Thursday, 25 February 2016

How To Find The Right Student House...

 It's February, the academic year is flying by, and if you haven't sorted out your student house for September yet, it's probably at the top of your to do list. 

If you're a first year student, this is most likely the first time you have ever house hunted, and it can feel very grown up, stressful and intimidating. But don't fret, it's not as difficult as it seems. There are plenty of helpful and honest estate agents out there, and are assertive and ask lots of questions, you'll be able to find a solid deal. As I have just sorted out a uni house for the second time (university whizzes by so bloody fast... such a cliché... but very true), I feel more aware of the dos and don'ts when it comes to house hunting, and how to avoid falling into a dodgy or expensive contract... keep reading for a few pointers!

It may sound obvious, but it saves a lot of time and effort if go to estate agent who specialise in student lettings. My friend and I wasted time browsing swanky two bedroom flats online and almost booking viewings, when we realised the contracts were aimed towards professionals, and had contracts starting immediately, rather than the usual starting-from-June/July student deal. Also, companies that specialise in students are going to have clear, set terms regarding things like rent in summer... and questions such as "are we allowed house parties?"... and are just easier to deal with in general.

In Manchester, where I am a student, there's a place in the student hub of Fallowfield called Manchester Student Homes. It's a handy shop where you can get advice and do some guided house hunting. And it's managed by the universities in Manchester, so it's advice you can trust. The organisation is especially helpful in first year, when students are totally new to private renting and just want a bit more information. Do a quick google search and see if your university provides a similar service, they probably do!

Walton Robinson is a fab estate agent to go to if you're at uni in Newcastle. They have lots of student houses available which are easy to find through their website... just look for the big blue "Student Let" button! They won the North East Student Housing award for Newcastle in 2015 - they are well established, well trusted and well loved by students. 

My friend has just signed for a house through Unipol, a non-profit estate agents with branches in Leeds, Bradford and Nottingham. They are a great company to go through as they only deal with student lettings and pride themselves on providing good, honest service.

If you go to smaller companies or directly through landlords, remember to be assertive... try not to let yourself be pushed into house viewings or contracts that you're not too sure about - easier said than done, but aim to be clear and confident. Additionally, ask lots of questions. Don't be afraid to really pump the estate agent/landlord for information, this is serious stuff we're talking about here... it's big money, and you want to be sure that you're signing the contract that is right for you. Remember to ask about rent during the summer. Most student contracts start in June/July, meaning during the summer before you move into the property, you are required to pay some kind of rent. Estate agents  and landlords have differing policies on this and some are more expensive than others, so it's an important point to go over. And don't hesitate to ask your mom or dad to run over the contract to give you some advice... most likely they've been in a similar position... and your funds will probably be at the front of their mind!  

Unfortunately, student houses usually aren't particularly glamorous. We're students, we're sort of supposed to live in slightly dingy dwellings. But I am just like the next girl, I swoon at white Ikea furniture, walls of quirky art prints, and perfect desk set-ups... but you gotta compromise. Your Ikea dream will become reality one day, but most likely not while you're struggling to live off your student loan! On the other hand, you shouldn't have to live in a grotty hovel, and landlords/estate agents have the responsibility to make sure their properties are decent. Ultimately, it's about compromise. For example, I'm not a fan of the old fashioned, textured white walls in my house for next year... it reminds me of the swirly top of iced Christmas cakes... but I'm only living there for a year, I'm going to be with my best pal, and I'm sure with a line or two of bunting and fairy lights, we can have it looking cosy in no time. 

So there's my two cents on student house hunting. It can be a bit of nuisance to add it onto your plate alongside essays and reading and some kind of social life, but it's not as stressful as it seems. With a good estate agent, an assertive mindset, and a willingness to compromise, you'll find a fab pad for you and your pals. 


This post was kindly sponsored by Walton Robinson, but all opinions are my own. 

Friday, 19 February 2016

I just love terraced houses...

I have a thing for terraced houses. A big thing. Personally, I find them very aesthetically pleasing. Whilst others long for a gleaming, ultra-modern pad, I long for a cute, redbrick mid-terrace, complete with courtyard and back alley. Maybe it's because I've grown up in Birmingham, where there are lots of redbrick terraces, and have a keen passion for Birmingham's lost back to back style houses (I'm a nerd). I hate that the vast majority of Britain's Victorian houses have been lost. Every building has history, and it makes me sad that so much history has been bulldozed. Maybe my longing to preserve old architecture fuels my love of terraces...

