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.

Spotlight on: Cate and Charlotte, International Women’s Day

March 11, 2022

This International Women’s Day, we’re throwing the spotlight on two Dot Dot Dot guardians who are doing fantastic work to both support and lead the way for women in their careers and voluntary work.

Discover how our Manchester guardian, Cate, has powerfully forged her own artistic career path in light of an autism diagnosis. And how our west London guardian, Charlotte, who is volunteering with XLP – a charity focused on supporting young people to recognise their full potential – is helping to  create positive futures for women growing up in inner-city estates.

Cate, forging her artistic career path

From our Manchester guardian, Cate 

During the pandemic I was diagnosed with autism and began to find the work I was doing problematic, especially when I had to take on new responsibilities due to Covid. I started to feel that I needed to fundamentally change what I was doing and work on something new, with an emphasis on supporting others.

Equipped with my experience of being diagnosed with autism and the challenges I’d faced in light of this, I left my job to begin focusing on initiating an art agency. My goal was to create a platform for fellow creatives who struggled to gain normal agency representation due to having specific working needs like myself. Through this support, many artists have been able to go on to set up their own websites and control their own publicity.

Knowing Manchester to be a real hub of creativity and so a place where my arts agency could thrive, I left London behind to embark on a new stage of my life in West Didsbury as a Dot Dot Dot guardian. Soon after, I got a bar job in a pub in nearby Burton Road where there is a hive of artisan shops and businesses with whom I could connect and engage with.

This opened up another new avenue for me. The owner of the pub I was working in decided to utilise an empty unit space next door, and so myself and a female friend worked together to bring the space back into use as a gallery. The aim was to showcase art from local talent, many of whom are women, in rotating exhibitions to help them to publicise their work. Since then, we’ve had three exhibitions and have helped to raise the profile of 24 different artists in Manchester to a global audience through social media.

It’s been a huge learning curve for me as I’ve always wanted to do an MA in art curation but was held back by the cost. However, being so heavily involved in the running of the Next Door Gallery means that I’ve been able to gain first-hand experience in curation, practically executing my own MA. I’ve liaised directly with buyers across the globe as well as learned how to properly store and ship artwork internationally – something I never would have had the chance to do in my old life in London where my energy was zapped by other commitments.

Following the success of the gallery, I’ve been able to scale back on the amount of time I spend working to allow myself more space to focus on my own freelance artwork. Transforming part of my Dot Dot Dot flat into my art studio has been a lifeline for me to be able to develop and produce my work. I’ve recently been part of an art show at the Antwerp Mansions in Manchester and am currently in talks to hold my first solo exhibition on the subject of autism and what that means on a personal level.

Charlotte, XLP

From our west London guardian, Charlotte

For six months now, I’ve been volunteering as a mentor to a 14 year old girl with a charity called XLP. They’re focused on creating positive futures for young people who are growing up in inner-city estates in London and facing challenges in their home lives, at school and in employment. I work with young people in my own career as chair of the Women Employability Resource Group with YMCA, and it’s something that I love doing – but I wanted to work with women in a different capacity when volunteering. XLP was a perfect way for me to draw upon my existing skill set in order to support and provide mentorship to young women.

My role is to empower and support the young woman I work with to begin to lead and shape her own future. We do many things together such as grabbing a coffee or going for a walk – anything that facilitates a conversation with her in order for me to provide guidance. XLP are even organising a weekend away with fellow mentors and mentees, and so I’ll be helping to push her out of her comfort zone, giving her opportunities to experience things she wouldn’t have in her everyday life otherwise.

There are challenges involved that relate to mentees socio-economic backgrounds and a lack of positive female role models in their lives, and so my role as a mentee really hinges on building trust and providing a listening ear for her. Specifically as a woman, I hope to have a positive impact in broadening her worldview and demonstrating to her that she is allowed to make space for herself. I am there to help her break a pre-existing bias, encouraging her to realise that she belongs in this society just as much as men and boys, and to empower her to take up space in her community.

For myself, I’ve learnt so much from this young woman – you couldn’t do this role without really seeing and feeling the impact it has for her. It’s a privilege and an honor to have a space in her life and share her challenges and sit with them in those times. I feel incredibly grateful that I am a trusted person in her life, and I hope I can continue to enable her to create positive goals and put her mind to achieving them.

In conversation with Mark Ackroyd, our new CEO

January 25, 2022

As we get into the swing of a new year, we catch up with Mark Ackroyd, new Chief Executive at Dot Dot Dot, about his love of the nitty gritty, how the landscape has shifted in the past five years and his aims for 2022.

