School started again for us today and so I’m back at my desk busy working on the AW19 trends post that I’ll publish on Friday. In the meantime we have a few things to catch up on. Way back in June, as the exams ground to an end, you may remember me telling you that I was making the most of one last long school break with the boys by planning in all kinds of things.
Next year will definitely be different. The middle son is thinking about working Camp America or being an NCS leader so we won’t be having a summer holiday with him which will leave the youngest on his own with us and I’m not sure how he’ll feel about that… we’ll see.
Anyway with that in mind, we’ve been saying ‘yes’ to every opportunity and when the middle boy and I were challenged to spend a couple of days together experiencing life as a university Fresher (and Refresher), we jumped at the chance.
The idea came from IQ Student Accommodation, a company with private student residences that house over 28,000 students in 27 university cities across the UK. When they first got in touch, I thought that with a son who was just about to graduate, I knew all there was to know about student accommodation. After a quick chat I realised that maybe I didn’t. You see his experience was very similar to my own, starting off with regular university halls on campus and then moving into a privately owned student house in town.
IQ’s premise is completely different. Rather than expecting students to suffer rough digs, they aim to give them a home from home experience. They suggested that I try it for a couple of days and compare it to student life in the 80s, taking the middle son along so that I could see it through his eyes too. So, here we are arriving in Manchester a couple of weeks ago, not knowing quite what to expect.
And the first thing that surprised us was the location. The IQ accommodation is located in old warehouse buildings just a two minute walk from Piccadilly Station. As Manchester is one of two destinations that this boy might be heading to, it went straight into my good books because it would take him less than 90 minutes to get home… I suggested that he could even come back every weekend… he said nothing.
The next thing that impressed me was the security; an electronic key fob is required not only to get in but to move around the buildings. To my horror I was allocated a girls-only hall in my first year at Nottingham University. There was no entry system but it didn’t really matter because we had an officious porter on the door (who was particularly good at keeping boys out). When I lived in halls in Paris though, I spent the whole time feeling scared. Every time I left my room there seemed to be someone sinister lurking in the corridor so security issues are high on my list.
Anyway back to Manchester – the building is safe – and despite being a former warehouse, it’s architecturally beautiful.
There are various options that you can book with IQ Student Accommodation ranging from an en suite room to a luxury flat. We were allocated a two bedroom flat like this with high spec rooms and extremely comfortable beds…
… a shared living area decorated in tasteful neutrals…
… a shared kitchen (unlike any student kitchen I’ve ever seen – with washing machine too)
…and a very unstudenty bathroom.
So we unpacked, settled in and decided to explore the locality and refuel with some lunch. There were plenty of cafés and fast food restaurants nearby and we found a Mexican one that suited us both. The boy doesn’t usually do spicy food so I was surprised when he asked for hot sauce on his naked burrito… and had the camera ready for his first mouthful.
Back at base, I swiftly destroyed any illusions he had of having a two-bedroom flat to himself if he goes to Manchester (yes the thought had occurred to him). So with the en suite rooms in mind, I suggested we explore the communal areas starting with a personal favourite, the large laundry room.
There would be no excuse for big bags of dirty washing to return home with him. In my student days we had to go to the laundrette and I used to force myself to plough through Spanish Golden Age texts while I waited. Here they have armchairs and a TV with endless channels to occupy them!
Next on my map were the study areas: hot desks for private study…
… or rooms that you can book for group project work so even if your course mates don’t live in IQ student accommodation, they can come and work with you here.
There’s also a communal lounge area where I suggested the boy might spend time reading… you can tell by his face what a ridiculous idea that was…
So that was my itinerary done and it was his turn to take over. There were plenty of places he’d spotted and I have to say what a pleasure it was to have some one-to-one time to just play. We had some furious games of table tennis…
… and I stunned him by the fact that I’m quite good at pool. I usually sit back and let them compete with Mr MC but I have happy memories of a holiday when my dad taught me how to play. It’s a secret skill that I like to keep up my sleeve.
Oh yes and bowling – another thing I haven’t done for years – I trounced him at that too…
… but my winning streak ended as we moved into the (thankfully) soundproofed karaoke booth. I’ve never done karaoke before and it completely threw me. It wasn’t helped by the fact that the song list was from 2016 – would you know 2016’s greatest hits? I’d only ever heard two of the songs before… and I needed my glasses to read the words… and I didn’t know when to sing. You may have seen us doing it on Instagram Stories, if so I’m sorry to have done that to your eardrums. I’m not usually that tuneless – the boy chose the track and has been chuckling over it with his friends ever since…
And from that point on I think we can say he’d found his Shangri-la. From karaoke we moved to the gaming room…
… and then on to a 25 seater cinema where in the absence of a movie to watch, he managed to upload one of his recent performances on YouTube and have his own moment on the silver screen.
When I was in halls, there was a communal television and that was it. No other entertainment… other than a bar and it has to be said that did keep us entertained… drinks ‘on promotion’ for 30p a shot… to this day I only have to catch a whiff of Malibu for my stomach to churn.
Looking around I noticed that although there was a bar in IQ student accommodation, it clearly isn’t stocked or staffed. Maybe it’s used for the ‘prees’ that students seem to do where in the name of economy they consume copious amounts of gut-rotting spirits before heading out.
We went back to our flat and I thought we might relax for half an hour but the boy announced that it was time to get changed… there was still the gym to do. So we did it – and as a regular gym-goer I can only say that the machines must be calibrated for the very young. After 45 minutes I was on my knees.
And that was our day. The evening lay ahead with a boy who’d just-turned 18-year old and we had Manchester at our feet. However in true Mancunian style the rain was lashing down outside. He decided he’d dedicated enough time to celebrating recently. What he really wanted was to order a takeaway to be delivered – an option that doesn’t exist for us at home and is always the very essence of city living for our boys. So that’s what we did and it was lovely.
We went to bed early, agreeing that in the morning I’d show him my Manchester. I gave him a tour of the city to show him just how scalable it is – like a mini New York with its old industrial quarters sitting quietly alongside new shiny glass towers.
This time the lunch venue was my choice and we went to The Ivy. It was such a pleasure to take him there – he’d never been anywhere quite so chic and he sat in wonder enjoying an artisan cider…
… and a burger and chips!
We chatted about his options and how university life would be. He decided that he could handle accommodation like this… and that it would be fine for me to come and take him shopping and buy him a snazzy lunch… and I realised how lucky I was to have had these two days of being Freshers together. Next time I won’t be joining him, I’ll be walking away.
Would I recommend IQ Student Accommodation? Absolutely I would.
And it would be even better if my boys’ student rooms forever came with a mum room attached…
Disclosure: ‘IQ student accommodation – how does it compare to our student days?’ was commissioned by IQ Students however all thoughts, pictures and good times were our own.
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