Parents splash the cash for ultimate student pads

Barely a minute’s walk from Spitalfields market and a stone’s throw from Liverpool Street station is London’s newest private student apartment block. Nido Spitalfields is a 33-storey steel and glass tower among a maze of Victorian warehouse conversions and bars.

Students swipe electronic key cards to access the building from a glazed glass atrium with views of an open courtyard, where young people sit sipping drink. On the top floor is a fitness suite and spacious entertainment area called the Sky Lounge, with panoramic views of the City. All flats have a single bed, a desk with internet connection, a toilet, a shower cubicle and a kitchenette.

You might have seen the advertisements for independent student living in luxury city-centre apartment blocks, led by Unite Group, Nido Student Living, Team and INTO University Partnerships. In London, demand for this type of accommodation has been fuelled by rising numbers of students from home and abroad, and by parents willing to pay for security and peace of mind.

As it is mostly parents who hold the purse strings, the marketing has to tick their boxes. Joanna Lorente, web and brand marketing manager for Nido, often meets parents on guided tours of the accommodation. “The first thing they always ask is about security; are our buildings safe? And what about the area: is it safe at night? I tell them all our buildings are swipe-card entry, and there’s an onsite residence life programme.”

Prices range from £340 a week for a self-contained, single-bed studio at Spitalfields to £690 for a large apartment. A shared twin room can bring the cost down to £195 per person per week. Nido has blocks at Kings Cross, Spitalfields and Notting Hill Gate. Naadir Mustafa, an undergraduate at University College London, decided to head to private halls in Kings Cross for his third year. He’d previously been in shared student halls.

“I’ve got three friends renting Nido apartments,” says Mustafa, from Karachi, Pakistan. The atmosphere was welcoming and the services efficient.

“You will find 30 to 40 nationalities at Nido,” he says. “When I was living in halls it was mainly English students, so I felt a bit left out.”

Nido’s location on Pentonville Road is also handy. “I walk to UCL with three other friends and if I leave at 9.50am I can be at my lectures by 10am without worrying whether there’s a train strike.”

His father Daanish helped persuade Mustafa the move made sense. “My main concern was for my son’s safety. Living on his own might have meant there was no one around to turn to if he was ill or if he locked himself out late at night. Nido’s very secure. I also like the fact that he has a student experience. We could have afforded a flat, but he wouldn’t have had the same experience.”

According to a report by property consultancy Savills, Spotlight on Student Housing 2010, student accommodation is a booming business. “The London supply pipeline has grown by nearly 30 per cent over the past 15 months to 19,000 bed spaces, highlighting widespread demand.”

In contrast to the growth in developer-led student apartments, the private rental market is declining. However, there are still good deals to be had outside the city centre, and it’s a lot cheaper to share – particularly in larger flats in less fashionable parts of London. Savills estimates the average weekly rent for a student in private accommodation in 2009-2010 was £97, a lot lower than in luxury student apartments, but then the accommodation is more basic.

Goldsmiths, University of London, estimates students renting in the private sector in south London are paying around £110 a week. “We hold events, run by our students’ union, where flat-sharers are put in touch with one another and vacant rooms/flats are advertised,” says Sally Grimley, Goldsmiths’ accommodation services manager. Her team works closely with the University of London Housing Service to support students looking to rent in the private sector. For example, they provide housing lists from approved letting agents and landlords and offer legal advice before, during and after tenancy.

“We advise students that money and lifestyle are the most frequent causes for falling out. Best friends do not necessarily make good house mates and we would advise students to think about their approach to home life and try to find people who complement their lifestyle,” she adds. The shortage of places in student halls led Goldsmiths to provide 1,000 bedrooms for its 7,400 full-time students, most of whom find alternatives either sharing with a local family or renting. Demand means the best flats get snapped up. “We advise anyone flat hunting to start looking early,” says Grimley.

After your university’s housing and welfare office, try the National Union of Students. The NUS campaigns for better student housing. It runs an advice line, explains standard contract terms and warns you what to look out for when entering a rental agreement; see for details.

A spokesman for the NUS said: “There’s a whole economy at work here as students are moving all around the UK. It may seem a cliché but students are no different from other people. They want somewhere safe and sensible to live.”

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