Tell me a bit about how we got here – what’s your background? What brought you to Dot Dot Dot?

“I have always been interested in working with organisations that have a social element to what they do. I originally qualified as a social worker and quite quickly found out that I enjoy both the social element but also grappling with complex operational problems.

“I worked for the National Governing Body of Tennis on child safeguarding, and, since then, I’ve worked in schools and in managing creative shared office spaces. I’ve gradually deepened my understanding of property management but more generally of managing complex operational businesses. 

“Dot Dot Dot feels like a business that is addressing a very urgent challenge, but which, when I joined as Director of Services, was also a good overlap with the type of professional background that I had of balancing both social and operational business needs.

“I’m passionate about being values-driven. I like helping people to translate their values into what they do every day with their customers or with their job. Dot Dot Dot is a great fit for the things that I like to do and that I have built a skill set for over the years – nitty gritty operational detail that enables social purpose.”

 

What are the best bits about working at Dot Dot Dot?

“I really enjoy hearing about how our guardians have been making the most of their time. That is as much to do with their motivation and their drive as it is about the work that we do. It’s nice to have contact with a very cool, very motivated group of customers – that’s really exciting. 

“Another part is that I love being part of and leading a team. I think we’ve got a great team of employees that live our values, but they’re also just a really interesting group of people who are not just there for the 9-5. That, for me, is a real passion – trying to give people a work environment that is a pleasure for them. 

“The final thing is that running a business like Dot Dot Dot is quite complicated, so there’s an intellectual challenge to leading a business that has that mixed bottom line. Dot Dot Dot is a small business and a social enterprise, but when you get beneath the skin it’s a real Swiss watch – there are lots of high consequence processes, because they involve real human beings living in real homes. I really enjoy that complex machine element of what we do; trying to balance all those different factors is engaging and fascinating.”

 

How has the landscape changed since you started at Dot Dot Dot?

“During my time at Dot Dot Dot, the housing situation and the long-term financial prospects for most people have become worse, and it stopped becoming feasible for many to get onto the housing ladder. By now, you increasingly have people who feel a long way from that prospect.

“Our guardians face a more generally challenging financial environment, which is partly to do with Covid but is also a long-term trend as well. The move towards a gig economy, the gradual erasure of stable, long-term jobs is a real challenge. Many people who have a lot to bring to our cities are in precarious situations, and that’s definitely changed the landscape we work in as well. The need for us to get inexpensive housing out there has grown. 

“The debate around the social impact and responsibility of businesses has evolved significantly and has dramatically accelerated over the last five years. Dot Dot Dot have continued to deliver on our core social mission and we’ve got a very clear idea about unlocking the potential of the people we house, but we need to make sure that the way we communicate is in keeping with a much more sophisticated landscape.”

 

What are your aims for 2022?

“Our strength has always been working closely with local authorities and housing associations, and particularly in regeneration programmes, and one of my goals for 2022 is to make sure that we maintain strong, productive relationships with those clients. They have housed a lot of people with Dot Dot Dot through the pandemic, and they are now figuring out how to manage their own temporary housing needs and their own residents’ needs. One of our main focuses is to ensure we continue to foster those relationships and use our expertise to help our clients manage some of the strategic challenges that many in the housing sector are facing at the moment. 

“Another focus over the next year is to continue to understand, articulate and develop our social impact, and to ensure that the impact our guardians have is targeted as effectively as possible moving forwards.

“I also hope that we’ll be returning to the Dot Dot Dot office, to re-establish a culture of spending time together with colleagues in a more regular way. Fingers crossed we’ll be able to put our newly spring-cleaned office to proper use!”

 

How our guardians will be supporting vulnerable members of the community this winter

December 20, 2021

With the arrival of the holiday season it can be easy to forget that for many, the winter period spells isolation and hardship. But there are plenty of ways in which you can help to share joy with others over the coming months. We sat down with some of our guardians to find out how they’ll be volunteering to combat loneliness and poverty, and to get some ideas on how we can all get involved to spread festive cheer.

Spotlight on: Charlotte and Shout, a free, 24 hour mental health text support service

“I’ve been volunteering with Shout for more than two years now and it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done. People can text into Shout if they have no one else to talk to, are feeling isolated or they have relationship problems. Myself and my fellow volunteers are there to provide a listening ear, de-escalate situations and also to empower the texter to seek the support they need.

In my day job, I co-run a mental health app for the LGBTQIA+ community called Kalda. Its mission is to help people to connect with others who might be facing similar issues and to attend weekly mindfulness sessions via our app, which you can search for on IOS and Android.”

