By Joe Green, Investigations Editor
The typically strenuous process of organising living arrangements for the next academic year has included an additional challenge this term, with COVID-19 affecting students’ ability to meet potential flatmates and view prospective properties.
An Epigram poll has shone a light on the number of students who have found their search for flatmates and a place to live affected as a direct result of COVID-19.
79 per cent of those polled agree that COVID-19 restrictions have made it more difficult to find other students to live with, with many resorting to alternative methods.
The local community is coming together to talk housing with the @BristolCouncil Mayoral candidates 🏘️— Bristol SU (@Bristol_SU) April 16, 2021
The student voice on housing is invaluable, so be sure to come along and share your view! 📣 >> https://t.co/5oWnT0mCUu#RentFairBristol @ShelterBristol @ACORNunion pic.twitter.com/xcS0ip7tYF
Two-thirds found their flatmates for next year via social media, with 33 per cent using Facebook message boards, while just four per cent said they used student union-organised virtual Find a Flatmate events.
Despite the pandemic, four in five students have still managed to meet their 2021/22 flatmates in person before agreeing to live with them, with only 20 per cent of students saying they are planning on living with strangers next year.
However, 90 per cent of those who are still yet to meet the people they have agreed to live with also say they are more apprehensive about their future living arrangements as a result.
This uncertainty is reflective of a year which has seen Freshers week virtually cancelled and night life put on hold, with first-year students still yet to experience university where they are legally allowed to socialise in a group larger than six.
One first-year Maths student told Epigram how much COVID-19 had affected their experience of looking for flatmates, saying ‘by December it wasn’t looking like I was going to meet anyone I’d be wanting to live with, so the first group on Facebook looking for someone to join I just latched onto.
‘I still haven’t met any of my future flatmates because none of them are currently in Bristol.’
Another first-year student described how once plans to live with people they knew before university fell through, they were ‘quite stressed for a few weeks until someone posted on my course group chat that she still hadn’t found housemates for next year and to message her if anyone was in the same boat.
‘We managed to get a group of four together without much difficulty but it was definitely awkward as none of us had met up or made friends beforehand.’
One of the biggest obstacles for first-years has been that some are still yet to move to Bristol at all. An Anthropology student explained how a task already made challenging by budget issues was ‘made even more difficult given I wasn’t living in halls in Bristol.
‘I used online message boards of people advertising vacancies and stumbled on a group who needed one space in a flat filling.
‘Generally, I found the experience stressful but am now happy with my choice.’
Speaking to Epigram, Victoria Hanley, the Head of Property Services for Bristol SU Lettings, said: ‘We’ve found the demand for student rental bookings has been just as busy as previous years. There seems to be a real appetite from students to keep hold of the important student experience of living with their mates at Uni.
‘We’ve had additional challenges related to Covid especially around property visits and viewings. We had to adapt the way in which we deliver our service quite quickly as the events of last year unfolded and opted for a virtual tour option for all of our properties on our website.
‘This proved successful in significantly reducing the number of in person viewings we had to do.
‘Now that lockdown restrictions are beginning to ease we are resuming in person viewings with additional safety measures, our team have been largely working from home for the past 12 months but with campus due to re-open... it is our plan to be able to re-open to the public from May.’
A spokesperson for the University of Bristol said: ‘We are really hopeful that our students can return to normal living arrangements in the 2021/2022 academic year.
‘However, we will be led by Government guidance and regulations at the time, taking whatever steps we are required for our tenants to live safely within the guidelines.
‘Having had to adapt to a first year of university like no other, for a number of students the beginning of second-year may prove to be just as unprecedented.’
Featured Image: Epigram / Lucy O'Neill
Do you think that COVID-19 restrictions made it more difficult to find other students to live with? Let us know!