Our work with housing associations began back in 2011, when Andrea Baker, Poplar HARCA’s Director of Housing and Corporate Services, met Dot Dot Dot founder Katharine Hibbert. Since then, we have partnered with over 20 housing associations across England, most often in regeneration contexts, to secure empty buildings with property guardians, and we still work with Poplar HARCA today.
Housing associations play a vital part in regenerating underfunded areas and providing affordable housing and support for around six million people across England. As regeneration takes place, a decant process begins, and buildings become empty, leaving them vulnerable to antisocial behaviour and disrepair. Property guardianship can provide key support during times of transition, both to housing associations themselves and to the residents they house, some of whom may still live in the area.
Retaining a sense of safety and community with existing residents
At Dot Dot Dot, we are uniquely positioned to offer support to housing associations through placing well vetted, well managed, socially responsible guardians in empty properties. When an area is earmarked for regeneration, there are often existing residents to consider. In Henley-on-Thames, we worked with Soha Housing to introduce guardians into Mount View Court, a sheltered housing estate that still housed several residents. We agreed on a tailored set up plan, introducing a small number of guardians at first, and adapted our vetting process to find guardians who would be sensitive to their new neighbours. As part of their 16 hours of volunteering, guardians were put in touch with the existing residents on the estate to offer a listening ear and help with any shopping or gardening.
Similar to Dot Dot Dot, housing associations have a strong commitment to their residents and customers. In Shoreham-by-Sea, where we partnered with the G15 housing association Southern Housing Group, an important part of our work to secure the estate was to provide reassurance and a sense of safety to remaining residents. This included tailoring our management plan to include four properties in a small area for a short period of six months towards the end of their regeneration process, and ensuring a quick turnaround to get guardians settled into the area as soon as possible.
When emptying estates, it is key to maintain not only a sense of safety for residents, but also to preserve the liveliness and sense of community. As Andrea Baker says:
Director of Housing and Corporate Services, Poplar HARCA
Keeping clients and their residents in the loop
Part of working as a small team in a social enterprise allows us to maintain close relationships with our clients, our guardians, and the communities where we work. Alongside ongoing property and guardian management, we provide clients with service summaries and regular review meetings to keep them informed of who our guardians are, what impact they are having, details of the guardians’ dedicated relationship coordinator and any reports of repairs or antisocial behaviour.
In Bickley, south east London, we have property guardians currently occupying Robert Whyte House, a building that forms part of a former nursing home. Although the building itself was empty when Keniston Housing Association handed it over in March 2021, there were surrounding buildings that still housed sheltered housing residents. We worked with Keniston to organise community outreach in the area, sending out information leaflets to introduce ourselves and our guardians to alleviate any of their residents’ concerns. We also collaborated with them to feature Maurizio, one of our Bickley guardians, for their ‘Talkback’ newsletter, about his background, how he came to be a guardian and his volunteering with Good Gym and The Woodland Trust.
Our guardians can contribute to placemaking in their communities, in addition to looking after the properties they live in. We have worked with over 10 PlaceShapers organisations, from Red Kite Community Housing in High Wycombe to Croydon Churches Housing Association in south London. PlaceShapers are a network of place-based housing organisations who are committed to a common placemaking goal: to support communities to thrive in their environment.
Property guardianship can be an effective way to bring footfall and boost economic development in an area. To gain an understanding of how we could better support Peabody in their aims to regenerate Thamesmead in south east London, we conducted a survey with 75% of our Thamesmead guardians. A third of our guardians in Thamesmead run their own businesses, and, of those, 77% were based in Thamesmead. These businesses covered a multitude of areas, including dance teaching, project management, hairdressing, beauty, handywork, painting/decorating, media services, art production, young people and education, and poetry. Not only is it testament to how guardians can boost their local economy, but also to the sheer diversity of skill sets among the people we house.
Collaborating with housing associations, from large G15 to smaller London-based G320 organisations and place-based associations, has been part of our work to repurpose empty assets since our inception in 2011. Despite the fact that the areas they work in and the ways in which they work are diverse, our work to support housing associations in their next steps – through looking after empty spaces, maintaining a sense of safety and community for residents and contributing to placemaking – has remained constant.