainability into these living schemes. In particular, Student Experience stood out, and in fact are the winners of the Best Sustainable Student Property, in The Best in Class Awards 2021. Their sustainable features included LED lighting, solar panels, green roofs, communal bicycles, rainwater capture and rental household items. 

    The Student Hotel encouraged residents to consider their environmental impacts through “nudges”, such as the need to press the “think green” switch before adjusting the air conditioning. We love their 2019-20 impact report, which details their approach to reducing emissions from waste, energy, and food, as well as their other initiatives to embed social value into their operations. 

    Rockfield Real Estate, the group behind The Cohesion Lofts, have also received Green Star GRESB ratings for their housing funds. Rockfield’s two funds; DSYPH and DULV have again improved their score in the GRESB Real Estate benchmark and are well above the average in the leading group of European housing funds.

    Day 2: Panels

    On day two of The Class Conference, attendees gathered in person and online to hear from industry experts, on topics including future trends, understanding Gen Z, community and wellbeing, and scaling social value.

    Over a dynamic two-day programme in Amsterdam, The Class Foundation challenged delegates from higher education, real estate, technology, investment, coworking, coliving and of course, student living to look ahead at the forces – both within and outside of PBSA – that are accelerating a transition to a brighter, more equitable future. The following themes were identified as focal points for next year’s agenda:

    • Catalysing and measuring social value
    • Building community
    • Promoting well-being
    • Driving student mobility
    • Reforming policy
    • Emphasising sustainability and climate change
    • Reimagining market strategies

    If you missed The Class Conference either virtually or in-person, you can watch it on-demand on their Youtube page here or read this recap from London-based interior designers A Designer at Heart.   

    The Common Agenda for Shared Living

    Coliving Ventures also held a satellite event, The Common Agenda for Shared Living, which was an in-person networking session that brought shared living professionals together to explore a common agenda for the shared living sector. 

    The themes were based on three pillars: Impact & Sustainability, User & Community Experience and Health & Wellbeing. With these principals in mind, Coliving Ventures brought together industry players to help foster economically, socially and environmentally sustainable shared living ventures that are both impact-driven and financially viable.

    The first panel, Impact & Sustainability in Shared Living, was chaired by our Head of Research and Sustainability, Penny Clark and included insights from Brigit Gerritse, Executive Director at ULI BeneluxAukje Goossens, Project Manager & Architect at Marc Koehler Architects and coliving expert Gaëtan de Dietrich.

    The second panel was on User & Community Experience + Health & Wellbeing. This panel was moderated by Aitana de Jong, Managing Director of Spatial Experience, and included insights from Moreno Monsanto, Director of Concepts at The Cohesion by Rockfield Real EstateRemi Versteeg, Partner Architect at Beyond SpacePuck van Opdorp, Connector Events & Partnerships at The Student HotelLodewijk van Grootel, Property Operations Manager at Greystar

    Coliving Ventures will be releasing a post-event booklet and video with takeaways, so keep yours eyes and ears out on their LinkedIn page here.

    Five Key Takeaways

    Here are our five key takeaways from The Class Conference 2021, and The Common Agenda for Shared Living. 

    1. Listening is key: All too often, we forget to listen to those we are designing for. Taking the time to have meaningful conversations with your client base, and make use of the feedback you are gathering. The future of customer and community experience is about co-creation. In particular, Gen Z are looking for authentic, values-driven experiences.   

    2. ESG is normal: Now it’s time to walk the talk. A few years ago the concept of “wellbeing” raised some eyebrows. Now, the term is ubiquitous, and you ignore taking action on ESG at your peril. In particular, ways to measure the “S” (“social”) of ESG are needed. 

    3. Stakeholders must find a common language: To solve wicked problems, such as the climate crisis and social isolation, takes collaborative and holistic solutions. Stakeholders must take a joined-up approach. To do so, they must share in and understand one another’s vocabulary, which comes down to understanding one another’s perspectives. What is important to your stakeholders, and how can you communicate with them most effectively, to create mutually beneficial outcomes? 

    4. We must work to create “sticky” places to live: The students of today are global citizens, and more and more, they base their university choice on career and lifestyle prospects. We must therefore think more holistically about what students need from their home-away-from-home, and how we can accommodate them beyond their graduation.  

    5. For a truly great experience, hardware and software must be aligned: The “hardware” of building and interior design must complement the “software” of social experience, e.g. events, staff/resident interactions. How can you create a joined up experience which communicates your brand, and fulfils/surpasses resident expectations? Think about every layer of interaction that your residents have with your brand.  

    Bonus: Why (& How to) make your Shared Living Business a Thriving Community

    This hybrid in-person and online event also included a keynote on creating thriving community by our Head of Community & Wellbeing, Naima von Ritter Figueres

    You can watch the full ten-minute video by clicking on the video to the right. The video dives into why (and how) to make your shared living business a thriving community.

    Also, if you’d like to deep dive deeper into the benefits of community for business and members you can explore Naima’s recent keynote at The Student Hotel Summer Festival.

    This article has been authored for you by:

    Penny is passionate about the potential for shared living. She has a doctorate in sustainability and shared living, and an MSc in social research methods. She conducts research and consults on shared living projects.

    If you found this article useful, please consider sharing it with others 😊🙏

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