Amplifying her volunteering efforts with Dot Dot Dot guardianship: Karin and the Open HR Forum – Students

May 6, 2022

With the added support of Dot Dot Dot guardianship, west London guardian, Karin, has been able to amplify her volunteering efforts to enable students to access mentoring from real world working professionals. Karin’s initiative, the Open HR Forum – Students, operates on an international scale to create opportunities for HR students to become leaders in their field.

Developing a passion for communication skills

“One of my first voluntary roles was supporting students and teachers in Slovakian primary schools to develop their interpersonal skills. Since then I’ve been passionate about improving communications between students and working professionals in order to bridge the gap between learning and practical experience in the workplace.

At the start of the pandemic in 2020, I began a course in human resources with the Open HR Forum, to support my continued learning and development around communications in my home country of Slovakia.

I soon noticed a marked gap in the potential to access career consulting and work experience in Slovakia compared with the UK – the only options were for vast sums of money that were unaffordable for most of the students that I knew, including myself.”

Initiating a platform for students to gain real-world experience 

“I identified the need to establish a sub branch of the Open HR Forum specifically for students to gain practical experience and career consultancy. My main aim was to facilitate opportunities for people to be leaders in their field, something that was driven by students, for students, to dictate their own learning and development.

The initiative I’ve created helps to bring HR students together on an international scale, offering them mentoring and support from large professional organisations for free. Each student is paired with a working professional ‘buddy’ who is able to guide them towards applying their theoretical knowledge to practical scenarios.

They can also receive free advice form HR professionals during webinar sessions which has been really successful in helping to feed international knowledge back into the Slovakian education system.”

Utilising guardianship to re-divert time and energy towards volunteering

“Paying lower monthly living costs as a Dot Dot Dot guardian compared with the private rental sector means that I can afford to spend more of my spare time volunteering.

Dot Dot Dot recognising the value of volunteering is really powerful and was one of the deciding factors for me when I became a guardian in 2021. For me, volunteering comes naturally and is something that I’ve always felt comfortable doing – I’ve always cared about giving something back to my community, but being a guardian allows me to amplify my contributions and the amount of time I  dedicate to my initiative.

Guardianship is not for everyone, but there are many advantages to becoming one. I currently live in a large 4-bed townhouse in Hammersmith, west London, and share the property with a teacher, a human rights lawyer and a scientist. I absolutely love my guardian housemates and am so glad to have had the opportunity to meet them – we all have busy work and social lives, however we still find time to meet and relax as a household.

My relationship coordinator, Dominique, has also been fantastic. We feel supported by Dot Dot Dot and their emphasis on being there for the people as well as the property.”

How we work with LB Brent to turn empty flats into inexpensive homes in Queen’s Park

March 22, 2022

The regeneration of South Kilburn in Queen’s Park is a 15-year project aiming to deliver over 2,400 new homes as part of a sustainable and mixed neighbourhood. Flats are vacated in phases to prepare blocks for demolition. However, leaving them empty can risk them becoming the target of anti-social behaviour or can mean maintenance issues that could affect existing residents aren’t spotted.

Life for local residents can become worse just when timelines are most critical and when housing teams are most stretched. For Dot Dot Dot, this can be an opportunity to add most value. With a depth of experience in regeneration projects, and a commitment to delivering positive social impact, we work with housing teams to manage voids in a way that maintains flexibility and positivity in the decant process.

Assessing if a property can be used for guardianship

Dot Dot Dot and LB Brent worked together to establish a process whereby properties could be identified as potentially suitable for guardianship and handed over – or returned if unsuitable – in an efficient, transparent manner:

  1. Property in pipeline: LB Brent allocates a property as available for potential guardian use, and invites Dot Dot Dot for a pre-assessment site visit. LB Brent and Dot Dot Dot agree properties which appear suitable for guardian occupation, and LB Brent undertakes any necessary work to ensure that the units pass their EICR and gas safety inspections, are weathertight and have secure windows and doors.
  2. Property ready for triage: LB Brent notifies Dot Dot Dot when they’re satisfied the property is at the handover standard, and sends over gas and electricity safety certs and asbestos documentation.
  3. Key collection and triage authorisation: Both parties agree a timeline for Dot Dot Dot to put the property through triage i.e. assess its suitability for guardianship. LB Brent signs a Triage Authorisation Form and hands over keys. Dot Dot Dot inputs the property and its accompanying authorisation is into a property tracker visible to both parties.
  4. Triage: Over a maximum two-week period, Dot Dot Dot will assess the suitability of the property for guardianship e.g. the amount / cost of work needed to make it viable for occupation in line with our minimum property standards.

