Navigation Toggle Icon

Students’ lockdown life: their experiences of living with Unite Students

25 January 2021

With lockdowns in place across the UK, you might imagine that Unite Students’ properties are all but empty right now – but in reality, more than half of the students who have checked-in with us this academic year are currently in residence.

In their own words, these students talk about their experience of being in accommodation during lockdown, the support they’re getting, and the ups and downs of student life in a pandemic.


Studying: Fine Art at Leeds Arts University
Lives at Hepworth Lodge

I actually dropped out of an art foundation course around Christmas 2019, but by the time I started a job, we went into lockdown and I didn’t qualify for furlough. I took that as a sign that I should reapply to uni. I’d not had anything to do from Christmas to September, so it was really nice to go to university, although it was difficult to get my brain working again.

Initially I didn’t live with Unite Students, but my original accommodation was the worst: I had no flatmates for three weeks, I didn’t know anyone, and no amount of cleaning could get it clean. After six weeks, I moved into the flat in Hepworth Lodge that my friends were living in – my girlfriend lives in a studio flat here as well, so she’s been able to bubble with us. We all spend time together, and sometimes we drive each other mad, but no-one’s alone; we come together for movie nights and game nights. Even outside of our flat, loads of people at my university are here, and I know that I’m surrounded by people with common interests.

Although my family only live 10 miles away in Dewsbury, they’re vulnerable, and we’ve lost some family members to Covid already – so while I would have liked to go home for Christmas, I didn’t want to risk it. Three of us stayed in the flat, we got a cheap Christmas tree from The Range last minute, and on Christmas Day we went to our friends’ house to have Christmas dinner and open our presents together. You’ve just got to adapt to circumstances and try different things, really; that’s what I’d advise to anyone in September if things still aren’t back to normal by then. I know a lot of people miss their families, including me, but we have Zoom quizzes and online art competitions to stay in touch.

The reception staff are really lovely; taking time to get to know us, keeping us in the loop, and offer advice on what to do during lockdown. I’m always having to get post from them, because I order a lot of art supplies online – they’re much cheaper on the internet. Ciaran and Katie on reception here gave out Christmas gingerbread house kits if you signed up for them, so I got one. It was really fun, although I didn’t do very well. It’s not the best thing for an art student to admit, but my decorating skills aren’t great!

I am a bit bored in lockdown, but I’m using it to learn new skills. In the first lockdown, I taught myself to draw 2D autocars and now do that freelance, but you can make more money if you learn the 3D version – which is much harder – so now I’m teaching myself that. I’m also learning how to code so I can make generative art. The most challenging thing at the moment is trying to get a regular sleeping pattern, because if I don’t do enough during the day, I don’t get to sleep for ages.

It’s nice knowing I’ve got somewhere safe and comfortable to live, with likeminded people and supportive staff – we’re all rallying around each other. It gets a bit hectic sometimes, sculptures in the corner of my room and that kind of thing, but I have more than enough room to get work done.


Alex, currently studying at Newcastle University

Studying: Computer Game Engineering at Newcastle University
Lives at Wellington St Plaza, Newcastle

I returned to my studio flat at the end of December, after spending three weeks in Gran Canaria visiting family – I nearly went into thermal shock when I returned to Newcastle! There was a five-day isolation period until my negative test result came through, but during that time I was in contact with Rob and Charlotte in reception, who looked after me and brought me anything I needed. The team have been really clear that they’re here to help if you need help with your mental health – but they’ve not bombarded us with messages about it, which I appreciate.

Being in a studio flat means I’m alone, which has its advantages and disadvantages. I’ve got my own space, and I don’t need to worry about people coming and going like I would in a flat-share. The building has a deal with local restaurant Pizza Punks to deliver pizza straight to our doors if we want it, which is great!

There was meant to be face-to-face teaching in January, with opportunities to meet some industry experts, but since the national lockdown, everything’s been online – although the uni has handled the move to online teaching well. I’m able to bubble with some friends, and I’m lucky to have a good support bubble, but being alone isn’t ideal.

I lived with Liberty Living in my first year, moved into a privately rented house with friends in second year, but have since returned to Unite Students accommodation as it took so long to fix problems. I can’t imagine going through a private landlord to sort out issues right now! It’s so calming to have problems repaired quickly, plus the maintenance team here are localised and aren’t going to that many places, which reassures me. I can’t speak highly enough of them.

When I was away for 6 months over lockdown and the summer, they checked on my room to make sure my belongings were safe, and one of the guys noticed my collection of miniature models. When I got back, he asked me if I was into painting miniatures – it turns out that’s one of his hobbies too! We’ve really bonded over it.

Being here makes the best of a bad situation, while living through a pandemic. I’ve been taken care of very well.


Zakaria, a medical student at the University of Leeds

Studying: Medicine at University of Leeds
Lives at The Tannery, Leeds

I’m currently on placement at a hospital for my women’s health module; my A&E placement during the first lockdown was cancelled because things were getting too hectic. To be honest, I’m enjoying it – this is the best time to be a medical student! It’s great experience.