Discover volunteering opportunities with Shout and how you can get involved to support their mission.

Spotlight on: Eke and Connection Support, a befriending service working to ensure no one feels alone this year 

“I’m currently linked with six elderly clients who are at risk of social isolation. I get in touch with them to listen, have a chat and brighten their day. If they ever had a problem or needed help with a daily task at home then I’m always on hand to help them out. Connection Support’s team of volunteers also help out with anything from gardening to shopping to picking up prescriptions.

Volunteering as a befriender means that you build strong relationships with the people you’re linked with and provide vital support to those who don’t have families or are on their own, particularly over the Christmas period. They always say it’s so nice to have someone to speak to and to feel valued. That’s what it’s all about.”

Find out more about Connection Support and their available voluntary positions.

Spotlight on: Jack and the Royal Voluntary Service, providing critical support to the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic

“As an NHS volunteer responder for the Royal Voluntary Service, who collaborate with Good Samaritans, I put myself on duty to take calls and support vulnerable people in England who are at most risk from the COVID-19 virus to stay well. This is to help support the NHS and social care sector during the ongoing pandemic.

Mostly, I have acted as a ‘Check-in and chat volunteer’, providing short-term telephone support to individuals who are at risk of loneliness as a consequence of self-isolation. I have spoken with mostly elderly individuals who live alone and are suffering from ill health or isolating, giving them an ear to listen to and assuring that they are not in danger and have everything they need.

It is a really valuable experience because often the individuals I speak to are suffering from loneliness and to help cheer them up and offer them a form of socialising, it’s rewarding.It’snice that even a short telephone call can boost someone’s spirits and hopefully make them feel better about what they are going through.”

The Royal Voluntary Service are always in need of new volunteers to join their team. Head over to their website to sign up.

Learn more about how our guardian community is dedicating their free time to a huge range of good causes across the country.

Want to apply to be a property guardian? Find out more.

A victory for property guardianship

December 10, 2021

The law on property guardianship got even clearer this month, as the Court of Appeal ruled that guardians can’t dispute a possession order as long as the property guardian company has carried out its work correctly.

The judgement also reinforced previous rulings that guardians are licensees not tenants, and that property guardian companies are entitled to evict their guardians even though they don’t own the buildings where they operate.

What happened

In a judgement known as Global 100 Ltd v Laleva (2021), three Court of Appeal judges heard a case in which a guardian, Ms Laleva, was taken to court by Global 100 Ltd, a property guardian company, who wanted to evict her.  At the first hearing, in front of a District Judge, the guardian company won and was given the right to evict Ms Laleva.  Ms Laleva subsequently appealed on the basis that she was a tenant not a guardian, and that it should have been the building owner, not the property guardian company, which evicted her.  She argued that the possession order should not have been granted without a full hearing to decide these matters. 

Her appeal was heard by a Circuit Judge, who ruled that the District Judge had been wrong to make a decision about the case at the first hearing. The judge decided that Ms Laleva’s claim that she was in fact a tenant not a licensee ought to be considered, so the issue should have gone to trial.  The Circuit Judge did, however, agree that the guardian company had the right to bring the possession claim.  Global 100 appealed against the judgement that the possession order should have been delayed, and Ms Laleva appealed against the decision that the property guardian company had the right to bring the possession claim, so the case went to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal issued its judgement on 3rd December, and its decision was entirely in favour of the property guardian company.  It ruled that Ms Laleva did not have any realistic prospect of succeeding with her tenant/licence argument because it was clear throughout that she was living in the building to take care of it on behalf of its owner, and because she did not have exclusive possession of it.  Both of these are hallmarks of licences, not tenancies.  The court also ruled that the property guardian company was the correct organisation to bring the possession claim.  This means that the District Judge was correct to issue a possession order on the first hearing, as Ms Laleva’s defence didn’t meet the standard needed to require a trial.

Because the Court of Appeal is second only to the Supreme Court in its power to set legal precedent, this means that there is no longer scope for guardians to delay possession orders by disputing the basis on which they are living in the buildings where they are placed.

Full analysis of the judgement is available from Giles Peaker, a solicitor who specialises in the law on property guardianship, here.

Our view

Over the past ten years, we have been glad to see the status of property guardian companies and property guardians themselves becoming more clearly established in law.  This month’s judgement is an important step towards cementing that, giving continued assurance that guardian companies are entitled to much swifter possession orders than residential landlords. 

Property guardianship was new when we launched a decade ago. So, at that time, our legal model relied on precedents set in cases relating to other forms of occupation where people are housed as licensees rather than tenants, such as hostel residents, almshouses and workers’ accommodation.  It has been reassuring to see, as cases have come to court, that we were correct in our original understanding of how the law would operate.