Either the property will be accepted by Dot Dot Dot, in which case LB Brent will give authorisation for set up to be finalised and guardians to be housed. Or, Dot Dot Dot will determine that the property can’t be used for guardian occupation, provide the reason for rejection, return the keys and a Property Handback Form to LB Brent, and designate the property on the tracker as being handed back.

Housing guardians to keep properties safe

Once authorised to house guardians, Dot Dot Dot will take on the Council Tax and utilities accounts, add safety certs to our online folder that’s shared with LB Brent, and obtain a selective licence for each property.

Prospective guardians will be vetted, with key considerations being their financial security, ability to move out if given 28 days’ notice, and their desire to volunteer.

Councillor Eleanor Southwood, Cabinet member for housing and welfare reform at LB Brent, explains: “The first temporary guardian was housed in South Kilburn in April 2021, and there are now 19 guardians across four different blocks. They will be joined by dozens more over this year as the regeneration progresses. They have already volunteered over 1,500 hours to good causes, including at local community kitchens, Covid-19 vaccination centres and the Compass network which represents the LGBT+ community within the armed forces.”

The final stage – vacant possession and handback

Using guardians means property owners are able to ask for their buildings back at any time and for any reason – all they need to do is give 32 days’ notice. In turn, Dot Dot Dot will give its guardians the 28 days’ notice required by law.

Once notice has been served, guardians will begin to activate their move on plans, and Dot Dot Dot will offer rehousing options when available and appropriate. The properties are returned to LB Brent in a clean and clear condition, and after inspecting the property, LB Brent will sign a Property Handback Schedule to confirm its return. Dot Dot Dot will close the Council Tax and utilities accounts and transfer them back to LB Brent.

This entire process can occur over a period of a few months to several years, and can flex with the timelines of the council’s regeneration plans. In choosing to work in partnership, Dot Dot Dot is able to provide its guardians with inexpensive homes in a desirable, diverse and dynamic part of the capital, and LB Brent can keep its buildings safe, support its communities and generate positive social impact through volunteering.

Then and now: our first partnership with Poplar HARCA

November 24, 2021

Our partnership with Poplar HARCA, an award-winning Housing and Regeneration Community Association, began in 2011 when Andrea Baker, HARCA’s Director of Housing and Corporate Services, met with our founder Katharine Hibbert. The rest, as Andrea says, is history. Ten years on, we continue to partner with Poplar HARCA to secure properties and support their placemaking projects in east London. 

We spoke to Andrea about how our partnership has strengthened and changed over the years, and how our guardians have provided a reassuring presence during the regeneration process.

“In 2011, Dot Dot Dot entered a funding competition run by Bromley by Bow Centre in collaboration with Investec Beyond Business.  One of the competition panel rang me up and said ‘you have got to meet Katharine [Hibbert, founder of Dot Dot Dot]. As soon as she walks in the room you’ll know why.  Let her pitch because she’s got something that will benefit Poplar HARCA’s residents.’  I set-up the meeting with Katharine, and the rest (as they say) is history!

“We are a regeneration organisation, which means we manage large scale development schemes that require blocks to be vacant by a specific date.  In the period between all our tenants moving out and bulldozers moving in, residents continue to live in the block and on the estate.  We have got the challenge not only of physically securing properties, but also ensuring a continued sense of security for the remaining residents until they move to a new home.  When there are fewer and fewer people in the properties and around the area, it’s less lively which can be quite scary.

“Fundamentally, the challenges of 2011 haven’t changed. We still hear concerns from our residents about safety, but these are exacerbated by media reports, especially if something awful has happened in the area. Residents feel less secure, and want reassurance. 

“During Covid-19, because most of our staff worked from home, there was a risk we became more remote from our residents’ experience. It was incredibly reassuring to have that on-the-ground intelligence from guardians living locally. If something was going on that they were worried about, we knew they would tell us about it. 

“The biggest difference that Dot Dot Dot offers is that guardians are part of, and engage with, the local community. They don’t just live in the property – they’re out and about, chatting with neighbours, they live in the property rather than just occupying it.

“Trust has been the most important thing about our relationship with Dot Dot Dot. I have never had cause to doubt that Dot Dot Dot shares our values.  The intent and purpose of the organisation has always been strong. The guardians who live in our properties are a group of people who don’t have any expectations in terms of long-term security of tenure, so they absolutely know what’s going to happen when. But despite that, they make it home. They put down, albeit temporary, roots, and genuinely engage with neighbours. That’s really important to us. Whatever the fairydust is that Dot Dot Dot sprinkle on the guardians – it works. 