Regardless of where my obsession comes from, it makes me smile at the symmetrical rows of terraces and their back alleyways... the red brick feel cosy and familiar to me, and I just want to explore and take a few snaps. I live in Manchester now and luckily many old houses remain - think Coronation Street style! I can definitely see myself living in a terrace in a Manchester suburb in a few years time... they're often pretty cheap too! Next academic year, my friend and I are renting a redbrick terrace in an area that's dominated by them. It's even got a little yard and a back alleyway... heavenly. 

I'm aware that I probably sound a bit nuts, but we all have our own tastes. My family home has some classic red bricks that are so prominent in industrial cities, but I suppose it's kind of weird that I adore terraces when I haven't lived in one (yet!). But I love how they're typically British and full of character. The majority were built during the Industrial Revolution, a watershed event that created modern Britain and shaped my hometowns of Birmingham and Manchester... and I can't get enough of 'em. 

What kind of houses do you like? Are you all for modern chic, or do you prefer old and characterful? 


Thursday, 11 February 2016

6 Tips for Feeling Happier at University

Being at university isn't all fun and games. Some weeks are great, I get to all my lectures and seminars, manage to chat to other students, go on a couple of nights out, and feel like I have my life under control. And other weeks don't exactly go to plan... I feel demotivated and like a failure, just want to stay at my boyfriend's all the time and I really miss my mom. Before Christmas, I wasn't feeling too good about uni. I didn't feel at home in the house that I share with five friends, was going home every couple of weeks, and was worried about becoming a bit of a burden to my boyfriend as I wanted to stay at his lots instead of trying to make my own place work. 

I just didn't feel... I dunno, cosy? I didn't look forward to coming back to the house after a long day of uni. My room didn't feel like my room, and it made me miserable. After a lovely month at home over Christmas, I was anxious about coming back to university... worried that I still wouldn't feel settled in. But things have changed, and in 2016, I'm feeling a lot better. I was determined not to rely on my boyfriend so much as it just wasn't fair, and actually look forward to coming back to my own room and my own space. I used to be so good at entertaining myself and considered myself to be someone who craved having time alone, but during the first few months of second year, I seemed to lose my confidence somewhat, and forgot how to make myself happy.

There are lots of little things that have made my self esteem return, made me feel more content, and made me feel at home in my house. Just simple things that anyone can apply to their life. I know for a fact from speaking to friends that uni is not easy for most people, and many of us have days where we feel lost and unfulfilled. I hope these tips will help those of you who need a bit of a confidence and happiness boost. 

1) Plan
Planning your days gives them purpose and structure, even if it's as small as writing "do laundry, return library book and look online for jobs" in your diary. I don't have many contact hours at uni, and I find having a little diary where I write down what tasks, however boring, that I'm going to aim to do in my free time really helps me feel motivated and on track. It also helps prevent me from rotting in bed until 2pm and then watching and re-watching The Undateables until I feel sleepy again... we've all been there and it may be fun at the time, but then you suddenly realise you haven't had any sunlight in twenty four hours... so it's best to avoid. 

2) Plan again
... but this time with friends. And it doesn't all have to be alcohol and night out related too. Despite what you may have heard, not everyone at university is a party animal. Have a look at what's going on in the local area or at your uni. It's easy to get stuck in a kind of student bubble where you feel disconnected from the city or town that you're in. But what's stopping you from going to the free art gallery like you would with your grandparents back at home? And why not try out the local craft market with a few pals? It makes me feel much more fulfilled and accomplished when I'm an active member of the community, and when I make plans with friends. 

3) Make an effort
Don't just run upstairs to your room as soon as you get in from lectures, despite how tempting it might be when you're tired and a bit moody. Make the effort to go into the kitchen and talk to your housemates about their day and maybe watch a bit of easy TV with them... who doesn't love Four in a Bed?! I have to admit, sometimes I feel like I really can't be bothered to socialise, but then I always feel much better and chirpier when I do make the effort. In the end it's not good to isolate yourself from your friends and housemates, and I know it make me a lot more positive when I do something as simple as watching some TV, or ordering a take away with my housemates.