This increased clarity is also good news for property owners, property guardians and anyone living near buildings undergoing regeneration.  It is good news for property owners because it means that they can have confidence in relying on property guardian companies to provide reliable, cost-effective security and prompt vacant possession.   It is good for would-be property guardians because greater legal certainty will increase the number of buildings handed to guardian companies, meaning that we will be able to provide larger numbers of homes to people looking for inexpensive places to live.  And it is good news for local residents because it will mean that fewer buildings will be left empty unnecessarily, meaning that they can have a positive impact on neighbourhoods, rather than being a blight.

If you want to find out more about property guardianship and the property sector, you can sign up for Meanwhile Thoughts, our monthly newsletter for property owners.

Looking back: Five lessons from five years of leading Dot Dot Dot

November 12, 2021

Outgoing CEO, Peter Brown, reflects on the importance of relationships, patience and creating positive social impact.

I never imagined close to a decade after meeting Dot Dot Dot’s founder, Katharine Hibbert, I’d be sitting down to write a blog reflecting on seven and a half years working for the social enterprise she’d created, and having enjoyed five of those years at the helm.

I’d first met Katharine whilst I was working for an east London social housing provider. At the time, I knew my organisation had a few dozen empty flats and more were on the way as a regeneration scheme picked up pace. I was interested in how to keep these flats up and running and housing people. In part, I was motivated because I thought frankly it was a waste not to do so, but also because I knew that having long-term residents living alongside empty flats in large numbers would be plain awful for everyone. I had also been doing some thinking about how to achieve wider social good through my organisation’s choices of service provider, and how volunteers might be an important (but not very clearly defined part) of the support that our residents and communities needed. The kinds of things my frontline colleagues could see were a problem but didn’t have the resources to fix – like helping vulnerable residents with gardening, general litter picking.

So when I heard of a new idea bringing together property protection with people who do great volunteering, I was keen to find out more.

I was only loosely aware of property guardians, but the only two things I knew were (1) it was a Dutch concept and (2) it wasn’t the most obviously best set-up, having once attempted to become a property guardian myself a few years earlier and having been on a badly-organised viewing of a dismal flat in Hackney which at the time had no electricity. It was dark and crowded, and those viewing the space (literally) couldn’t see what they were getting into. (I should add this was a viewing organised by a property guardian company that no longer exists).

After a few more years of working in that role, Katharine let me know she was looking for someone to help grow the social enterprise and find more clients, and after an interview I joined as an employee. We’re a different business today compared to then in lots of aspects, but importantly our mission and values haven’t changed at all.

So as I prepare to hand over my role, here are five of my reflections from five years leading Dot Dot Dot.

1. It’s true that human relationships are pretty vital to success.

The success of Dot Dot Dot is significantly down to the human relationships forged and fostered as we go about doing the thing we’re specialised in: providing housing for people who want to volunteer their time for good causes. We have a great, motivated, staff team. We choose our guardians carefully, we communicate well and we treat them as humans. We give clients a great experience, and we are a good partner for whatever it is our clients are trying to achieve with their property, for as long as they need us.

2. In any growth business, creating jobs is one of the best bits.

Building and scaling a social enterprise needs a lot of skills and activity that I had frankly never thought of. We’ve been lucky to have some great supporters and people to help us along the way and for their investment in entrepreneurialism and support around scaling a small business. PwC, Goldman Sachs and Salesforce.org deserve a special mention, though there have been many others over the years who’ve helped and supported. But hands down, the best bit about growing and scaling has been that we’ve been able to create meaningful and worthwhile employment, and hopefully jobs that most of our team can enjoy most of the working week.

3. Organising around creating social impact is a powerful thing.

The impact we create through Dot Dot Dot’s model is clear, consistent and valuable (you can read more about that here, as we reflect on the value of the impact we’ve created in our ten years of operation) and the expectations around this is another thing that hasn’t altered since we began. But also, our distinctive purpose makes our work all the more powerful and for our clients, is a key reason they choose to work with Dot Dot Dot alongside our undeniable care and competence with their property. Plus, everyone likes and remembers a good story about how good value housing has helped someone, or the volunteering that happened. One of the nice bits of my job has always been reading guardians’ accounts of their volunteering and the sheer variety of volunteering: I’ve seen everything from accountancy to zookeeping.