“The trust has strengthened over time. We’ve tried new things, Dot Dot Dot have tried new things – some have worked, some haven’t.  But that has helped cement the trust because, when things haven’t worked, we talk to each other. They are a valued partner, not just a contractor.  Long may our relationship last.”

If you’d like to find out more about how we partner with our clients, you can contact us at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com or sign up to our newsletter.

Photo credit: Mark Muldoon

Property guardianship and beyond: working with Croydon Council

November 22, 2021

We started working with Croydon Council in 2017, when we took on a former school-turned-NHS building in west Croydon. Over the course of our four year relationship, we partnered with the council to place 28 guardians across both commercial and residential buildings in Croydon and Coulsdon.

Commercial buildings like these can often change and shift their purpose over time, and although our job is to manage the interim, we also play a key part in our clients being able to move their new plans along. We take a look at how a renewed sense of purpose during a property’s transition phase can lay the groundwork for its new use.

Addressing Croydon Council’s meanwhile needs

Managing an empty, disused asset, especially as a local authority, can become a significant financial burden. This was certainly the case at Tamworth Road, a former school that was taken over by the NHS for mental health services. Cost mitigation was an important consideration when we met with Croydon Council in May 2017, who were looking to reduce expenditure on hard security and void management. Once we had brought the building up to the necessary standard, we placed two trusted guardians into the building early on to remove the need for 24-hour security. We also installed signage at the front of the building to ensure it was clear that the building was occupied and managed by Dot Dot Dot. The council were aware that the building was at risk of antisocial behaviour, so it was important to provide a visible deterrent to avoid future issues.

Similarly, in 2018, Croydon Council had concerns over antisocial behaviour and fly-tipping around a former school in Coulsdon Town. We built on our established relationship, and, in July of the same year, we began to house guardians in the building. Each of our guardians was aware of their responsibilities and was assigned a Relationship Coordinator from the start, which allowed us to pick up on any on-the-ground issues early. Due to its location and size, the site was easily identifiable as empty and was a target for ASB and criminal activity. We worked closely with the council’s assets team to create a management plan that included the need for our guardians to maintain the exterior of the property and ensure it was clearly occupied and lived-in. Our guardian community came together to transform the exterior of the property, from overgrown and dilapidated to neat and cared-for, 

Building a meanwhile community

Beyond property security, Croydon Council were aware of the need to reutilise their assets while they sat empty. They were aligned with our values and understood the potential of their empty and underused assets as an opportunity for social value, not only through creating temporary, inexpensive housing and supporting volunteering, but through creating spaces for like-minded property guardians to come together. 

In 2017, we hosted the Housing Committee of the London Assembly at one of our Croydon properties as part of their research into the property guardianship sector. We welcomed Assembly members Sian Berry, Andrew Boff and Tom Copley to the former NHS building to demonstrate how property guardianship at a commercial property can work. 

At the event, Robert Lines, Estates Surveyor for Croydon Council, explained why Dot Dot Dot was the best option for the building’s interim use: “London Borough of Croydon has an extremely positive relationship with Dot Dot Dot and we are particularly impressed with their careful selection of property guardians who share in Dot Dot Dot’s social values and ethos. This has had a beneficial impact for the local community as well as ensuring the property is in safe hands, and we are very pleased to have the building managed and cared for by them.” Tamworth Road guardian, Kit, explained how she was specifically drawn to Dot Dot Dot because of the focus on social impact. She had previously ruled out being a property guardian due to the idea of living in a big building with a group of strangers, but found that “once I knew that everyone was up for 16 hours of volunteering a month, I felt pretty confident they’d be great, considerate housemates, and they are.”

During the time we have housed guardians in Croydon and Coulsdon, our guardians have volunteered over 3,995 hours for good, often local, causes, which equated to approximately £43,000 worth of social value. Coulsdon guardian Julius, for example, volunteered with Croydon Voluntary Action, who “work to coordinate and improve the knowledge of voluntary sector organisations around Croydon and have especially organised a lot during this pandemic, such as networks for soup kitchens and food banks to deliver food and training for volunteer sector organisations.”

Beyond the partnership

Since we successfully handed back the former NHS building to Croydon Council in November 2018, the site has become home to a nursery, a weekly church group and a small care business. 

In Coulsdon, we handed the former school back in October 2021 to enable the council to pursue its plans to develop the site into a new health and wellbeing community centre. The One Croydon Alliance, a partnership between Croydon Council, Age UK and the NHS, will use the site to provide additional GP services to the area as well as talking therapy, children’s services and housing and benefits advice.

