Young people who have left home to study need a delicate mixture of independence and support. Aparto distinguish themselves from other student accommodation services by providing both at the highest level — and at a significant discount to future medical professionals
When the Covid-19 pandemic was announced by the World Health Organisation last year, Aparto was faced with some tough challenges. As a hugely popular student accommodation provider with a portfolio spanning five countries, they needed to ensure that the health of their thousands of residents was protected against Covid-19.
This meant quickly implementing enhanced cleaning procedures, social distancing policies, and a new express check-in service, as well as engaging with governments and regional authorities to keep up with the latest health advice. Before anything else, Aparto provides a safe place for people to live.
“You can have all the bells and whistles, but you have to get the foundations right before anything else,” says Managing Director Tom Rix, explaining the company’s ethos. “First and foremost, you’ve got to do the basics really well — that’s providing a really high-quality service and ensuring that you’re providing a secure space that feels like home.”
Once this has been done, Aparto’s focus shifts to catering to the unique needs of students, with which they are well-acquainted. They’re adults, but also largely new to living without their parents, he says. Aparto have to find a balance: providing support, but also allowing them to live their lives. In practical terms, this also means that mental health is a priority, particularly in the last 18 months: As lockdowns were implemented across Europe last year, Aparto organised scores of virtual events to ensure that no residents were left feeling isolated and alone. They delivered 16 a month, with 200 students in attendance on average. Each was informed by five key pillars: close communities, Wellbeing Hub, self-discovery, cultural experiences, and skill-boosting.
“It was lovely seeing people make connections online last year, and we’re extremely happy that we could facilitate that — the students were very responsive,” says Rix. “A big part of university is meeting people, so it was really important that our residents could keep doing that, should they wish to.”
Rix is proud of the effort that has gone into further developing Aparto’s elaborate mental health services; their Experience and Wellbeing programme is second to none among student accommodation providers.
A trained team is on hand to signpost any early warning signs of mental health difficulties, and internet services are available 365 days a year — digital mental health provider Kooth, which is accredited by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, provides online access to counselling and self-help materials. “They can choose to engage with the software if they want to; if they don’t want to, that’s fine as well,” says Rix. “It gives them access to someone to talk to 24-hours-a-day. That’s become key, especially during Covid.”
Putting things right
Aparto also wanted to do right by the people who had missed out on their student experience through no fault of their own. They offered a full refund to anyone who couldn’t reach their accommodation due to travel restrictions, and a further 30% discount to those who wished to book for the next year. No other student accommodation provider took such measures.
“We’ve got some great partners, who agreed that we needed to do the right thing: pay back money to students who have been unfairly disadvantaged by not being able to travel, or who couldn’t come to on-campus teaching after paying for it all,” he says. “That was a huge part of our reaction to the crisis, recognising the stress that it caused. And people will remember that.”
Future doctors and nurses are in luck, too: this year, Aparto are offering a 6% discount to students who are enrolled in medical courses – a significant saving. “This is something we think is really important,” says Rix. “They’re key workers. Not just doctors, but medics, nurses, and other support services.”
Indeed, many of Aparto’s residents will be availing of this reduced price this year; the company provides housing to students enrolled in medical courses in the Royal College of Surgeons, Trinity College, Dublin, TU Dublin, and University College Dublin, to name a few.
“We’ve got some great partners that we work with who felt the same way,” he says. “It resonates well with medical students, to know they’re being thought of during the biggest event in recent history. We want to recognise everything that they’re doing during this incredibly difficult period.”
A loom with a view
As Ireland, the UK, and Italy begin to return to a semblance of normality, Aparto are excited to be preparing for the academic year ahead.
At present, Aparto residents in Ireland stay in our residences across Dublin: Binary Hub, home to 471 students; Dorset Point, home to 447 students; and Beckett House, home to 393 students.
Each has a variety of amenities, from gyms, to cinemas, rooftop terraces, to chill-out study spaces, to shared kitchen and cooking facilities. Rix has worked for a number of developers across the UK over the past decade. During that time, he’s been impressed by how much standards for student accommodation have risen. “It’s different from when I was at university, when you had cheap rent but very poor accommodation – drafty windows, that kind of thing.”
In 2021, students want an experience when they attend university. That’s why Aparto employs Event and Content Assistants, who are also residents, helping to organise a curated selection of parties and get-togethers. Students can enjoy culture nights celebrating the many nationalities and ethnicities who stay with Aparto. There are also cook-along nights showcasing food from dozens of countries, guest talks offering career advice, quizzes, and wellbeing sessions.
This month, Aparto will celebrate the opening of The Loom, a new building on Dublin’s Cork Street, which offers rooms to 166 brand new students from both Ireland and abroad. Like its sister buildings, The Loom has plenty of facilities to enjoy, including a games courtyard, and rooftop terrace, with panoramic views of Dublin. The building itself is extremely high quality, too. “It’s probably one of the best projects I think we’ve done in Dublin,”Rix says.“It’s the fourth building in the development portfolio, which started with Binary Hub back in 2016, that was developed by 360 developments. We bought the portfolio part the way through, and so each building we have put in an increasing amount of our own ideas, culminating with The Loom”.
It hits all the right notes for the modern student. “We’ve got green outdoor spaces for wellbeing, which are particularly important at the moment. We’ve got a very well-managed building with top-quality facilities,” says Rix. “And we love the Liberties, it’s a great area seeped in history and great Irish culture.”
Gyms, cinema rooms and such all have their place – but the most popular spaces every time are really good study spaces, and outdoor spaces with a view. “They’re the ones that people really remember and enjoy the most.”
This article is an advertorial on behalf of Aparto, proud sponsors of the Student Project of the Year category at the Irish Healthcare Awards 2021.
All photos are of The Loom development on Dublin’s Cork Street.