4. Longevity and patience are important in the property world.

There are still two would-be clients that I have been trying to do work with since I first joined Dot Dot Dot. We are close with one, the other is still elusive. Property professionals often comment on property being a long-term, big-horizon, patient game (I met a property-owning organisation last year which was founded five hundred years ago, and several of our clients are more than a century old) and I’d agree. Dot Dot Dot’s ten year history compared with these kind of trajectories means we will still look youthful for some years yet, but is another reason why Dot Dot Dot’s high standards of safety, delivery, communication service are important hallmarks of how we think and deliver, and why those continue to be valued by our clients.

5. Autonomy is undervalued.

Despite the long-term thinking of the property sector, Dot Dot Dot is a nimble operator. We are a small business when compared with most of our clients. We don’t own the property assets we work in: we are temporary occupiers doing a specific role looking after buildings, and the guardians we work with – who call those buildings home – are conscientious guests who know their role is necessarily temporary. The property sector is changing as well, and in particular an increasing focus on safety is welcome and something we’ve always had a clear focus on with a firm part of our ways of doing business. Dot Dot Dot is doing a specialised job in a carefully focused way, from our choices of who we house to how we operate for our clients. Being able to make plans that further or progress the business’ mission, and then be able to swiftly execute those plans in ways that accord with our values and ways of making decisions is a big aspect of this small business.

You can also keep up with our #10years celebration where we’re highlighting guardians from the past ten years, the voluntary organisations they volunteer for, and the partnerships we have cultivated since our inception in 2011. 

How the Dot Dot Dot team volunteer their time to good causes

September 29, 2021

To celebrate a decade of being an award-winning social enterprise, we’re telling the stories of our guardians, property owners, the voluntary organisations our guardians give their time to, and the Dot Dot Dot team.

At Dot Dot Dot, we wouldn’t be able to support the volunteering efforts of our guardians without being socially-minded individuals ourselves, willing to dedicate time and energy to good causes. So, we caught up with members of our team to share some of the ways in which they have volunteered to support a wide range of communities in the UK and abroad, from a Chinese community centre in Soho to refugees in Calais.

Anna Scott, New Guardian Assistant

My volunteering story began in 2018 when, motivated by a podcast, I decided to go to Calais to help cook food in the Refugee Community Kitchen. I felt nervous, unsure what to expect. I needn’t have worried, as when I arrived I had that rare but instant feeling that these were my people. 

The atmosphere in the kitchen was fantastic, music blared as we spent hours cutting vegetables and talking about every topic under the sun. If I hadn’t already booked a return ferry, I would have stayed longer! Even now, three years later, I often think of Calais and plan to go back when I can.

Annabel Cleak, Data Coordinator

I volunteered with a Kenyan charity called CIFORD Kenya as part of a training course about the charity sector with Child.org. I worked with CIFORD to conduct research on how gender roles, space, and farming interact in the Meru community, and carried out an impact evaluation of female empowerment workshops for teenage girls.

The data I gathered enabled CIFORD Kenya to gain further funding for their projects. I formed valuable friendships, and felt very fulfilled using my skills to help a charity gain the money they needed to continue work which uplifts the local community.

Mark Muldoon, Relationship Coordinator

I volunteer at all sorts of different places and I’ve always tried to do it in my local community – it feels good to not just live in my neighbourhood but to be playing an active role in it. I’ve been a volunteer event photographer at Poplar HARCA/Poplar Union since August last year and a volunteer painter and decorator at Civic in Custom House every now and then since last May. 

I’ve also been a food waste distributor for OLIO in Poplar since November last year and I’ve volunteered as a litter picker in Limehouse Basin for Moo Canoes. Through OLIO, I solely manage the redistribution of supermarket food that would otherwise be thrown away, ensuring as much of it as possible gets into the hands of less well off families in my local community.

Omar Al-Amin, Business Development Manager

I have volunteered at different stages of my life, and with different charities or projects in different sectors. The one common aspect that cuts through all of the volunteering I’ve done, is the chance to meet new people – the charity or project staff, the other volunteers, the end users / customers, – and the chance to see new places. It usually involves some form of (light) exercise, the chance to be outdoors and to learn new things. In other words, it’s a chance to feel connected. An increasingly rare feeling in the modern world.

Kieran Picton, Relationship Coordinator

London Friend is a charity who support vulnerable members of the LGBT community. I got involved in volunteering for them because I wanted to help people in an immediate sense, to assist those going through a difficult time to understand their situation and improve their self-worth. When the pandemic started my volunteering changed to checking in with members by phone call every week.

Some of the people I speak to suffer from complex PTSD and don’t leave their homes for some weeks, so I might be their only real human interaction.

