When the time comes for us to wrap up a project and hand the building back to its owner, we build on a huge amount of work that happens throughout a project’s lifespan. We take a look at some of our handbacks in Shoreham-by-Sea, Lewisham and Whitechapel. Although the buildings may be diverse in size and type, the process we follow to mitigate risks, review our processes and achieve vacant possession is the same, and each project is awarded the same care and attention to detail that we demonstrate throughout our work.
Mitigating handback risks from the start
Planning for vacant possession isn’t just something we do when a property owner gives us 32 days’ notice – it’s considered right from the start of a project. To mitigate potential risks we set clear expectations with the client and ensure that we house only the most responsible guardians.
Housing responsible guardians
In Shoreham-by-Sea in Sussex, for example, we agreed on a small, short-term project with Southern Housing Group to help protect residents in an emptying estate.
We knew from the start that our services would be needed for six months during the estate’s decant period. Like all of our guardians, the four that were placed in Shoreham-by-Sea were aware of the temporary nature of their housing with us and had appropriate move out plans for the end of their guardianship. As a result, we provided an efficient, successful handback within the agreed timeframe. Southern Housing Group commented that “there was clear communication and expectations set, which meant it [the handback] all went smoothly.”
A flexible approach to notice periods
Whether in a development or community project context, timelines for a property’s next steps can be hard to pin down, and unforeseen circumstances can often result in plans being pushed back. Covid-19 has proved to be an obstacle to many in the housing sector and beyond.
In Lewisham, we partnered with London Borough of Lewisham and Grove Park Youth Club Building Preservation Trust (BPT) to take care of a decommissioned youth club. The newly renovated youth club reopened its doors on 26th July 2021, thanks to the work of Grove Park Youth Club BPT and the voluntary hours contributed by our Grove Park guardians.
The flexibility of our 32 day notice period allowed us to accommodate changes to the proposed timeline when reopening was pushed back due to Covid-19. Despite plans being delayed, our partners had the reassurance, through clear communication and regular review meetings, that our team could return the newly-renovated building on time.
The handback process: how we achieve vacant possession
When we are given notice and the time comes to hand a property back, there are several strands to take care of:
- guardian management
- security management, and
- account management
1. Guardian management
Our team of relationship coordinators, who are in charge of guardian and property management throughout a project’s lifespan, play a key part in property handbacks.
Before our guardians receive their formal notice via email, our relationship coordinators call them to discuss move out plans and provide support where appropriate. We always give at least 28 days’ notice before a guardian’s move out date and, where possible, rehouse suitable guardians in our other available properties. Some of our guardians from our Whitechapel property in east London, for example, were rehoused in self-contained flats in the London Docklands area which meant they were close to their previous neighbourhood, and were able to continue their volunteering nearby.
As move out day approaches, we keep in regular contact with our guardians to make sure they are preparing for their move and to assess any potential overstay risks. We also increase our presence on site and increase the regularity of our property inspections to address operational issues and get a general sense of the security of the area. The safety of both the guardians and the emptying buildings are our top priority and we aim to mitigate any risks early.
On the day of handback, the relevant relationship coordinator and members of our field team will be on site to support guardians with moving out and ensure the property is clear and in good condition.
2. Security management
At some of the properties we protect, additional security measures may have been employed alongside the housing of property guardians. In this case, during the handback, measures such as Sitex or alarms will either be removed by Dot Dot Dot or, if hard security is still needed, transferred to the responsibility of the client.
At a housing estate we occupied in Shoreham-by-Sea, there was increasing concern about anti-social behaviour in the area and so extra security measures were employed to protect the estate after handback. We transferred the properties to Vigilance, an ethical security company who provide hard security services, who would continue to protect the estate.
3. Account management
We settle any existing bills as agreed in the service agreement up to the date of handback, and close down any council tax or utilities accounts for which we have had responsibility.
Reviewing our processes
Finally, once vacant possession is achieved and the building is handed safely over to its owner, we send an in-depth end of project review and client evaluation form. We are committed to achieving a consistently high level of service, total compliance with regulation and safety requirements, and a tangible social impact.
Project reviews include an overview of our activities and provide our clients with transparency around our work. In particular, we are able to share the good news about our guardians’, and by extension our client’s, contribution to social impact in their communities.