Despite there no longer being need for property guardianship in the former Coulsdon school, the project’s end did not signal the end of our Coulsdon community. Eight of the original ten guardians that were housed in Coulsdon have moved to our building in Bickley in Kent, preserving their guardian community and bringing new life to a new property. They have already established a film night, and we look forward to hearing about what they get up to in the future. 

We have learnt from experience that commercial buildings can have rich and varied purposes throughout their lifetimes; we’ve worked in former schools, offices, family centres and even a former castle. It is through building purpose into all that we do – through providing inexpensive housing for our guardian communities and supporting them to volunteer for good causes – that we can contribute to a building’s next stage of life and, in the case of our Coulsdon guardians, foster communities that exist far beyond it.

Discover more ways we can support your meanwhile needs by signing up for Meanwhile Thoughts, our monthly newsletter for property owners.

Then and now: 10 years of property guardianship

November 19, 2021

Dot Dot Dot founder Katharine Hibbert looks back at the industry she walked into in 2011 and how it’s developed over a decade.

When I had the idea for Dot Dot Dot back in 2010, property guardianship was almost unheard of in the UK.  I spent my first years in business explaining to property owners why placing people to live in empty buildings on a temporary basis was a better security solution than traditional approaches like guards or metal hoardings.  And in those early years several guardians told me that, when they saw our adverts, at first they assumed it was a scam because the value of the homes we offered seemed too good to be true. 

Fast forward to today, and the concept is much more familiar.   Many experienced property managers automatically consider guardianship in the menu of options for buildings that are due for regeneration or sale.  And most of those who come to us for housing know about guardianship from media coverage or have friends who are already guardians.   This means that our focus at Dot Dot Dot can move from explaining the basic business model to talking about what makes our approach, as one of Britain’s leading property guardian companies and the only social enterprise in the sector, different and special.  

As we celebrate the tenth anniversary of looking after our first property, here are my reflections on a decade in the industry.

2011 was the perfect moment to launch a property guardianship social enterprise…

As Dot Dot Dot’s founder, I was fortunate to be in the right place with the right idea at the right time.  My work as a journalist had allowed me to specialise in empty homes and the housing crisis, a topic I had been drawn to because – like many millennials – I found myself locked out of home ownership and stuck in expensive, poor-quality rented homes.  I had written a book and worked on a Channel Four programme on the topic, but I had reached the point where I wanted to do something practical to fix the issue, rather than just talk about how bad the problem was.

At the same time, I saw that the property guardian concept was arriving in the UK from the Netherlands.  There were two Dutch companies operating here, each managing a small number of properties, mostly in Central London.  I could see that the idea was bound to catch on – it was (and still is) the only way to achieve all three priorities of flexible, reliable, cost-effective security, where other options can only manage two of the three at best.  And because it allowed property guardian companies to offer homes in prime locations at a fraction of the market rent, it couldn’t fail to be a hit with people looking for a place to live. 

But what I also saw was that the property guardian companies in the market were looking at it only through the lens of security.  The people placed to live in buildings were there as warm bodies to achieve the goal of keeping the building safe, and not as stakeholders to be considered beyond that.  What struck me was that, even if you only cared about property security, who you house in the buildings you are looking after matters.  If you can identify considerate, responsible people who want to be good neighbours, they will naturally take better care of their homes.  And if you add in positive, thoughtful management, the outcomes will be better all round. 

This created the chance to build Dot Dot Dot.  By focusing on housing people who want to volunteer, we are able to support good causes. And we are also able to offer a better security service by attracting and recruiting lovely people who want to take good care of their homes and to be a positive presence in their local communities.  This insight was what allowed us to get started, and continues to be what creates our success today.

…But the lack of government action to ameliorate the housing crisis means that the need for our business model is even greater in 2021.

All the issues which motivated me to launch Dot Dot Dot at the beginning have only become more acute today.  House prices and rental costs have continued to spiral, meaning that it is even more difficult for people to cover their living costs, especially if they want to use some of their time for causes that matter for their own sake, rather than purely to earn money.  This is bad for individuals, but it’s also terrible for society as a whole as it limits the skills, talent and energy available to communities.  While we’re very proud to house hundreds of people across the country, supporting thousands of hours of volunteering a month, property guardianship can never be a complete solution to the housing crisis – the lack of government action over the past decade to improve the situation for people living in privately rented homes is deeply disappointing.

