Q&A with Nido’s CEO Darren Gardner

PBSA News in conversation with CEO of Nido Darren Gardner about the company’s recent award win and what it means for the sector.

Darren Gardner, CEO, Nido | PBSA News
Darren Gardner, CEO, Nido.

We spoke with Darren Gardner, CEO of Nido about the company’s recent award win, what it means for the sector, important lessons in managing student accommodation, and Nido’s 2024 plans.

What are the Global Student Living Awards and why are they important for the student accommodation sector?

Global Student Living Awards are the only awards which are wholly based on direct feedback from students living in purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA). Universities and Operators have no influence in the judging or outcomes as there are no entries as such. Companies in the industry take part in the awards through the Global Student Living Index, a survey that independently assesses and benchmarks PBSA across the UK and Europe.  

What does winning the ‘Best Private Housing Europe’ award mean for the company?

The ‘Best Private Housing’ award is the highest recognition an operator can receive at the GSL awards, distinguishing Nido from other competitors on the market through all criteria: wellbeing, booking experience, value for money, customer service, student community and learning environment among others. Given that there are no submissions, this has been judged entirely based on student feedback, meaning that our service, relentless focus on wellbeing and student experience, digitising our operations and integrating technology has been exceeding students’ expectations consistently and across Europe in the past academic year.

Does being part of the Global Student Living Index help you improve your offer or operations?

The yearly GSL Index, which Nido has been part of since 2018, is one of the most helpful tools we have to understand what students think about and how they experience our residences across Europe. We are assessed with  ‘GSL Index Score’ which is a unique benchmarking metric for PBSA ranging 0-100. The index tells us how happy students are with the condition and quality of the residence, the overall management, care and support, recycling and environmental initiatives or features in our buildings. Every year, we receive scores at portfolio and also asset level, which helps us take action and improve our service, design or management. This helps us to ensure we improve in relevant areas every year and that students are happy in the Nidos they live in.

What do you think contributed the most in Nido winning the highest recognition at the Global Student Living Awards?

Nido is student accommodation shaped by our residents. Because of the ongoing and continuous feedback we gather from students via GSL and our own surveys, we make sure that we evolve our designs, service, approach to technology and digital integration, health and wellbeing. This helps us in exceeding the expectations of returning and new students living in our residences and that they feel supported during their university years. As such, I believe it is our overall focus on the students and how they live in our spaces that has contributed to the overwhelmingly positive feedback which won us the award, rather than a single initiatives or aspect of our accommodation.

What are the most important lessons in managing student accommodation across Europe and are there any lessons from the UK for Europe or vice versa?

The UK PBSA market is in a sense more mature than some European countries such as Portugal or Spain, so the competition in offering excellent service and quality is much higher. However, the opportunity of setting the standard in student housing design and sustainability in other markets is also very exciting.  The key is to understand the requirements of students and their parents and localise the service provision accordingly. Nordic countries like Denmark are actually leading the way in openness to integrating technologies that support assets in reducing their carbon footprint and students are more aware of living sustainably and their impact on the environment, which drives us to put it higher on our agenda too.

What are Nido’s plans for 2024?

We will continue to identify where we can improve our offering to the benefit of our current and future residents, and look to implement learnings in to our new developments in Spain and Portugal set to open in September 2024.