Five Years of Dot Dot Dot – a vindication of optimism

Kicking off a week of blogs about why turning five is a significant milestone for Dot Dot Dot, here’s a letter by our founder Katharine Hibbert.

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Optimism

Five years ago, when Dot Dot Dot was just an idea, I wanted to believe that it would be possible to set up an organisation which did property guardianship differently.  

I wanted to believe that if our guardians were reliable, responsible people who wanted to free up their time to help others, we could enable them to do more of the voluntary work they cared about by reducing their living costs, and we could manage them in a fair, respectful, straightforward way which would encourage them to respond in kind.  I hoped that good guardians would want to stay with us as we moved them from building to building, offering them a greater chance of continuous housing, and making sure that we carried on working with people who liked our approach.

I wanted to believe that property owners would see that carefully-chosen and well-managed guardians would take better care of their buildings, and would want to support guardians’ commitment to making a difference by giving time to good causes.  I hoped that owners would choose to work with an organisation which held itself to high standards for safety and service, over those willing to cut corners.

And I wanted to believe that it was possible to run a business which covered its costs by trading, but which was ethical and fair, a good employer and a good organisation to partner with.

I wanted to believe all that, but I’m not sure if I really did.  Everything about setting up a business is risky, and when more than half of start-ups fail before they’ve traded for five years, you’re always betting against the odds.  So I was braced for failure and disappointment even while I put one foot in front of the other to get things off the ground.

What we’ve achieved so far

So that’s what has made celebrating Dot Dot Dot’s fifth birthday such a joy.  From the outset, we have won work, delivered it to a high standard and gained new business and industry accolades precisely because we have stuck to our values, not despite doing so.  And over the past few years, as we’ve grown, we’ve proven that our approach doesn’t just work with one kind of property owner, one kind of guardian or one kind of neighbourhood.  We have worked successfully everywhere from inner-city estates to home-counties villages, and in everything from office blocks to stand-alone houses, placing a diverse range of guardians and working with all sorts of owners.  We have flexed our methods to suit local needs, but our overall approach has stayed the same.

DDD Timeline

As the timeline shows, our business has grown and our social impact has followed in synch. Over the past five years, our guardians have spent 68,000 hours volunteering. That’s the equivalent of forty working years devoted to good causes – equal to an entire career donated to charity, worth more than £1m, based on the average public sector salary.

Thank you

We have succeeded in large part because the people Dot Dot Dot has been fortunate enough to work with have shared our values, and have got on board to help.  And firstly, that means our guardians.  It has been a real pleasure to get to know so many of them, and all of us in the office are regularly dazzled by their commitment, friendliness and generosity to the causes they help and also to each other and to their neighbours.  We try to be very clear up-front about what we will expect from our guardians, and what they can expect from us in return.  Our approach doesn’t work for everyone – but the overwhelming majority of those we house go above and beyond our expectations in their volunteering and in their care of the buildings where they live.

Secondly, I’d like to thank the property owners who have chosen to work with us over the years, and who have understood the value we create beyond simply securing buildings to an excellent standard.  I’d particularly like to thank Poplar HARCA, who were the very first large property owner we worked with, and who gave us an opportunity when we had less of a track record.  We started working with them on a small scale, but once we’d proven that we could do a good job, they gave us more opportunities.  That chance to show that we really could deliver made all the difference at an early stage.

I’m very grateful to all the supporters who have cheered us on and provided guidance, accolades and funding.  Support from Nesta, the Cabinet Office and the Bromley-by-Bow Centre, advice from individuals like Bruce Thompson and David Ireland and partnerships with organisations like Future of London, Wates and Social Enterprise UK, have all smoothed the path and enabled us to do more of what we wanted to do, more quickly.

And finally, I’d like to thank all the staff – past and present.  It has been a real pleasure for me personally to work with such positive, smart and kind colleagues.  And I’d particularly like to thank Peter Brown, who took over from me as CEO last autumn.  Peter has been involved with Dot Dot Dot behind the scenes almost from the beginning – he was one of the first people I went to speak to about the idea in his previous role at a social landlord.  When he joined us as Head of Business Development two years ago, he helped us to win work across the South East, enabling us to grow substantially.  And it is a privilege to work alongside him to make sure Dot Dot Dot lives up to its values from day to day, as well as to work towards longer-term ambitions.

What’s next

While birthdays are a good time for looking back, they are also an opportunity to look forwards, and I’m very excited about Dot Dot Dot’s future.  We want to grow what we’re already doing, we want to find opportunities to adapt our model to suit new contexts, and we want to devote even more effort to pushing up standards across the property guardian sector and to finding innovative ways to ease the housing crisis.  And we look forward to working with even more inspirational guardians, clients, advisors and colleagues as we do so.

Thank very much to everyone who’s been part of the journey this far, and here’s to the next five years.

Katharine Hibbert

Founder & Director

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