Safety and compliance standards needed to rise in 2011…

Back in 2011, property guardianship was the wild west.  Property owners and would-be property guardians had a very limited understanding of their rights and property guardian companies’ obligations, creating a risk of exploitation by unscrupulous providers. 

Since the beginning, Dot Dot Dot’s strategy has been to communicate a clear understanding of the legal situation to all our stakeholders, and to comply with or exceed those legal standards at all times.  This has enabled us to develop our reputation for quality, reliability and straightforwardness, and we have also used this approach to force others to raise their standards. 

In 2017 we commissioned a leading solicitor and an expert QC to produce a white paper setting out the legal context for our work, together with six other property guardian companies.  We contributed to a 2018 London Assembly report on the sector, welcoming the politicians’ calls to ensure that rules are obeyed consistently to ensure a “level playing-field” among property guardian companies.  And we have consistently tried to keep our stakeholders informed about legal standards and best practice through all possible channels – including this blog.

…But they still have a way to go today.

Whilst guardians today are rarely given notice periods shorter than their legal entitlement or subjected to illegal evictions, it is still not unheard of for people to be placed to live in buildings which are not safe to inhabit.  Property guardians are entitled to the same health and safety standards as tenants in the private rented sector – for example, buildings must be equally fire safe and must meet the same standards for gas and electrical safety testing.  However, some operators still cut corners.  This is bad because of the risk to guardians and because it’s against the law, but also because it harms the reputation of our industry.  This may deter property owners and would-be guardians from considering reputable operators, which cuts them off from the benefits the model can provide.

Our hopes for the next decade: property guardianship becoming boring

It was exciting to be involved in a new industry at the beginning, and we are proud to have done our bit to shape the sector by pushing up standards and emphasising the importance of recruiting great guardians and managing them well.  Over the past ten years, property guardianship has become a much more familiar part of the landscape, but it is still not as common as it should be – far too many properties still sit empty, representing a cost to property owners, a blight on neighbourhoods and a missed opportunity to create housing. 

In the years to come, we hope that we will see the market becoming even more mature, so that stakeholders aren’t choosing between using property guardians and leaving buildings empty, but are instead able to choose between a range of property guardian providers who all meet basic quality standards but offer different approaches to the model.  Some will be drawn to our purposeful, community-focused approach, whilst other customers will no doubt prefer a more basic version, just as some people choose fair trade coffee and others don’t.  

There is potential for our sector to provide good homes to tens of thousands of people, not just the thousands currently living as guardians.  We look forward to contributing to that growth – and to providing our own purposeful spin on the model.

 If you’d like to find out more about how we do property guardianship, you can watch our animation. 

How our green-fingered guardians give their homes ‘kerb appeal’

October 26, 2021

 From our founder, Katharine Hibbert

Of all the reasons for having Dot Dot Dot guardians looking after buildings, you might think that the fact that they keep corridors, gardens and front doors looking nice is the least important.  It’s certainly true that property security, social impact and making good use of an otherwise wasted asset are the main reasons people come to us.  But our experience over the years is that keeping buildings cared for aesthetically makes a big difference to property owners, to neighbours and to the guardians themselves, and is often a highlight of our work.

From the point of view of people living locally, neglected homes with overgrown gardens make whole streets look less welcoming and one or two boarded up flats can make whole estates look tired.  Such properties can be a magnet for anti-social behaviour and dumped rubbish, and can even be an arson risk.  If the situation continues for an extended period, it can be demoralising for neighbours who would normally be houseproud – why bother to make the effort to weed and clear your own front garden or pick up the litter from your corridor when the area still won’t look tidy.  And empty buildings can depress house prices for properties nearby.

Preventing long-term blight

Meanwhile, it’s understandable that anyone working on a property development or regeneration scheme would feel that it’s a waste of resources to pay to manage the visual appearance of buildings that are waiting to be transformed or sold.  It’s natural that they would prefer to focus their efforts on the outcomes of their project or on buildings that are still in use by tenants, leaseholders and business occupiers.  But if a project hits delays, this can mean that empty buildings end up being a blight for years.

This is where Dot Dot Dot’s property guardians can make a big difference.  Because they live in buildings and treat them as their homes, they want them to look nice so that they have a pleasant place to spend time.  And because we go out of our way to recruit thoughtful, considerate people to join us as guardians, they care about their impact on those around them.  We support our guardians to look after their gardens and front doors, and where necessary we provide them with equipment and help to do so. 

