“What really impresses me is that [the University] was originally set up to provide a viable place of education for all faiths and backgrounds, and that this inclusive approach is still provided today, with accessible facilities for a diverse student population.”

Mike Leonard, Residential Property Manager

Mike Leonard is responsible for property management across all University-owned accommodation, which houses nearly 5,000 students.

With 25 years’ service under his belt, the Residential Property Manager reflects on the many success stories he and his team have achieved over the years, while outlining the programmes in place to further enhance the services we offer our students.

Discover why our green schemes are bloomin’ marvellous, the ways we’re reducing energy and carbon emissions… and how Mike ‘engineered’ a meeting with TV star Anneka Rice!

The University currently provides accommodation for 8,485 students – 4,863 (57%) in University bedspaces managed by Residential Services and 3,622 (43%) managed by private partners. The University’s residential portfolio includes 11 major sites – four on campus and seven off-campus, plus a group of properties known as shared housing. My role as Residential Property Manager is to help with the management of the buildings, services and contracts associated with the residential portfolio. As part of this responsibility, I also lead on our Blueprint action plan for sustainability, which we’ve had some considerable success with over a number of years.

What really impresses me is that the Yorkshire College of Science – the precursor to the University of Leeds – was originally set up to provide a viable place of education for all faiths and backgrounds, and that this inclusive approach is still provided today, with accessible facilities for a diverse student population.

Not so much a question as a comment really: “I didn’t know that Residential Services did this sort of thing!”

We have the annual Yorkshire in Bloom Awards coming up, which means that colleagues from Estates, Sustainability and Residences will be working on the University estate to get the grounds ready for the judges’ visit in July. We’ve managed to win Gold and Category Winner in the University and Colleges section for the past two years, so we want to make sure we try to achieve the same successful outcome again third time round.

We have the annual Yorkshire in Bloom Awards coming up, which means that colleagues from Estates, Sustainability and Residences will be working on the University estate to get the grounds ready for the judges’ visit in July. We’ve managed to win Gold and Category Winner in the University and Colleges section for the past two years, so we want to make sure we try to achieve the same successful outcome again third time round.

We’ve been working on reducing energy and carbon emissions in the residential portfolio since 2005/06. Through property sales and acquisition, energy improvements and cleaner energy supplies, we’ve made a 65% reduction in carbon emissions, with a saving of 8,470 tonnes of CO². An example of this is the doubling of LED lights recently installed thanks to net zero carbon funding from the University, increasing the total from 9,570 to 19,838 in the past two years.

We’ve been working with Bishops Beds in the supply of new mattresses and the recovery of old ones for recycling, thereby preventing 109 tonnes of waste from going in to landfill in the past five years.

Our staff and students have kindly given 29,371 bags (234 tonnes) of donations to the British Heart Foundation since 2016/17, with an estimated £411,194 raised for heart disease research, whilst also saving 5,850 tonnes of CO² emissions as a result.

Our staff and student volunteers have completed 54 Wild Work Day events with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust since 2012/13, delivering 753 volunteer days of work around Leeds and the Aire Valley. Students from 52 different countries have taken part, with one group planting 2,536 trees for the Wild Ingleborough Project on a particularly cool day in December last year.

Our Student Sustainability Architects have been mapping the biodiversity on our residential sites, with 12 biodiversity action plans completed out of 14 so far. Site improvements have included the Sensory Garden (2018) and Wildflower Area at Charles Morris Hall, with five crab apple trees planted this year for the resident Tawny mining bees. We’ve also been collaborating with Unite Students and Groundwork Yorkshire on the North Hill Well Wood Project, creating a communal green ‘glade’ space on Woodhouse Ridge in Headingley. The site is located behind North Hill House, built in 1846, North Hill Court (1923) and James Baillie Park (2003). We’ve added various trees, hedging, plants, ferns, nest boxes, raised planting beds, hedgehog nest boxes and two water features to the site. Bird Cherry, Guelder Rose and Scarlet Elf Cup species are ones to watch out for, plus Speckled Wood and Orange Tip butterflies currently enjoy the woodland glade created.

We regularly recruit two Student Sustainability Architects each year through Sustainability Services – one working on circular resource use in Residences and the second on biodiversity across the residential sites. Students also get the opportunity to work on one or more of our outdoor volunteer events by responding to regular communications sent out by colleagues from our Residence Life Team.

A number of our sites are accredited by the Green Tourism Business Scheme for the hospitality sector, and we were awarded our first Gold Award for Storm Jameson Court in 2011. This has now expanded to eight residential sites and two catering venues, with Cloth Hall Court receiving the Green Meetings Gold Award this month. We signed up to the NUS Green Impact Scheme at the University in 2012 and won its national Community Action Award for our work with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, plus a Green Tourism Goldstar Award for Storm Jameson Court in 2014.

More recently, we’ve worked with students and colleagues from Estates and Sustainability Services to achieve Gold in both Yorkshire in Bloom (2022 and 2023) and the Hedgehog-Friendly Campus Awards (2023). We’ve also been finalists in both the Higher Education (HE) sector’s CUBO (College and University Business Officers) Awards 2023 and Green Gown Awards 2023. Finally, our work at North Hill Well Wood was recognised with a Wildlife Gardening Award from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust this month.

I had the chance to meet Colin Parkin, who was the Director of Facilities at York St John University when I was working at The College of Law in York. Colin kindly offered me some advice on my career progression and mentioned an MSc course in Facilities Management that was starting at Leeds Metropolitan University (now Leeds Beckett University). The rest, as they say…!

We celebrated my wife’s 60th in Barcelona last year with our son, daughter and their partners. We had a wonderful time there and were incredibly proud of how our two children had turned out… but please don’t tell them!

That the journey to work from York doesn’t get any shorter!

Working in HE is my second career, as I previously served in the Royal Engineers for 11 years, so I guess that option would be out! I suppose I get the most enjoyment when I’m out volunteering on the Wild Work Days with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, rain permitting, of course! So, it would probably be a career in nature conservation – preferably in a warm, drier climate, if I had the choice!

The majority of our residential sites are located off campus, so my current favourite location would have to be North Hill Well Wood (LS6 2EN) behind North Hill Court, which is open to visitors from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday (advert over!). On campus, it would be the area around Charles Morris Hall with all the different habitat areas, including the Sensory Garden.

I’m a member of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, so no surprise there! I like to get out walking and observing the landscape and wildlife. One of my favourite areas to visit is the North Yorkshire Coast, from Ravenscar to Robin Hood’s Bay via the Cleveland Way and back along the old Whitby to Scarborough railway line. On a quiet evening, you can hear the seals calling out on the beach below.

Don’t really have a favourite destination as part of the fun is finding somewhere new to go looking for.

You won’t see me on camera, but in 1987 my troop of Royal Engineers came to the assistance of one Anneka Rice in her first Challenge Anneka event for Children in Need. The event took place on the River Thames by Tower Bridge and involved an orchestra playing Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture on a floating stage with fireworks and dancers on ice! The Sappers provided an air-portable floating bridge to allow people to get out on to the stage, and Anneka visited the Regiment later to express her thanks for the job done that day. She was exactly the same person in real life as seen on TV – enthusiasm personified!