It’s helped people to feel less alone; they tell me knowing they have someone checking in with them each week gives them something to look forward to. I feel like what I’m doing isn’t significant, but when I’m told things like this, it makes me realise what seems small to me can make a world of difference to someone else. To know I’ve made a positive impact in one person’s life makes it fulfilling for me.

 

Liz Clarke, Relationship Manager

When I first moved to London, I volunteered in my lunchtime at the Chinese Community Centre in Soho. I would help elderly people at a smartphone workshop and assist them with their use of their touch screen phones, particularly using WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. It highlighted to me the importance of digital inclusion and accessibility, which has become even more important through the pandemic and in a world where we are now often faced with using QR codes (the barcode you might see on a menu, for example). It was rewarding to help people reach out to their families overseas who they had not been able to see or speak to for a long time. I also got to hear the stories behind the connections they wanted to make and the people they wanted to speak to. This was a special way to spend my lunchtimes.

Patrick Harrison, Business Development Associate

I volunteer for my wife Sue’s forest school business, Branching Out-woods, mainly at a primary school in Braintree.

The theory of forest school is that the children choose what to do in the woodland, and the leaders assist them to do those things, which might be den making, craft, cooking, rope stuff, or almost anything in their imagination. There is a big role for risk taking and fires which the children learn to make for themselves. It sounds hippy-ish but the evidence is that it really helps a child’s development (and the adults! – it’s so hard not to give the answer but let the child take (managed) risks and learn from their mistakes). We do see the children change in a few weeks!

After week three of the six allotted sessions we see the children relax into it and make the time their own. When we ask them if they would like to see anything changed, the response is “No, this is our time to do what we want”. It seems many children have so much of their life structured and directed.

Keep up with our #10Years celebration where we’re highlighting the stories of our guardians, property owners, the voluntary organisations our guardians give their time to, and the Dot Dot Dot team.

Doing the right thing at Dot Dot Dot

September 20, 2021

From our founder, Katharine Hibbert

From day one, Dot Dot Dot has set out to be a company that acts ethically – for our guardians, for property owners, for staff and for the wider community. As the founder, I believe that there is no point in being a social enterprise if you behave badly while trying to achieve your mission.  Indeed, proving that it is possible to be a successful company because you behave with integrity – not despite it – is in itself part of how we aim to make the world a better place  

Dot Dot Dot’s commitment to behaving ethically and fairly is written into our governing documents – the papers all companies must have which set out how they are to be run. Ethical behaviour is also at the top of the list of criteria we consider when making decisions at all scales – you can read more about Dot Dot Dot’s decision-making hierarchy in a previous blog post.

But how does this commitment translate into practice?  What does it mean to be an ethical business from day to day, and how do we know that we are on track?

Ethics and company culture

Our approach at Dot Dot Dot is to focus on creating a working culture where it is the norm to consider what is right and wrong when making decisions.  We try to ensure that team members bear this in mind in their daily work and are rewarded when they do so.  Adherence to our values is part of staff performance reviews, and when we are recruiting new staff we look for people who demonstrate integrity, fairness and concern for others. 

We choose this approach over a more prescriptive system where staff are trained on a list of moral rules.  This is because most of us have a sense of what the ethical thing to do is in most situations – the greater challenge is to remember to think about this when under pressure. We want to make sure staff feel empowered to do the right thing, even when it isn’t the most advantageous to the business in the short term. 

Current thinking on management best practice backs up this approach. Recent Harvard Business Review articles emphasise the importance of company culture as the best tool to prevent ethical lapses, and highlight the long-term risks to businesses which allow ethical considerations to slide.

And while there will always be edge cases, where you could argue a scenario either way, or where there is a trade-off between benefits to one group or another, these situations are often exact examples of where codes of conduct fail.  It’s more important to have staff thinking for themselves, and aware that they will be challenged by others if they don’t make a fair choice.

Watching out for ethical blind-spots

However, even the best-intentioned people can make bad judgements based on unconscious cognitive biases.  We may expect certain behaviours from certain groups of people or we may favour people from our own circles.  And we may see our own actions in a more favourable light than the same actions taken by someone else.  Because these biases are unconscious, it is hard to notice them and correct them. 

To deal with these challenges, we first try to make sure that we are aware of them as much as possible.  Everyone in the team attends training on diversity and inclusion, and recent mental health training means that the majority of the team are now Mental Health First Aiders. 

Our recruitment process

On top of this, we have put systems in place to eliminate unconscious bias wherever possible.  For example, our recruitment platform, Applied, allows us to assess candidates without knowing any of their demographic details, and which enables them to demonstrate their capacity to excel at the job rather than focusing on their track record elsewhere.  