Supporting our green-fingered guardians

In addition to this, many of our guardians actively enjoy gardening, so take on more of it in their local areas as part of their volunteering.  In our partnership with London Borough of Ealing, we supported guardians to clear weeds from gardens around the estate where we were working.  With Tower Hamlets Homes our guardians reactivated planters across the Robin Hood Gardens estate, encouraging long-term residents to get back to growing vegetables.  Through a scheme run by Poplar HARCA, guardians adopted public flowerbeds and planted them up for everyone to enjoy.  At our project with RedKite in High Wycombe, several guardians volunteer to pick litter on a weekly basis.  Guardians created a roof garden at Booth House, owned by the Salvation Army.  And the pictures above show the transformation our guardians achieved at one of our projects with London Borough of Croydon.

Guardians also get involved in green projects beyond their own front doors – Dot Dot Dot guardians volunteering with GoodGym have planted spring bulbs and cleared weeds at community facilities across London.  And our guardians living in homes owned by Peabody at Thamesmead have got involved with conservation volunteering around the parks and waterways in the area.  

Improving well-being

We hear from guardians that this creates opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have – given the cost of renting or buying a home with a garden in London, many wouldn’t otherwise be able to spend time looking after plants and enjoying outdoor space.  The evidence shows that gardening is good for physical and mental health and reduces social isolation – chatting with neighbours while taking a break from working on your front garden is a good way to feel more connected to your local area.  Even just a window box on a balcony is cheering.

So, as with most of Dot Dot Dot’s work, taking care of gardens and the exterior appearance of the buildings we manage creates a win-win-win situation.  It alleviates a burden for property owners at no cost.  It makes neighbourhoods more pleasant and welcoming.  And it is worthwhile for guardians themselves.  

If you’d like to hear more about how our guardians can contribute to their local area, you can sign up to our newsletter, Meanwhile Thoughts or contact us at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com.

All handbacks great and small: achieving vacant possession

September 27, 2021

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. 

In this month’s blog, we take a look at some of our most recent 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 30 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 30 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: 

i) guardian management

ii) security management, and 

iii) 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.

If you want to find out how we can cater to your empty property needs, sign up to our newsletter, Meanwhile Thoughts, or contact us at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com.

Providing reassurance to residents in Shoreham-by-Sea

August 18, 2021

We added another seaside location to our portfolio in December 2020 when we partnered with Southern Housing Group, a not for profit housing association, in Shoreham-by-Sea. As Southern Housing Group relocated existing residents of The Mannings estate, Dot Dot Dot took on four flats in late December, housing four guardians for the duration of the six month project.

A greater sense of safety for existing residents

The Mannings project was unusual in that we were brought in towards the end of the residents’ rehousing. Southern Housing Group had grown concerned that there was one remaining family in an emptied area of the estate that had grown increasingly vulnerable to ASB. We knew from the outset that Southern Housing Group needed to secure the properties quickly. Our experience of housing guardians alongside vulnerable residents and commitment to understanding both the Group’s and the residents’ needs made us best placed to take on the project.

Southern Housing Group’s key consideration was the safety of their residents. Like Dot Dot Dot, they exist to help the communities in which they work, and our aligned values made a strong foundation for the partnership. Residents from the estate were involved in key stages of the selection process, allowing them to have a say in who was appointed.

It was important to Southern Housing Group that any new neighbours would not only be responsible but well-managed. As part of our proposal, we included a profile of Jess, Dot Dot Dot’s relationship coordinator (RC) in charge of property and guardian management at The Mannings, to provide reassurance and a personal touch. With the lowest relationship coordinator to guardian ratio in the sector, our RCs each look after 75 guardians, allowing them to develop supportive relationships and address any issues effectively. 

We also made it clear to our prospective guardians that it was important they built a good relationship with remaining residents in the block. We build good neighbourliness into our model because we know that our guardians, by virtue of their volunteering (each guardian volunteers for 16 hours per month for good causes), make great neighbours and responsible temporary residents.

Our agile approach at Shoreham-by-Sea

We were brought onto the project at The Mannings to provide an effective short-term solution for Southern Housing Group, who needed not only to ensure the safety of the emptying estate, but the safety of their residents as quickly as possible.

Our agile approach allowed us to set out a quick setup plan, bringing four properties up to standard and moving our first guardians in by the end of January, just a month after signing the management agreement. It is testament to the dexterity of our approach and the hard work of the Dot Dot Dot team that we were able to take on a project over Christmas, at the start of a new lockdown and away from our London headquarters with such a quick turnaround.