4) Make it cosy and comfy
The aesthetic of where I spend my time is so important to me. People bang on about it not being the bricks and mortar, but the people you share it with that's important... but let's face it, if you're spending lots of your time in a bland, cheaply furnished and slightly moldy student room, it does get you down. So go mad with the fairy lights, scatter those cushions, hide that mold... make it cosy! It's so much lovelier to be able to relax in a comfy and homely environment... I leave a trail of fairy lights wherever I go, and I'm not ashamed... they instantly make me feel nice and snug. And another thing... before Christmas, I didn't really utilise the desk in my room as I thought it was too small and in too awkward-a-place, but when exams rolled around in January, I decided to try it out properly. With a stretch of an extension lead and shuffle of some books, I've managed to make the space work, and it's so much better than trying to get essays done in bed. They say that it's not productive to work in you bed as you associate it with sleep... I do get where they're coming from (whoever "they" are...), although over the years I have managed to get many a word written from my duvet cocoon... however, it is definitely much easier to sit at a desk when trying to write and spread out my books, and it makes me feel all fancy and on track too. 

5)  Go home! 
I definitely was going home too much before Christmas. I used it as a kind of cop out... rather than trying to make myself feel comfortable in my house at uni, I would just book a cheap Megabus ticket, shove a few things in a bag and be back with my parents and cats in a couple of hours. But I do think going home is important, and I'm still going to be making trips back this semester, just less frequently. It's lovely to pick a date to go home on, and then have something else (along with you art gallery and craft fair trips) to look forward to. You need a break from adulty things like food shopping once in a while, and a weekend every now and then with your momma is like a bit of respite that makes you feel rejuvenated. Having lots and lots of weekends at home takes that respite factor away somewhat, so I'm trying to stay away from the Megabus site... and so far it's going pretty well, although I am looking forward to seeing my cats again sometime soon!

6) Work on personal projects
I didn't really blog at all last semester. I didn't spend time on my own personal projects, and I'm sure that was a big contributing factor in why I wasn't happy. I love writing, and I have so many article ideas just waiting to be written, and when I take these projects of mine seriously and take time out of my day to work on them, I feel motivated and accomplished. As I mentioned earlier, I was worried that I was becoming a burden to my boyfriend as I used his flat as an escape, (like I used going home) and opted to run there and rely on him, rather than working on myself and trying to be more self reliant. When I am busy with my projects, I am more likely to look forward to going back to my place and having time alone, as I get to work on my writing. And when I work on my writing, I'm helping to build my portfolio and make baby steps towards getting a job I want when I graduate next year, so it's a win-win situation. So whether you personal project is blogging, YouTube-ing, working out, cooking, or whatever else, push yourself to make time in your life for it. I know it can be hard to get started on something that you haven't worked on for a while and procrastination creeps in, but once you've just made a little start, just written one word or done a two minute warm-up, you've made progress, and it gets much easier from there. 

Well I wasn't expecting this post to be so long or personal, but writing it has helped confirm to myself what I need to do to keep myself on track and happy, and I hope it helps you too! 


Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Rain Storm

The other day I walked out of Sainsburys, laden with heavy bags, and stumbled straight into a huge rain storm. Within thirty seconds I was drenched. We're talking clothes completely see-through, sodden feet and rat's tails for hair. And for this first half a minute, the optimistic thoughts of "maybe it'll sop", " maybe I won't get too soaked if I walk super fast", "maybe my flimsy hood will help?!" whizzed through my mind. But by the time my bra was pretty much on show because my shirt was so bloody saturated, I gave up on that optimism... and tried out a different type... 

I was already drenched, a few more minutes in the storm wasn't going to change much, and I was heading home anyway. Yeah it was a pain in the bum, but I could have a nice warm shower as soon as I got in. I just accepted the rain and my sodden state, and strolled along the puddle-filled streets, splashing around and not giving a damn... not even looking to see if I was heading straight into the puddles... what a rebel. Cars zoomed past me and their drivers probably laughed at my appearance, but I didn't care - there was nothing I could do about it right then, and the promise of a long soak in the shower was keeping me content. 

Something about this little experience reminded me to try not to get so uptight about things, to not care so much about what others think, and to not catastrophize things and get so worked up. It felt liberating to stomp in the puddles nonchalantly, fully accepting that I was in a rain storm, that I couldn't avoid getting wet, and that it was okay.