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Resident Ambassadors: Creating community through events

4 May 2023

Unite Students introduced its Resident Ambassador scheme in 2016, providing valuable peer-to-peer support in our buildings as well as a work and development opportunity for the students who live with us.

With recruitment about to begin for the next academic year, we spoke to Izzy Pemberton, a first-year student at Manchester Metropolitan University, who has been a Resident Ambassador at New Medlock House since October 2022.

 

When did you first decide you wanted to be a Resident Ambassador, and what drew you to it?

I saw an email about the scheme and thought it was a volunteering opportunity – so I was surprised and pleased to find out it was a paid part-time job when I was chosen! It’s great that I can work where I live, and I’ve loved it ever since. I have the best job in the world; that’s what I always say to people.

I’ve always been interested in working with people and the public, and I thought that by taking this role, I’d make really good friends with the people I worked with and be able to make a bigger impact on the community. If I can make an event that everyone wants to go to, that gets really good engagement, I’ve done something really important there.

 

What does being a Resident Ambassador involve?

I help out on the front desk and chat to other students as they come in, as well as planning events, which involves co-ordinating with local companies, making posters and doing social media posts. I work closely with the employees on reception; even before I became an RA, I had got to know the staff I saw on reception because I knew I’d be seeing them every day and thought it was important to create those relationships.

I’m something of a bridge between students and staff. If there are problems in someone’s flat, I can ask the staff to help. It’s important to have that connection – students have a better experience if they can talk about their concerns and things that need sorting out in the building. I always say, “If you’re not happy, tell us and we’ll get it sorted.”

I try to do 10-12 hours a week. I don’t have university on Wednesday or Thursday, so I’ll usually do four hours each on those days or on the weekends. The money from that pays for my food shop and a night out every week. But it’s actually quite relaxing; it feels like a release from my uni work.

 

What events have you organised as a Resident Ambassador, and how did they go?

Two that stand out for me are our Valentine’s event and the Christmas wreathmaking session. When I first moved in, there was a flower wall in the lobby created by a local florist, so we contacted her to come in for a wreathmaking session. She brought everything you can imagine; moss, dried oranges, cinnamon and so on. Everyone who took part put the wreaths on their doors, and we put the pictures up on our community Instagram account to engage people more widely. That was really fun. Everyone wanted to get involved, but there were only 16 places – we didn’t realise how popular it would be, so we ran another session to create Mother’s Day bouquets.

Then for Valentine’s Day, we had a ‘Cupid box’ on reception for two weeks into which anyone could put anonymous notes for other residents. On Valentine’s Day, I ran around posting the notes under flat doors. There were over 200 in total; some were for people’s friends, others were for people they fancied. I got a few notes from people I don’t even know! It was a real talking point on the desk and made the reception area into a really social space.

It’s not always big events – they can be quite daunting to join in with if you’re by yourself, so we try to do a lot of social media events too. We do silly quizzes, or even just let people know that if you win a game of pool downstairs, you can have a song of your choice played at reception. It’s affordable and doesn’t cost anyone, but it means they get to engage with us more and we get to know them a little bit better.

 

How do you get students involved in the events?

We put up posters for forthcoming events, but there’s a lot of social media promotion too – we’ve got almost 250 followers on Instagram, out of 640 students in the building. Me and the staff on the front desk do Q&As on Instagram Live to discuss upcoming events or plans for the week, which keeps engagement high. People don’t always want to talk at the desk, but they can be involved remotely through social media.

This generation – my academic year – missed GCSEs because of Covid, and college and sixth form were quite different for us, so we’re naturally becoming more isolated as a result. Social media is a great way to promote online social engagement and do it safely.

 

How important do you think your role is in creating a sense of community and helping students to feel like they belong in accommodation?

I think it’s crucial. I understand first-hand that your flatmates sometimes aren’t your friends; I like my flatmates, but they’re not my best friends in the building. For those who aren’t close to their flatmates, you can end up stuck in your room – being able to come down and talk to someone on the desk is really important. For example, there’s someone I talk to a lot who felt isolated at first, but I’d ask if they wanted to go for a coffee, study together or go for a walk. I’ve seen a real improvement from them since then, and they engage a lot more now with events.

We all pay to live here, so we should all feel welcome and comfortable in our environment.

 

What do you get out of being a Resident Ambassador?

I feel so lucky. My job isn’t really a job to me – I really enjoy what I do, I choose my own hours and shifts, and I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to. I got a pay rise from Unite Students as well, which is above minimum wage!

It boosts my confidence, too. I’m mentioned in 10 of the reviews for our building on StudentCrowd, and I feel good about the fact that I make a positive impact on people’s experience here. It’s really scary moving away for the first time and being on your own, so if I make people’s experience more enjoyable, that’s really important.

The main thing I’ve learned is that not everyone is as they appear. People can be the most confident person on the outside, but on the inside have problems with their confidence and self-esteem. Everyone’s so different, and this is such a diverse building – it’s mostly UK domestic students, but people have come from all over the country to live here, and it’s exciting to learn about them. I also think I’ve learned to be more patient; I’m quite impatient by nature, but patience is really important because you build deeper connections here day by day.

I’ve made some amazing friends as a Resident Ambassador and had some incredible experiences with them.

 

What’s next for you as a Resident Ambassador?

A key challenge is working out how to scale up events like wreathmaking within the budget I have. We have some easy regular events, like a monthly coffee morning every first Sunday of the month, which is cost-effective and does really well. I also want to run more hands-on events – we had a night safety event back in November, where we were taught self-defence and given anti-spiking drink kits, which was educational and fun.

I’d like to apply to be a Resident Ambassador next year as well, but if not, I’ll apply for an actual part-time job here as a team member. I’m doing a year abroad as my third year – either Germany or Australia – but in my fourth year I’d like to come back and live with Unite Students.

 

You can listen to our recent podcast on student belonging below, or read the transcript on our website:

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