Q&A with The Class Foundation’s MD

PBSA News spoke with The Class Foundation’s MD Kelly-anne Watson about her career, vision and her recent award nomination.

Kelly-anne Watson, Managing Director at The Class Foundation | PBSA News
Kelly-anne Watson, Managing Director at The Class Foundation.

PBSA News in conversation with The Class Foundation’s Managing Director (MD) Kelly-anne Watson about her aspirations, her career, the importance of The Class’ work and her award nomination.

Could you please share your journey and vision within the student living and housing industry, along with your aspirations for the future? 

Hello, I’m Kelly-Anne, the Managing Director at The Class Foundation – a think tank and ecosystem dedicated to student living, uniting 107 partners representing £298bn in investments across Europe and the UK. It’s an honour to be interviewed today by PBSA News, and I’m thrilled to be a finalist for Property Week’s ‘Women in Property Award’ this evening in London. 

My journey in this ever-evolving industry commenced over eight years ago, and it has been an incredible journey filled with opportunities to engage in meaningful projects and collaborate with influential leaders in the housing sector. My passion for ensuring housing accessibility for all and enhancing the quality of living experiences has always been at the forefront of my ambitions.

Equally important is the drive to create equal access to education. I genuinely believe that providing a learning environment that enables young people to connect with peers from diverse backgrounds, fosters holistic growth and inspires young minds, which will then ultimately be the catalyst for a positive future. 

Throughout my career, I have championed core values such as sustainability, wellbeing, community, affordability, and policy reform first in the UK, and now in leading university cities across Europe. These values aren’t mere buzzwords for me; they underpin my personal and professional values and define my current role and vision. 

While I have acquired a wealth of knowledge during the length of my career, there is still so much more to learn and accomplish. My aspiration is that the student living sector be taken seriously as a solution to community building and future-proof living within our cities, and I envision The Class community leading the way in ensuring further professionalisation, creating collaborative ecosystems and breaking the silos, and championing a social-value driven mindset in this sector. 

My goal is to be an inspiration to other women and young people who share the belief that our industry possesses the potential to significantly influence the future of cities, living and education.

I recognise that there is substantial work still to be done, and so, I aim to continue motivating others to join our vision for a brighter tomorrow. It’s imperative for women to understand that they do belong to this industry, and that their perspectives and contributions are invaluable, and their potential is boundless.  

How important is it for students to have a supportive and positive environment?

I have firsthand knowledge of the transformative opportunities that university experience can offer. Being the first in my family to attend university, I encountered numerous challenges stemming from learning and financial difficulties. However, I had the privilege of meeting individuals from diverse backgrounds, and together, we navigated through our trials and tribulations. University, for me, was a life-changing experience. However, the constant barriers posed by the cost and quality of my housing ignited a determination to ensure that no one else had to face similar challenges. 

At The Class, we have conducted groundbreaking research to gain insights into the impact that students’ living environment has on their mental health and overall happiness. The European Student Living Monitor delves into critical aspects, such as evaluating the experiences of individuals from disadvantaged and minority groups.

What intrigued me the most was the discovery that thoughtfully curated support, amenities, and facilities had a positive influence on people’s experiences and has a positive impact on their mental health score. This insight holds great importance for housing providers, city planners, investors and other key stakeholders. Students are often relegated to second-tier status, categorised as temporary residents or even nuisances when they represent our future.

Failure to nurture and encourage their experiences could lead to a vastly different world. It’s worth noting the positive outcomes that the Erasmus programme has brought to Europe, as our students with international study experiences often forge enduring communities across the continent. 

We should bear in mind that many young people still lack the privilege of experiencing higher education, especially on an international scale. This limitation hampers our fundamental goal of enhancing and building communities and connecting people across the globe in a positive way.

In the coming years, our focus must shift towards developing strategies that address the widespread issues of affordability, availability and accommodation quality throughout Europe, whilst being able to offer inspiring and supportive experiences. These issues are deeply intertwined with the ongoing mental health crisis, exacerbating the housing crisis. 

You’ve been nominated for the Inspiring Women in Property awards?

I’m deeply honoured to have received a nomination for the Inspiring Women in Property award. This recognition means so much to me, but it’s not just about me; it’s a reflection of the incredible dedication and effort put forth by our entire team and our valued partners at The Class. 

As a young, disabled woman who comes from an underprivileged background, I can personally attest to the significance of celebrating women and acknowledging the unique paths we’ve walked. Our diverse experiences, the challenges we’ve faced, and the visions we hold dear are what shape us and drive our collective desire to make the world a better place.  

In my role at The Class, I’m tasked with leading and shaping both long-term and short-term strategies, as well as advancing Europe’s Living agenda, which aims to establish tangible goals for everyone in our community to work towards together. This leadership role is an absolute privilege.  

I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to Property Week for this nomination. It’s a recognition of the values and principles that have guided my career journey. More importantly, it’s a celebration of the remarkable women in our sector, and the impact we can achieve when we unite towards a shared objective. 

What now? 

Now, it’s imperative that we direct our attention to addressing the housing crisis that looms over us. We must engage in candid discussions about affordability and mental health. I firmly believe that a proactive approach, marked by unconventional thinking and genuine innovation, is the only path to effectively combat these significant challenges. This is one of the reasons I have a deep appreciation for celebrating visionary initiatives, often spearheaded by exceptional women and young people, rooted in human-centric strategies at their core.