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Interview: Putting student safety first at Unite Students

19 March 2024

Student safety is of the utmost importance at Unite Students. Our Birmingham North team’s focus on safety was recognised at our Stars Awards in November, picking up three awards. 

We caught up with Davinder Sanghera, General Manager, and Dean Ditta, Student Safety Manager (Nights), about their award-winning safety approach. 




Q: What are some of the more common student safety issues that come up in our building? 

Dean: Non-residents trying to tailgate our students into our properties – that’s the most common risk that we see across our properties. 

Davinder: We can occasionally see minor kitchen fires where students may not be using the correct oil or pans. Then there’s student welfare concerns. So, when a parent or someone calls regarding a welfare concern on a student and asks us to check up on them. 


How does the Birmingham North safety team prepare for, and respond to, safety issues? 

Dean: Birmingham is the second biggest city in the UK. It’s a very vibrant city, but it can present its challenges. The team use their experience and knowledge to provide an excellent service, creating a home space in which students can live safely. 

I’m very lucky that a lot of my guys in the night safety team have pre-existing knowledge – they’re all accredited Security Industry Authority officers. We have weekly team huddles and monthly team discussions with Davinder and all the higher-ups. We’ll then base our training on the scenarios or issues the area is seeing at the time. 

Live CCTV monitoring has been massive in terms of keeping an eye on our buildings and pre-emptively handling situations before they escalate. It helps us keep a watchful eye – if we’ve got someone doing a patrol, you can keep in touch over radio and send extra support if anything crops up. We’ve seen the benefits from that in terms of making the building safer, getting better student feedback and having happier staff. 


Do you collaborate with other stakeholders in the area when it comes to safety? 

Dean: We do regular safety workshops. We’re integrated with security teams on campus and across the wider area as well, so that our goals and interests are aligned in terms of creating a safety net for students in the area. 

Davinder: Last year I reached out to other purpose-built student accommodation providers in the area so that we all had the same approach and could talk about any concerns they may be facing with safety. We wanted to work as a community to ensure all our students feel safe in the area.  

We meet every month, and we’ve included West Midlands Police in those meetings so they can support us if we need anything. It’s really made a difference. We now have one approach across Birmingham North, working together. 

Dean: Being in a central area, it’s critical for me to work with other local security teams – other accommodation providers, campus security teams – and the local West Midlands policing team. It’s so rewarding to work together. We’ll share any issues or concerns with Davinder, who can then discuss that in the meeting with other stakeholders and put forward any actions that might help to keep students safe. I’m happy that we create a safe environment for students in the area. 


How do you engage students on safety initiatives? 

Davinder: West Midlands Police do engagement workshops with students. Every quarter they’ll come to our buildings and talk to students about themes that are happening within the area and how they can keep safe. For example, when they go out on a night out, how do they make sure that they come back home safely using a licenced taxi? It’s all about those key tips. 

Dean: We’ve been holding lots of listening groups where we look at the feedback that students leave us, taking that on board and prioritising it. The team communicates with students a lot, which shows up in our reviews and feedback – we’re always actively engaging with them, making sure that they know we are proactively working behind the scenes to keep them safe, and just doing all the little things that sometimes people don’t expect. I’m grateful to have a good team that does that.  

Sometimes I get cards and notes left for the safety team saying, “Thank you for making my stay with us really enjoyable.” I have the nickname of ‘Uncle Dean’ – it’s even more hilarious when the parents call me ‘uncle’. It’s that rewarding factor of the students taking the positive memories and the impact that we have on them. 


How has the switch to having 24/7 staffing in our buildings impacted on our ability to keep students safe?  

Davinder: The 24/7 model has made the experience much better for the students. We have much better visibility in our buildings. Students have that sense of security to know that if they ever need to come to reception or speak to us, all they need to do is either pick up the phone or come to the desk and we are there. From a university perspective, they can also see that we’ve changed that model because we are thinking about students’ needs. 

Dean: It’s been amazing because students might need support or help at any time. They can wake up in the night or keep us busy in the mornings. In any situation or scenario that arises, they know that there’s a safe pair of hands on-site ready to support them.  


Many parents worry about their child’s safety when they head off to university. What would you say to reassure a parent or guardian whose child was coming to live in a Unite Students building? 

Davinder: This is their home at university. They’re safe. We will guide them, we will support them where they need support – they’re only a phone call away. This is not just student accommodation; they’re here from nine months to a year and they can treat it like their home. 

Dean: Safety is our core interest for all students. When you leave, they are in a safe pair of hands. That safety-first approach is paramount for students – it underpins everything else: their living experience; their education; their relationships. 

Davinder: We live by the value of ‘Keeping us safe’. That includes our students. 

Read more about how we keep students safe in our interview with Sailesh Parmar, Fire Safety Manager, or listen to our podcast on the Building Safety Act to find out how we’re following new building safety legislation: 

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