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A Day in the Life of… a Housekeeping Team

6 February 2024

Our housekeeping teams do much more than just keeping our buildings spick and span – they’re a trusted, supportive presence for our residents and play an important role in picking up student wellbeing concerns.

We caught up with Margaret Graham (Housekeeping Team Leader), Liz Park and Radi Dimitrova (Housekeeping Team Members) from our experienced Glasgow housekeeping team to hear about a typical day in their role, how their role supports the student experience, and the importance of teamwork.

Q: Tell us what a typical day in the life of a housekeeping team involves.

Margaret: Some of the team do kitchen inspections. The housekeepers have to clean the hob if it becomes a fire hazard. If that happens, they’ll show the students how to clean the hob – a lot of students don’t have a clue, or they use the wrong chemicals to clean them and it’s still a fire hazard. But you like that, don’t you?

Liz: Aye, aye. We’re cleaning cooker hood filters at the moment, so we’re a bit longer in the kitchens – but at least you spend more time seeing students and can have a wee chat.

Margaret: The students’ll sit there and tell you what they’re studying, how long they’re going to be here, if they’re feeling lonely – because for a lot of these students, it’s their first time away from home, and we want to make it feel like their home.

My team can alert me if we’ve got a student that’s upset, or has welfare issues. When they’re in the kitchens every day, they get to know the students. We have a good rapport with the students. They’ll always come and ask for the housekeeper on-site, and students will come and give them presents or bake them cakes.

Then we’ve got things like cleaning the rooms – when students leave, we have to clean the room for the next student coming in. From January, I organise something called ‘Monthly focus’. So when my teams are in the kitchens, once a month they’ll check what walls need painting in the kitchen, or whether the worktops or cookers or curtains need refurbishing, and then I’ll let the Facilities Manager know so we’ve got no surprises at check-out.


What’s the secret to great teamwork?

Margaret: I don’t have a big turnover – I’ve got seven housekeepers and they’ve all worked with me forever, they’re all experienced. They know what’s expected and how to interact with students.

I don’t mind if they’re sitting in a kitchen with a student having a wee cup of tea and a gab, because that’s part of their job and it’s part of making that student feel at home.

Radi: Most of us have children.

Liz: So because we’ve been parents ourselves, we know how they’re feeling.

Margaret: I’ve always said you can’t be a good line manager if you don’t have a good team, and I’ve got a great team.


You’ve mentioned the support your team can provide students a few times – how important is that within your role?

Margaret: Back in about 2008, we had one wee boy that was going through a really hard time. He didn’t know where he was or what position he was in with his university course because he kept missing it. Me and the safety lassie that worked at night would keep watch over him to make sure he was alright. We don’t usually do this, but I’d go up and clean his room, take his bedding off and wash it; she’d make sure he was eating.

That boy ended up becoming a civil engineer. He came back about three years later with his girlfriend with a big bunch of flowers and said, “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be where I am now.” That’s what makes you think, “I actually love doing this job.” You don’t realise how much of an impact you have on that student’s life.

It’s amazing how much that chat can make them feel like they’ve got a place here, and that’s what it’s all about. We’re all the same in this team – you’re there to help them.

Liz: It’s the same at check-in. The parents come to drop their child off, and when they’re leaving, you can see the anguish on their face as if to say, “Are they going to be ok?” But when we speak to them and make them feel welcome, the parents go away thinking, “They’re going to be OK.” They can’t always pop round the corner to see them.


What’s the strangest experience you’ve ever had at Unite Students?

Radi: On my last kitchen inspection, I found a big washing machine that had been installed in one of the kitchens on the top floor of one of our buildings. The students must have brought it in, but we don’t have a lift in that building – I don’t know how they got it up there!

Margaret: In our Blackfriars building, the students removed two sofas from the common room and took them upstairs to their kitchen so we wouldn’t know where they’d gone. They forgot we do kitchen inspections! When we came in, they were all lying asleep on the sofas in the kitchen. We had a pure laugh with them that day – they thought it was hilarious – but they did take them back to the common room afterwards.


What’s your favourite thing about working at Unite Students?

Margaret: I’ve worked at Unite Students since 2004, and my favourite thing is that I got to progress. I was Housekeeper, then a Housekeeping Supervisor, and now a Housekeeping Team Leader. There’s very few companies that give you that opportunity to progress the way that Unite Students do. There’s opportunities if you want to be something different.

I’ve known a fair few people that worked on the front desk since I’ve started who are now managers, and that’s great. What a better way to promote Unite Students than by looking at people like Jo Blair, Lettie Hubbuck, Jody McFarland and Moray Notman. They help people develop into what they want to be and show you your potential.

Radi: For me, it’s giving you the opportunity to work as a whole team – it’s not “This is my job, this is your job.” When we turn around rooms in the summer, the busiest time of year, you can see the managers cleaning rooms. That’s what I like the most.

Liz: I like the teamwork – we all take pride in what we do.

Margaret: I haven’t got one housekeeper that’s not happy in their job. You’re not just a housekeeper – you’re an agony aunt, you’re a granny to someone, you’re there to guide them and show them how to do stuff.

Liz: Every day is different, and that’s a good thing.

Radi: It’s not just a cleaning job.


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