Lawrence Rojas, Project Manager at Unite Students spoke to us about his role and latest purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) project – Campbell House – a new 431-bed property in Bristol city centre, situated on the site of a former Georgian Hospital.
What is your role at Unite Students and how long have you been with the business?
I’m a Project Manager here at Unite Students having first joined the business five years ago in 2017. I’ve worked on a variety of developments over my time here, ranging in value, scale and location – with sites in London, Bristol, Birmingham and Portsmouth, amongst others.
I now have over a decade of experience in the industry. Prior to joining Unite Students, I worked for a leading real estate consultancy firm which primarily focused on projects across the hospitality, residential and commercial sectors.
What are the most important aspects of your role, and what do you enjoy most?
As a Project Manager, you oversee a development from start to finish. Day-to-day, the role involves thinking laterally, commercially and often requires problem-solving, which I really enjoy.
I first get involved at the point of acquisition – giving strategic input on feasibility and planning stages. I then see the project all the way through to completion and beyond, ensuring a smooth and efficient handover to our operations team. We don’t just develop and then disappear.
This early-stage and post-completion involvement makes the role particularly interesting and is a real draw for Project Managers working at Unite Students. It is not something you get everywhere.
Moving on to your latest project – Campbell House – can you tell us a little more about the property?
Campbell House is a really exciting new development by Unite Students – situated in the heart of Bristol, on the site of a former Georgian hospital.
It’s a £45m project, covering 109,000 sq ft, incorporating 431 student rooms in total, as well as a host of exciting amenities for residents – including a gym, cinema room, karaoke room, study spaces and outdoor social space. The site also incorporates a 1,326 sq ft retail/commercial space for rent, on the ground floor.
Sounds like an exciting project – have there been any challenges along the way and how did you overcome them?
Developing Campbell House on the site of a Georgian-era hospital building brought a number of unique challenges.
We had to manage demolition of parts of the site to allow for the new build element – as well as careful preservation of others. A number of complex issues arose in the process, including the discovery of lead paint and a concealed underground tunnel for example, which is very rare – and had to be carefully stripped and sealed before we could proceed.
This is also a city centre island site, which means we were tight on space. We therefore had to be very meticulous in managing the sequence of the build, to ensure things ran smoothly. Covid-19 was also, of course, a significant challenge – we had to down tools for nine months in total!
And we understand you’ve taken public and community engagement very seriously here – can you tell us more about that?
Yes, this has been a huge part of the Campbell House project. The site itself incorporates a public plaza, which sits on a raised podium at the centre of the development, with seating, water features and greenery for everyone to enjoy. We also have a Grade-II listed chapel on the plot, which will be preserved and re-opened as a community space, dedicated to the arts.
Separately, we’ve also worked closely with Key4Life while here in Bristol, an innovative crime prevention charity which rehabilitates young men in prison or at risk of going to prison and provides real solutions to help reduce youth offending. We’ve been providing mentoring, and also invited the team to cater our topping out ceremony. Giving back and really integrating with the local community is always a priority.
Sustainability is obviously a big focus for Unite Students – how did you ensure this was an environmentally-friendly build and end product?
Retaining and refurbishing parts of the old hospital building, rather than starting entirely from scratch, has allowed us to significantly limit our impact.
Overall, the Campbell House scheme will achieve a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating and incorporates a number of features to ensure sustainable operation – including extensive solar panelling and air source heat pumps.
There are also features to encourage future residents to live sustainably at Campbell House – including enough room for every resident plus one guest to store a bike at any one time – which is great.