This has helped us to bring in candidates who are perfect for their roles despite having career histories we didn’t anticipate.  It also means that our unconscious biases for or against any group isn’t a factor in whether they get shortlisted.

Creating accountability

Finally, we have created accountability for team-members at every level, so that individual judgements are checked by others with the power to challenge them.  

This goes all the way to the top – in 2019 we added a board of non-executive directors, with the power to challenge me as the founder, as well as the rest of the leadership team. The board was tasked with ensuring that we stay ethical,and create a thriving business. 

This has paid off – more minds considering a question from a range of angles usually leads to a better and fairer decision. It also forces me and the rest of the leadership team to think about whether we could justify our decisions if asked to.

What this means in practice

Weighing up what is right and fair when making decisions about our work has been a frequent occurrence during the Covid-19 crisis.  For example, we have had to balance our need to continue to collect monthly guardian fees with understanding that some of our residents have been thrown into a precarious financial situation and seen their mental health suffer. Our response has been to work out payment plans which are manageable for individuals rather than immediately resorting to aggressive debt collection.

We have also gone beyond government requirements to minimise infection risk.  Where we had to carry out face-to-face work to manage other health and safety issues, we have tried hard to do so in ways that were within the comfort zone of our team, our contractors and our guardians.  

Strengthening our ethical approach for the future

Part of prioritising ethics is keeping an eye on where systems and culture could be strengthened even further.  There is always more that every organisation can do to be actively anti-racist, anti-homophobic and anti-sexist, so the work is never finished.  

As we grow and develop, we will continue to learn from best practice elsewhere, refreshing our own approaches, and sharing what we learn with others.

To find out more about our purpose and values, you can read about our mission or contact us at hello@dotdotdotproperty.com.

Social impact worth millions

August 24, 2021

Volunteering has always been at the core of what Dot Dot Dot does – our mission is to provide housing that makes it easier for people to do more good, and we do that by housing people who want to give time to good causes as property guardians.  So as we celebrate 10 years since we launched, we have counted up how much volunteering we have enabled during our first decade – and it’s a lot.  

The value of Dot Dot Dot guardians’ volunteering

Collectively, our guardians have given time worth £4.3m to good causes since 2011 – the equivalent of one person working full-time for more than 200 years.  But a good deal of that volunteering happens because our guardians are kind people who want to make a difference, and would do so whether or not they were housed by Dot Dot Dot.  

So how much more volunteering have we caused to happen, beyond what would have happened anyway? We have dug into the numbers and worked out that £1.8m of the value of the time guardians have given to charity is directly due to our efforts.

How we worked it out

We took two steps to arrive at this value.  First, we discounted the amount of volunteering our residents were doing before they joined us – so if, for example, someone went from volunteering 12 hours a month to 16 hours a month we only counted four hours for that person.  We found that, on average, 67% of our guardians’ volunteering was additional to what they had been doing before we housed them.

Then second we accounted for other factors which caused residents to volunteer more after they joined us – for instance, some people joined us because they knew they were going to start volunteering more as they went through a career change, so in these cases their extra volunteering wasn’t due to our work, and we didn’t count it as a difference we had made.  Overall, we found that 62% of the increase in our guardians’ volunteering was due to being housed by us.  You can read more about the data and calculations we used to arrive at these numbers here.

We’re glad that not all of our guardians’ volunteering is due to our work

These results tally with the way we see our role.  It would be worrying if all the volunteering our guardians did was due to us – we work hard to house people who actively want to volunteer, rather than to convert people who would rather not do it.  This is because if we were compelling unwilling people to give time to charity they probably wouldn’t give their best effort.  

By contrast, people who find a cause they care about and work that is intrinsically motivating will naturally try harder and be more committed.  The volunteers will benefit from it more themselves, too, through learning, friendships and increased wellbeing.  And our jobs at Dot Dot Dot are more enjoyable when we are supporting and encouraging people to do volunteering they believe in, rather than nagging them to do something they don’t really care about.  

So it is reassuring that 58% of our guardians’ volunteering is happening for reasons other than our work – it means that our recruitment process is working, and that people who would like to be property guardians but who would prefer not to volunteer are choosing to be housed by our competitors.

But we’re also glad to be moving the needle

But it would also be worrying if our work made no difference.  Our vision is of a society where people have the time and energy to give back to causes they care about, and we believe that providing our guardians with well-managed, inexpensive housing frees up both their time and their energy to get involved.  

