A Day in the Life of… a Residence Life Warden
Unite Students works closely with the University of Leeds to ensure a great residential experience for their students who live with us, including having several of the university’s Residence Life (ResLife) Wardens living in our buildings to support students.
We caught up with one such warden, Jan Spalek, about his experience of living alongside students as a warden at Clarence Dock Village, his insights into creating community through student events, and the clamour for in-person events following the disruption of Covid-19.
Q: What’s it like living at Clarence Dock Village as a Warden?
A: There is a lovely flat or house for the warden, normally a two-bedroom flat where they can move their family (or dog, in my case – I have a sausage dog called Frosty, who is very long).
I live on-site, so it’s a very interesting role where you feel like you are in the middle of student life; you are there living with students. It’s really good from the perspective that I can capture the students: find out what makes them worry about student life, find out if they have any sort of problem. When you talk to students at the initial stage of the problem, the problem is still small and you can deal with it.
Some of the students don’t feel like they can reach out to the many amazing support services at university and through Unite Students, and when they don’t feel they have anyone to talk to, they will just keep the problem inside them. But when you proactively reach out to them, you tend to deal with the problem in a very quick, efficient way. Students will develop more confidence, and next time they’re more ready to deal with any sort of problem they have, whether it’s breaking up with a girlfriend or a boyfriend, maybe not preparing for the exam as much as they should have, or not living with the right group of people.
Living on-site is great, because I know who is there. I can proactively reach out to the students. I have a team of four Residence Life assistants, and every day [there’s] somebody on duty. There is a phone number that the students can reach them on and then if students have any questions they can reach the subwarden on duty – and of course they can speak to me.
I love it, honestly. I’m a people person; I’m quite old, but I feel very young at heart. I love talking to students, finding out where they’re from, what they’re doing. My day-to-day job is in the careers centre. We organise loads of events for students as well as career fairs and presentations. It’s really good for me to get feedback on what students are keen to do in the future and how they’re finding their whole student experience, plus it’s really nice to create a community as well. We love working together with students to organise events.
Did you think students were going to kind of respond to ResLife this year, after so many months of disruption?
I absolutely thought it would be the case. I think people were yearning for in-person activities. We are social beings. Students find them to be a great opportunity to interact with others, and we can all agree that interacting with people in the virtual world is not the same. We need to see people!
We’re definitely trying to replicate aspects of virtual events and make sure that there are opportunities for all students – so, for example, if somebody doesn’t feel like they want to go to a party, there will be something very chill. But for those students who like to meet in person with other people, there will be loads of opportunities for them too.
For the first few weeks when students checked in, we had loads of events planned – not only in Clarence Dock Village but also in the city and the university as well. So, for example, we had a nice big barbecue, an ice cream van, loads of games and events planned where people could meet other new people and make friends for life. We also booked several cinema venues across the city where students can go and watch some free movies with their friends. There was loads of stuff happening, with 50-60 events happening over the course of the month!
How does Unite Students work with the University of Leeds on its ResLife and offering? How do they interact with each other in providing a great ResLife experience for students at university?
University of Leeds and Unite Students have got a great partnership, not only to make sure that students are safe and they are well but also to ensure they are enjoying their time while they are staying in the halls of residence. Normally there are loads of events happening so each team will organise a range of events throughout the year, focusing on the welcome week and key periods where students may be staying in their accommodation, for example Christmas, Easter break or the summer holidays.
We work collaboratively, so every few weeks we will meet together, have a look at the calendar, see what opportunities there are – for example, Guy Fawkes night, Halloween, Christmas. We look at the range of students we have on site: if we have international students from China, India, Asia, Latin America, we will organise something around them. Of course, this is all led by students, so we are looking ahead and asking students how they would feel if we had this or that event coming.
What events do you tend to find the most popular when you put when you put them on?
Food always helps. Whenever we organise events where there is food, free pizza, that’s always great. We don’t want to create a situation where we put some food on and students are going to take the pizza up to their room – we really want to make sure that the students stick together. They’ll get to know people from another block or another floor.
So we really want to create events where people can talk to each other, where they can collaborate, where they can create something together.
You can watch our previous Day in the Life video, featuring Chaquile Damoah – a London-based Service and Sales Advisor – here.