As we had come onto the project at a late stage in the rehousing process, it was also vital that we could ensure a smooth handover once our service was no longer needed, six months after we moved our first guardian in. Southern Housing Group were impressed with our service, commenting that “Dot Dot Dot were a pleasure to work with from start to finish. All departments and officers were helpful, understanding, and knowledgeable. We didn’t have any issues with the property hand back and there was clear communication and expectations set, which meant it all went smoothly.” 

We set out expectations right from the start, offering transparency and giving our clients peace of mind that we can guarantee vacant possession within 30 days of being given notice, which was particularly important given the short-term and sensitive nature of The Mannings project.

Introducing additional security: Vigilance

As Southern Housing Group continued to rehouse residents in different areas of the estate, more areas started to become vulnerable and there were concerns over an increase in ASB. Due to the condition of the properties, guardianship was not a viable option, but we recommended Vigilance, an ethical security company, to provide hard security services at the estate. Vigilance employs ex-Armed Forces personnel to help them reintegrate back into the workforce, and their commitment to social value both through their work and support for the Gurkha Welfare Trust make us proud to partner with them. 

Our commitment not only to our clients’ needs but also to existing, often vulnerable, residents makes us best placed to navigate sensitive contexts and complex needs in estates like The Mannings. We work closely with our clients through often changing and challenging circumstances, offering alternative solutions like Vigilance in addition to providing property guardianship with purpose. Despite The Mannings project’s short lifespan of six months, we were still able to deliver approximately £608 worth of social value, alongside great neighbours and a greater sense of safety for the remaining families. 

If you want to find out more about how we can cater to complex empty property needs, sign up to our newsletter, Meanwhile Thoughts, or contact us at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com.

Dot Dot Dot…10 years and counting

June 23, 2021

Dot Dot Dot chief executive, Peter Brown, reflects on what he’s learnt after moving from a housing association to work for a social enterprise.

So Dot Dot Dot is 10 years old…and I’ve been part of it for seven of those years. The first time I heard about Dot Dot Dot was in about 2012 when someone in my network mentioned that someone he knew had started a property guardianship social enterprise. That turned out to be Katharine, who had recently started her social enterprise and was looking for properties to house people who did great volunteering. The concept has been proven with some early successes, but more properties were needed. 

At that time, I was working for the local authority housing organisation, Tower Hamlets Homes. Like most housing providers of that size, we had a small number of properties that couldn’t be used for longterm local authority tenants. I was looking for a solution that was better than just leaving the properties empty and hoping for the best, which had been the strategy up to that point. Having people who also volunteered whilst looking after the properties met a business need, because it cut risk and costs, and gave long-term tenants great neighbours. It made my housing management colleagues feel good that properties were being put to a good use by working with an organisation that was innovative as well as trustworthy. 

Because I worked for a client before I came to work at Dot Dot Dot, I got to experience the full value of what happens when you partner with an organisation that is purposeful, exists for all the right reasons and has a clear, socially responsible approach to doing business. Perhaps it’s unusual to switch from a housing provider to supplier, but many of the values that housing organisations hold true are shared by Dot Dot Dot, The way that work is carried out has changed over the years, but the Dot Dot Dot business model, our desire for impact and the commitment we have to good results for everyone hasn’t altered.

I have always been a fan of the social enterprise model. To my mind, they occupy that space somewhere between purely commercial organisations and fully mission-driven charities, and try to take the best bits of each, aiming to create something powerful, purposeful and, crucially, sustainable. It’s been a pleasure to be part of Dot Dot Dot’s journey this far and to get to work with so many great clients, colleagues and guardians over the years.

Most of my career before I joined Dot Dot Dot was in the public sector, and for organisations much larger than Dot Dot Dot. When I contrast what it’s like to lead Dot Dot Dot with those earlier professional experiences, there’s something quite freeing about organisations like ours that are smaller and able to be nimble. At Dot Dot Dot, we are very focused on doing the right things for our clients and those we house, and increasingly we will be focusing our efforts partnering with clients who we think will enable us to do our best work. At Dot Dot Dot we are trying to do one thing – provide housing that makes it easier for people to do good – and everyone in the team wants to do this and to find ways to do it well. 

It’s also good to be able to stay connected with people working in all kinds of housing organisations – the big, the small, the specialised, as well as the more general. Through our careful choice of guardians who want to volunteer, and our diligent management approach, we have always made sure that we can add value to our clients’ work and projects. We know that we get our strongest feedback when we are working in situations where choices about what guardians are on site and how they are managed matter the most. These situations commonly are the more complicated regeneration and development programmes, and bigger buildings in the areas where property owners have a long term stake and ongoing interest. They are often settings where clients have sensitive projects and often with longer-term residents closeby.