I’m a subwarden (Res Life Assistant) in The Tannery, employed by the uni, which pays for my accommodation. All of my flatmates are first year students, so there is a bit of a generational difference, but it’s a nice dynamic: I’m able to pass down my experience of having been at uni for a few years already, and help to smooth their transition into uni life. They have struggled at times – there are concerns about vulnerable parents, some homesickness, and some isolation. I’ve tried to normalise their experience: everything they’re going through is normal, and they’re not alone, but you do adjust. If what they’re experiencing is beyond my capabilities, I signpost them to support services.

But for me, things are relatively normal at the moment; during the week I’m on placement until 5pm, in the library until 9 or 10pm, and then I come back to the flat to sleep. It’s pretty smooth, and I find it easy to switch off after placement unless something traumatic has happened during the day, but I can talk to my tutors, clinicians or my family if that happens. I’m quite fortunate to have a great support network.

I stayed here over Christmas, as I only had two weeks off and had loads of work to do – plus my brother caught Covid, so I couldn’t visit my family in Birmingham anyway. It is tough not being able to go out and do stuff, and it would be cool if the gym was open at the moment, but I love having my own space to work. I’d go crazy being around my family at the moment!


Student Matias, who has lived with Unite Students throughout lockdowns

Studying Economics at University of Leeds
Lives at Sky Plaza, Leeds

Leeds is wonderful. It’s not necessarily at its best when it’s this empty – loads of people went home and haven’t returned – but it has its advantages. I took up running in lockdown, like half the country, and I like running through Hyde Park when it’s not too busy. It is weird, though; you go to sit outside when it’s sunny, and it’s just empty.

I’ve lived in England for four years, but my family are in Colombia; this was the first year I’ve lived here that I couldn’t go home over the summer, and it was weird to be by myself during that time as I didn’t know anyone, but it was actually really nice to experience summer over here. It was a good time to think about things, watch a lot of movies and get into some new habits; running, meditating, going out more and exploring Leeds – I went to the park a lot to relax. Luckily my sister lives in London, so I was able to spend this Christmas with her.

This is my second year living with Unite Students, and one thing I really like when uni is open is that not only is it close to the city centre, it’s five minutes away from university. That’s good, because I tend to leave my room five minutes before lectures start! It’s also close to Morrisons, which is great for not having to carry heavy grocery bags for too long or picking up one thing from the shop at 4.30pm on a Sunday. My neighbours in the flat are really nice; they’re cool if I play music, and if there are any issues they’ll just knock.

The people in reception here are absolutely brilliant – I want to give a shout-out to Bethany, Alex, Jack, Zuzana, Harry and Libby! They are really friendly, constantly have smiles on their faces, and always go the extra mile to make the accommodation the absolute best they can – for example, recommending British food and sweets for me to try, and clearly signposting the latest procedures within the building as well as different universities’ mental health resources. Although getting everyone to wear masks around the property is a potential source of tension, they always ask nicely and it makes everything easier.

I’m currently studying for this year’s January exams, and it is hard to study and manage the stress of exams in my room, especially when my laptop is being difficult. However, I’m particularly lucky that my building has a study area – library places are very difficult to get at the moment, as you have to book them in advance and they sell out quickly. Here, there’s a nice and tidy space to do that, which is a huge advantage, and it’s really helped me.


Studying: Primary Education at Northumbria University
Lives at Quay Point Studios, Newcastle

Because my course is an essential one, I came back to the flat after Christmas; I was meant to be doing a placement in a primary school, but then the schools closed. At first we thought we’d be teaching keyworkers’ children, but the uni had to prioritise second and third year students for placements, as their assessments count towards their course.

I only have one hour of teaching a week at the moment, and it’s online; I’m lucky to have a part-time job at the Co-op to keep me busy.

I was living in a flat with Unite Students last year when I was on a different course, but I moved to a studio flat this year. Although we’re in lockdown again, I love living by myself and having my own space – having a studio to myself means I don’t have to worry about what other students are doing, and it will make it easier for me to isolate if I have to from work.

I’m in a group chat with other people in my building, so I don’t feel like I’m alone; it’s nice to know others are in a similar boat. Some of them are international students that can’t get home at the moment, so it’s good that they have this support bubble.

If I did need to go home, it’s easy for me: I have a car and my family are based in Selby, which isn’t too far away (although my mum’s a mature student and she studies at home, so there are Post-Its everywhere!). I’d feel trapped without my car.

I absolutely love Newcastle, though – there’s such a lovely walk down the quay, so much nicer than the walks I can go on at home. The nights out are really good, when we can have them, and I didn’t know it before I came to study here, but Newcastle has beaches! They’re just a 15-minute drive away for me, and it’s my go-to place for a walk. I love being by the beach.


Read more student experiences on our student platform, The Common Room, and find out how we’ve been supporting students throughout Covid-19 here.