It gives them more time because not having to pay high rent can enable them to work fewer hours, or they can live closer to their jobs and therefore cut down on commuting time.  It gives them more energy because it reduces anxieties linked to financial hardship and unsafe or unsuitable housing, and means that people are in a better place emotionally to think about contributing to a cause.  So we are glad to see that our work is making a meaningful difference to guardians’ volunteering.

The bigger picture

Supporting volunteering is only one of the ways in which we make a difference as a social enterprise.  We also have a positive impact by creating inexpensive, well-managed housing at a time of housing crisis, by preventing empty buildings from blighting neighbourhoods and by being active contributors to the growth of social enterprise as a sector.  

But since we have had volunteering in our DNA since day one, it’s great to know that our guardians have given such a lot of value to good causes over the past ten years, and we’re very glad that we were able to enable them to do even more.  We look forward to housing and supporting even more generous, motivated people in our next decade.

Read more about our social impact and contributions to the charity sector.

The value of Dot Dot Dot’s social impact over the past 10 years: How we calculated it

August 18, 2021

In June, Dot Dot Dot celebrated its 10th birthday, and August marked a decade since we housed our first guardian.

We’ve worked out the total value of our guardians’ volunteering over the past 10 years is £4.3m and the value of the impact Dot Dot Dot has made is £1.8m. These two figures make us very proud, but how did we get to them?

The value of all our guardians’ volunteering

In the 10 years up to June 2021, our guardians volunteered a total of 339,058 hours, and 77.7% of those hours were volunteered by guardians living in London.

We use the National and London Living Wages as the basis for calculating the value of each hour volunteered. Aside from the fact it’s good practice and Dot Dot Dot is a Living Wage Employer, those wages are equivalent to that paid for entry-level roles in charities, and we think it’s reasonable to assume a majority of our guardians are undertaking work of at least this value.

If our guardians were working and not volunteering for free, then their employers would be paying costs associated with employing people e.g. National Insurance, pension, sick pay contributions, and a good rule of thumb is that these add a further 30% to a salary. So, we:

  1. Broke down all our volunteering by the year in which it occurred
  2. Assumed in each of those years 77.7% of the volunteering was done in London
  3. Worked out the London and National Living Wage rates plus 30% on-costs for each year
  4. Calculated an hourly wage for both London and non-London based volunteering weighted across the 10 years we were looking at.
  5. Multiplied those weighted hourly wages by the number of hours volunteered in and out of London over 10 years

Value of London volunteering (263.448 x £13.09) + Value of out-of-London volunteering (75,610 x £11.31) = Value of all Dot Dot Dot guardians’ volunteering: £4.3m

Working out our social impact

We are very proud that the total value of our guardians’ volunteering was £4.3m over the past decade. However, we really wanted to understand the impact that Dot Dot Dot had made in 10 years i.e. what was the value of the volunteering that only happened because guardians were housed by us.

To do this we needed to get some data from our historic and current guardians to calculate:

Hours volunteered x monetary value of those hours x %age of volunteering at Dot Dot Dot which was/is additional to any they did before being housed by us x %age of volunteering at Dot Dot Dot which was/is attributable to being housed by Dot Dot Dot

To make this as robust as possible we needed data from a representative sample of guardians – we needed to be confident that not just the people who volunteered a high number of hours had responded. So:

  1. We asked all current guardians to tell us how many hours they volunteered in the the couple of months before joining Dot Dot Dot – in order to compare the difference between the hours they now volunteer
  2. We also asked them how important a factor being housed by Dot Dot Dot was in any extra volunteering they did
  3. We asked all former guardians the same two questions

We compared the average hours volunteered by current guardians with those of former guardians, and found them to be very similar, within a couple of percentage points. Fundamentally, we were confident in the representativeness of our sample.

Now we needed to look at the additionality and attribution points, and calculated that:

  • 66.85% of volunteering was additional
  • 62% of that additional volunteering was due to people being housed by Dot Dot Dot

We received replies from enough people to give us a strong confidence level of 95% with a confidence interval of 5.5% in their answers. So, for example, for the numbers above, we were 95% confident that, if every guardian had responded to our survey, then between 61.35% and 72.35% (66.85% ± 5.5%) of their volunteering was additional.

Which meant we could do our calculation, and found the value of the impact Dot Dot Dot has made in support of charitable causes in its 10-year history is £1.8m.

London Out of London
Hours volunteered 263448.066 75609.934
Weighted wage £13.09140069 £11.30840146
Additionality 0.6685 0.6685
Attribution 0.62 0.62
Value of Dot Dot Dot impact £ 1,429,467.32 £ 354,383.24 £ 1,783,850.56

Read more about the value of our social impact over the past 10 years.

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