Another reflection is that I’m more certain than ever about how vital a brilliant team is. Dot Dot Dot has a great team of people working for it – with its Board supporting the exec – and the collective value of the team’s commitment, energy and skills is immense. We couldn’t achieve what we have over the last 10 years without our people.

Over the years, the way we have done our work has of course changed – we have more staff, we have evolved and improved how we work and, as we have become bigger, we have become more professionalised and created more specialised roles. When I began at Dot Dot Dot, we could travel to all of the properties in our portfolio by bike (or bus if it was raining!), since they were all in East London. We aren’t so local anymore – we have properties throughout London and the south east, as well as the south coast, Oxford and Cambridge and Manchester – but the commitment we have to our work, our desire to create a positive impact and our sense of values has not changed at all…and hopefully won’t do in the next 10 years.

Working with property developers across the country to care for empty buildings and the communities around them

May 20, 2021

With our deep understanding of working in large regeneration contexts, it is unsurprising that some of our client list is made up of housing associations and local councils. Yet the reality is that we have collaborated with a wide variety of clients with varying needs, and we have a broad experience of working with property developers to provide vacant property management through housing guardians, and support their redevelopment processes. This breadth of experience is what makes our model so successful – we are able to draw on all of our past experiences to deliver the best service for our clients.

In this month’s blog, we will be taking a look at how this manifests in our partnerships with property developers, in particular in Marylebone, Cambridgeshire and Purley. We explore how our experience of working with different types of building and a diverse client base has given us the knowledge to best support our clients, not just in their vacant property needs and redevelopment plans but in stakeholder relationship building and fulfilling their CSR objectives.

Supporting relationships with stakeholders

For any client looking to secure an empty building, the needs of all stakeholders – be that local residents, councils or planning authorities – must be taken into account. For property developers in particular, this is key when asking for planning permission from the relevant authorities. 

Working with a social enterprise is valuable for property developers because it can help maintain strong relationships. In 2018, we started working with Dorrington to secure an empty property with plans for redevelopment in Marylebone. Dorrington’s plans were dependent on planning permission from Westminster Council, and thus it was essential that they maintain a good relationship with the council in the interim. 

Due to our holistic approach, we were able to work closely with Dorrington and ensure that the property was well looked after, secure and ready for council inspections.  We were also able to use our varied experience of working with councils to support relationship-building with Westminster.

In Purley, where we worked with Peer Group to secure a large commercial property, we agreed that there would be staff presence on site once a week to provide access to third parties. Maintaining good relationships with third parties ensured that essential works could be carried out to support the redevelopment process, and Peer Group were able to allocate time and resources elsewhere.

A flexible approach

Flexibility is a key component of our work at Dot Dot Dot. For property developers in particular, redevelopment plans can have unknown timeframes and plans can change quickly, so long-term commitments are not always possible. 

In Cambridgeshire, we have partnered with This Land to secure a variety of properties, including residential flats, farmhouses, an education centre and former student accommodation. When plans for the student accommodation came to fruition, we were able to ensure a smooth hand back within 30 days. At the start of each project, a Relationship Coordinator is assigned to deal with any guardian and compliance issues, and this ensures that there is a staff member to manage the hand back process at the end of the contract’s life.

In Cambridge, Marylebone and Purley, our flexible approach to property management and an efficient hand back process ensured that This Land, Dorrington and Peer Group were able to move forwards with their redevelopment plans on the timescale they wanted.

Supporting our clients’ CSR objectives

This Land has an interest in building social value into their development plans, and we have worked closely with them to support their CSR objectives, including signposting our guardians to voluntary work with homeless people. All of our guardians commit to volunteering for good causes for 16 hours each month, 

Not only do we offer effective security for empty buildings, but we deliver social value in the communities that surround them in line with our clients’ values, and support them in spreading the word to their stakeholders.

Whatever the project – whether large or small, residential or commercial, CSR strategy or not – our extensive experience of working within the public sector bodies bears fruit when working with private developers, because we are so attuned to the positive impact our guardians have on the communities in which they live.

If you would like to find out more about how we can support our clients, you can get in touch with the team at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com.

Next Page »

What are you looking for today?

Marketing Permissions

Dot Dot Dot Property Ltd will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing by email. Please confirm you are happy to hear from us by:

Email
You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at hello@dotdotdotproperty.com. We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By checking the box, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

GDPR
We use MailChimp as our marketing automation platform. By clicking below to submit this form, you acknowledge that the information you provide will be transferred to MailChimp for processing in accordance with their Privacy Policy and Terms.