Staying in student digs on your summer holiday may not sound exactly enticing. But with hotels jam-packed as so many of us take staycations instead of heading to the Medi-terranean, drastic times may require drastic measures.
Thankfully, help is at hand. In 17 cities around the UK, a new start-up called Zeni has secured the keys to student halls, where, until students return in September, anyone can stay for astonishingly tempting prices — from as low as £25 a night.
But I’m sceptical. Recalling my own halls of residence as an undergraduate in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, in the 1990s makes me shiver: bars on the window, lino on the floor and a design that seemed to have been taken from the building manual of an open prison.
Zeni’s prices are ‘astonishingly tempting’. In the above table we compare its deals with three budget hotel providers
So it is with no small degree of apprehension that I check into the Hope Street Apartments in Liverpool, a modern complex used by both Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores students, in the city’s Georgian Quarter.
First impressions are not great. The lobby looks somewhat like a dingy backpackers’ hostel in Rotterdam, with old sofas, concrete floors and pinboards festooned with adverts for Zumba classes.
So far, so regrettable.
Taking the industrial factory-esque lift to the third floor sinks my spirits further. I gingerly turn the key in the lock. Inside, however, I am in for a surprise.
Hope Street Apartments in Liverpool is a modern complex used by both Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores students
No half-empty tobacco pouches, Blu Tacked posters of Edvard Munch’s The Scream or scuffed paperback copies of Aldous Huxley’s The Doors Of Perception or Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. Instead, the room looks as if it has never been occupied. It has clearly been scrubbed to Japanese ryokan standards.
All is gleaming white, and inside the space is a small double bed, a neat kitchenette, a tidy shower room, oodles of storage space and — best of all — a view of the modernist Catholic cathedral (known to Liverpudlians as ‘Paddy’s Wigwam’ due to its odd shape). What a revelation.
Zeni is the brainchild of businessman Raj Patel, who says: ‘There is prime real estate all over the country that is sitting empty for months during the summer when students aren’t there.
Pictured is one of the rooms with its ‘gleaming white’ interiors and neat kitchenette
‘It seemed like an obvious thing to see if we could open it up to everyone rather than have it deserted for months.’
Of course, rooms are only available for a few summer months each year. But even now, in peak summer, booking at short notice is possible.
There is no breakfast on offer and if there are two of you, the bed may be a bit of a squeeze — but can I remind you that a night here costs less than a round of drinks in most pubs.
Revelation: Liverpool’s Victoria Gallery & Museum is within walking distance of the accommodation
Ensuite rooms at Hope Street Apartments from £35 a night (stay-zeni.com). Avanti West Coast runs direct trains from London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street from £59.60 return (avantiwestcoast.co.uk).
Over the road from my Zeni is The Philharmonic Dining Rooms, a Victorian palace of a pub famed for having Grade I listed marble urinals.
Within walking distance are the Three Graces buildings, the Tate Liverpool at the Royal Albert Dock, the Victoria Gallery & Museum, and the cluster of wonderful vintage shops, second-hand bookshops and organic pizza joints on Bold Street.
‘Where are you staying?’ a friend texts, expecting me to respond with my usual Liverpool haunts of the Titanic Hotel or the Malmaison — both usually more than double the Zeni price. Before arriving, I could not help but smirk a little at the hubris of the name of my accommodation.
But now I respond confidently: ‘I’m staying in an apartment.’ Because that, compared with the student digs of my era, is what this place on Hope Street most resembles. There are much larger apartments in the same complex that sleep up to 14 people, and there is even a gym and a roof terrace to enjoy.
As Airbnb prices spiral and guest houses stick up ‘no vacancies’ signs across the UK in this strange staycation summer, a new way of visiting Britain’s cities has quietly opened up.
Expect great value, unbeatable locations and, until Freshers’ Week at least, no ashtrays, joss sticks, pizza crusts or piles of old washing lumped on sofas. Relive your student days . . . in style!