Leading the sector: My ASRA manifesto
18 March 2022
Sarah Reynolds – Area Manager for London South – has been elected chair of ASRA (the Association for Student Residential Accommodation). She becomes the first person from private purpose-built student accommodation to take the reins.
Here, Sarah outlines her sector experience, why she put herself forward for the role, and what her plans are for ASRA.
My path into student accommodation
I’ve worked in the student accommodation sector for just over seven years. Before that, I worked in retail for 16 years, including Woolworths – where I worked my way up from a Saturday job to management – and Carphone Warehouse. The student accommodation sector was all new to me when I joined Unite Students as a Multisite Manager for London in 2014.
I love working with people, being around people, and providing great customer service. All of these qualities are important to be successful in the role of ASRA chair.
Getting involved in ASRA
ASRA is a network of people working within student accommodation, both within universities and private accommodation providers. I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of it ever since I joined Unite Students. I remember attending my very first regional meeting thinking how lucky I was to be asked to attend an event that provided so much information and encouraged collaboration with colleagues across the sector. Believe me, this would never have happened in retail.
The first ASRA Conference I attended was held in Wales in 2015, and really highlighted the value of being a member through its training sessions and national-level networking opportunities. Many more conferences have followed since, and year after year I’ve found them to be both enjoyable and a great opportunity to find out what’s happening in the sector.
After four years, I put myself forward for – and was voted into – the newly vacated role of south-east regional rep. This involved organising regional meetings, where we covered topics from student wellbeing to personal development and visited a whole host of member institutions, to attending quarterly management meetings, which allowed me to have my say on the future of ASRA, as well as the planning of the annual conference. I also had the opportunity to attend meetings with many different groups on behalf of ASRA, including the British Property Federation, the Accreditation Network UK (ANUK) and Unipol.
The emergence of Covid-19 in 2020 meant that we had to adapt at ASRA, particularly in the way that we communicated. I was proud to be a part of ASRA Hour, which launched in 2021 and allowed members to continue to get together and discuss issues in the sector.
My plans for ASRA
With the role of chair being vacated this year, I felt that my experience of the student accommodation sector and my previous work background gave me the necessary skills to take on the role. My years of involvement in ASRA, particularly on the management committee, gave me a strong understanding of the association, how it operates, and – most importantly – how we can continue to keep driving it forward.
As the first chairperson from the private accommodation sector, I’m keen to ensure that both universities and private purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) providers are aligned on topics like student support, working collaboratively to provide the best experience for students. We all have the same goals, and students don’t see a difference between us – so we all need to work together.
One of the most valuable aspects of ASRA is its fantastic networking opportunities, so I’m keen to look at how we can build on our communication channels to encourage this. I’m also keen for us to continue being involved in other associations to use our influence and work in partnership with them to drive change in the sector.
The future of ASRA looks really exciting – and I can’t wait to be a part of that change!