Paving the way for PBSA

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It is always difficult to envisage a restored building in a new use but we are delighted with John Bell House which has been brought to life again by Fresh to provide a home for 413 students in the heart of Belfast.
— Ian Scott, Curlew Capital

The Challenge

Launching the first PBSA building in Northern Ireland we were faced with the challenge of how to move students out of the traditional choice of HMOs and into John Bell House; a renovated, landmark building that offers a brand new concept in student living. The former Belfast Metropolitan College underwent a £16m facelift to offer luxury homes for 413 students, but how could we sell the lifestyle benefits of managed accommodation into students and the wider community?

The Services

Pre-Operational Services, Mobilisation, Marketing & Operational Management 

The Solution

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We worked tirelessly with the local community, universities and media to inform them of the benefits of PBSA and to get their input during the build. Stakeholders including the local Council were invited to several presentations to introduce the scheme and Fresh’s approach to management, to ease their fears of having a large influx of students in one large city centre building. An abundance of press coverage, including an appearance on prime-time local news led to an increase in initial enquiries and helped to raise the public perception of the scheme in the city, and beyond. 

A bespoke marketing plan was introduced to target students from the key institutions; and with the unique nature of student accommodation in Northern Ireland and a high number of students studying locally, school sixth forms were visited to educate them on the scheme’s benefits. Students (and often their whole families) were welcomed for viewings, and Skype viewings offered to those who lived further afield. 

Being a converted building, all of the rooms are unique, so the team made sure they talked potential bookers through the features and floorplans of each room to help them find the perfect one to suit their needs.  

Given the size of John Bell House, it would be easy for the building to feel cold and imposing but the team set about overcoming this with an injection of fun and fantastic community spirit. Fresh continue to work closely with the universities and community and have built up a strong network that the students can benefit from. 

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The Results

In spite of being first-movers in uncharted PBSA territory, the scheme saw impressive lettings in year one which exceeded expectation and continues to go from strength to strength. The scheme has been shortlisted for Scheme of The Year at the Property Week 2017 Student Accommodation Awards and for the Aisling Awards - a prestigious local initiative celebrating the talent and vibrancy of Belfast. We’ve also been recognised as one of the most ‘Instagramable Student Halls’ by MTV and Cosmopolitan Magazine. 

As winner of our “Fresh Factor” internal quality and standards competition in 2016, the team at John Bell House were particularly praised for their community aspects, friendly team and non-stop social calendar.

Overall, due to the successful launch and management of John Bell House, Fresh have paved the way for other PBSA to be developed in the city centre. 


Paul Tidy