A Day in the Life of… a Student Safety Manager (Nights)
What’s it like to work nights in the Unite Students safety team? We spoke to Dave Booth, Student Safety Manager (Nights) in Durham, about what his role looks like, its importance in providing a great student experience 24/7, and how he’s been an ally to LGBTQ+ students.
What does a typical night in the life of a Student Safety Manager (Nights) involve?
No two nights are the same, but we usually carry out building patrols and make sure everybody’s safe, with no fire exits blocked. We react to noise complaints and fire alarms going off, and engage with the students too. If they’re upset, we support them; if they’re having a laugh, we can have a laugh with them. Sometimes we’ll even play pool with them. That’s what they want: somebody to engage with them. I think that’s what keeps them coming back; that unique blend of being staff, but taking the time out to chat to them, have a coffee, or a quick game of pool when they need it.
If a fire evacuation is needed, it’s just a case of making sure everybody reacts accordingly – making sure everyone is out as quickly as possible, all accounted for, liaising with the emergency contact centre and coordinating a response to check that the building is safe. You have to go through a mental checklist.
How does your role support students to have a better experience at university?
It’s about making sure that they know they’ve got somewhere safe to come home to at the end of a night out, or after a busy session studying in the library all night. There’s always a friendly face there to greet them: “Hey, how’s your night then? If you need a chat, I’m here. Do you want a coffee?”
I can just be there to support them, especially for some of the students who are thousands of miles away from home. With the time difference as well, there’s not always going to be that support network available to contact, so you can provide that support as well, especially middle of the night.
Is there any advice you’d give to anyone that wants to work in a safety role in student accommodation?
Just be yourself; you don’t have to be a certain way. Even in a safety role, it doesn’t always have to be serious, straight-faced, stern brow. Have fun with it! That’s what students are here for – to learn, to have fun – and that’s what they want to see from the people who work in their accommodation. You can have a laugh with students, as long as you’re serious when it’s needed.
It’s really important to build that rapport with them, because they want someone who is relatable and approachable.
You’re an active part of our employee LGBTQ+ network and won the Allyship Award in our internal Stars Awards last year. How did that feel, and how have you been an ally to students?
To have been nominated was mind blowing, but to actually win – there’s no words. To get that recognition, and be noticed and supported by such a wide variety of people from all levels within the business, is not something 14 or 15-year-old Dave would have ever thought possible. The reason that I do what I do for the LGBTQ+ network, and any underrepresented people or groups, is that I don’t ever want somebody to feel the way I’ve been made to feel in the past.
With students, the one that sticks out in my mind is being approached by a student whose family didn’t accept their LGBTQ+ way of life. They said that they wanted to come out and live authentically but didn’t feel like they could – even while they lived with us.
So I had a conversation with that student to basically just reassure them that when they’re with us, you can live as you want to live – we’re not going to judge you; we’re not going to tell your family. The change in their personality and how they project themselves has been miles apart from where they were previously, from being in their shell to being out and proud, living authentically and not having to worry about what others are thinking.
Has anything surprised you in your time at Unite Students?
I’ve worked at Unite Students for five years and I think the biggest surprise for me has been the support and acceptance of not just the people that I work with directly in the cities, but people in other cities and different levels of the business as well.
Having worked in different backgrounds like security and things like that, it’s not always an accepting wok role, but here it’s been welcoming and accepting. It’s nice that I can go to work and be myself – I don’t have to put on a mask or a façade and pretend to be something or somebody I’m not.
Our Day in the Life series can be found here.