Hunt for student friendly homes

April 2, 2004

Edinburgh University is seeking landladies and landlords willing to act as friendly parental figures to its students.

It is hoping that responsible landladies and landlords will be prepared to act as mentors to students who, if left to their own devices in a flat, can become a nuisance to neighbours or simply feel lonely. Mature and overseas students, in particular, prefer a homely environment.

The move follows widespread complaints about student flats, including the case of the former foreign secretary, Robin Cook, who last year protested about the prospect of a house with multiple occupation in his Merchiston tenement stair.

Much of Edinburgh's student housing is traditionally located in the South Side area of the city, centring on respectable neighbourhoods such as Marchmont and Morningside, as well as well-heeled areas such as Merchiston in the southwest.

The university has challenged disgruntled residents in these areas to offer alternatives to multiple-occupancy student homes. It has called on those with spare rooms to offer students term-time digs.

Edinburgh University has about 60 householders on its approved lodgings scheme and would be overjoyed to add more, to nudge it towards the figure of 700 that it had in the 1980s.

But Yolanda Gilritchie of the university's accommodation services stressed that digs had changed since the days when students signed up for breakfast and evening meal, committing both them and their host to be at home at specific times.

"We realise that different householders want to offer different things, and we're glad to talk to them about any permutation, short-term lets, Monday-to-Friday lets," she said. "But, as a university, we have to ensure the safety of the student. That's paramount. There can be no flexibility there."

Will Garton, Edinburgh student union president, said the city had a massive problem in terms of not only pressure on accommodation but also the costs.

He praised the university's initiative in seeking more landladies as offering students more choice. Many students wanted the independence that comes with living in a student flat, but not all.

"I understand why a lot of students, particularly international students and mature students, would want to live with a family," Mr Garton said. "If permanent residents are living with students, they can see they're not that bad all the time."

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