Looking back on six years of growth for Dot Dot Dot within a developing property guardian industry

Six years ago, when I launched Dot Dot Dot, the business was nothing but an idea and a lot of optimism, and the property guardian industry was a very different place from today. It has been exciting to watch both grow up, and I’m looking forward to developments on the horizon for Dot Dot Dot and our industry over the coming year which will see my company and the wider sector improve still further.

Happy sixth birthday, Dot Dot Dot!

Back in 2011, I wanted to prove that it was possible to do property guardianship differently. There were already a few organisations offering it, but all were approaching it purely as a security service. However, it seemed clear to me that there was space in the market for a higher-quality and more socially responsible approach.

I saw that property guardianship could be used to reduce people’s cost of living and believed that it could therefore unlock their time to make a difference through volunteering. I also believed that happy, well managed guardians who had been carefully vetted and clearly briefed would take better care of the buildings they were living in. Furthermore, diligent management and personal attention would allow us to identify problems before they became serious, giving us the chance to remedy them fairly and straightforwardly before a more conventional property guardian company would even have noticed them.

It has been incredibly satisfying to be proved right on all of this. Over the past six years, we have seen that a wide range of property owners, across the country and from the private, public and third sector, have chosen to work with us because they want to be confident that their buildings are in safe hands, because they want 100% compliance with legal and health and safety best practice, and because they would like to see their empty buildings used in a way which benefits neighbourhoods and the wider community. It has been fantastic to see that our model works just as well in rural Cambridgeshire, in Sheffield and on the south coast as it does in Notting Hill and Tower Hamlets.

On top of that, it is a real pleasure to house guardians across the age spectrum and with every kind of job from architect to zoo-keeper (yes, really – Gemma, pictured above is a guardian in Wycombe and commutes to a zoo on the outskirts of London every day). And it is a daily privilege to hear about the brilliant voluntary work they do. Last year, they gave 56,000 hours, which is the equivalent of 30 working years for good causes. Within those statistics there are any number of inspirational stories of help being given where it’s needed most – Tim and Jon building community in High Wycombe through their litter-picking, Emilija’s mixture of east London volunteering and Joe teaching children circus skills in Sheffield.

And in the past year we have also partnered with Cosmopolitan Magazine to house a dozen of their readers in great homes in London to demonstrate what a difference well-managed, inexpensive accommodation makes to their lives, and to support Cosmo’s wider call for change in the housing situation for millennials. We have welcomed new property owning clients up and down the country, and we have had a rebrand by Studio Blackburn so that our looks reflect our maturity and our ambition.

Growing up within a changing industry

In parallel with our growth, the property guardian industry has changed and developed too. It has become a far more conventional and familiar choice, for property owners and for guardians. Back in 2011, many property owners had never heard of it as an option, and others were wary of it because they weren’t confident that it would keep buildings as safe as boarding them up. Today, it is a standard tool for managing buildings, and it’s widely understood that allowing responsible, well-managed guardians to live in properties deters crime and anti-social behaviour more reliably and cost-effectively than any other security solution, while also preventing dilapidation and avoiding the blight that empty buildings bring to an area.

Similarly, guardianship is no longer seen as an edgy housing option suitable only for young people seeking artistic or unconventional lifestyles. While the flexibility and resilience it requires mean it doesn’t work for everyone, a wide range of people of different ages, backgrounds and professions are finding that it is a good way to live more affordably.

And while the market has matured, other property guardian companies are gradually increasing their standards of professionalism and legal compliance. When I launched Dot Dot Dot, we were up against businesses who said – untruthfully – that guardians could be evicted with just a couple of days’ notice. This has never been the case – guardians have always been legally entitled to 28 days’ warning of the need to move out – but it has only been in the past couple of years that this claim has ceased to be made.

Progress is still needed across the industry, however. We would like to see a better understanding of the fire and health and safety standards guardians are entitled to – which do not differ from those they should experience renting a room in a shared house in the private rented sector. While guardians have less security of tenure than tenants, and are required to be flexible about moving in and moving out, they have an equal legal right to a safe home. Sadly, in the context of a housing crisis which limits guardians’ options, too many are still being asked by other providers to live in buildings which do not meet the minimum standards the law entitles them to.

In the last year, we have set out in detail the standards that guardians can expect from Dot Dot Dot, and over the coming years our goal is to continue to set an example of best practice. We also intend to work with other responsible providers to publicise the legal minimum standards all property guardian companies should comply with.

We hope that the quality of our offer to property owners will also help to push up standards across the industry. Our goal has always been to deliver a responsive, reliable service which is tailored to the specific needs of our clients and the areas where their buildings are located. We prefer to put effort and resources into risk mitigation rather than to cut upfront costs to the bone and spend money on crisis management instead. In the past six years, we have seen that a large and growing proportion of property owners agree with us. We hope that our partnerships with responsible property owners will, over the coming years, continue to demonstrate that property guardianship done well is a win-win-win for owners, guardians and communities alike.

What’s next?

At Dot Dot Dot, we are very excited about the year ahead. Most importantly, we will be growing – working with new clients and aiming to become ever more useful to our existing ones. This will allow us to house more brilliant guardians and support them to do even more inspirational voluntary work. And we will be using the opportunities this growth provides to further improve our systems and strengthen our team.

Looking outwards, we will carry on spreading the word about what a difference property guardianship can make to everyone involved – owners, guardians and communities. We are co-hosting an event with leading property developers U+I –an informal evening of drinks, networking and a panel discussion on the future of meanwhile use chaired by urban regeneration advisor David Barrie. And we will be building on our partnership with Cosmopolitan to campaign for better housing for all while creating homes for more of their readers.

We will continue to push up standards in the industry – we welcome the investigation that the London Assembly Housing Committee has launched into the role of property guardianship in London’s housing market and look forward to contributing our views and experience.

So while our scale and the context we work in have changed significantly over the past six years, our mission and our values have not. We look forward to continuing to work hard to make the most of places in transition, by getting empty buildings into use to house people who do brilliant voluntary work.

Thanks very much indeed to everyone who has helped us to achieve so much over the past six years, and here’s to the future.