Spotlight on: Ailsa, looking back at eight years of Dot Dot Dot guardianship

June 17, 2021

From our longest standing guardian of eight years, Ailsa

Back in 2012 I’d just started volunteering with Bow Arts after not being in London for long. At the same time, I got made redundant from my job and had to leave the digs I was in at the time. I was on the brink of having to leave London altogether until one day when I was leaving an arts exhibition, I was feeling flat and started chatting to the receptionist about my situation. She told me that her friend had just started up an organisation called Dot Dot Dot, and as I was already volunteering I’d be a great fit. 

I wasn’t sure at first, but I went on the website, got in touch and met with Dot Dot Dot’s founder, Katharine. We had a really honest and open conversation about property guardianship – and I was hooked on the idea. 

I decided to press on with becoming a Dot Dot Dot guardian and met Katharine at Blackwall Tunnel DLR stop from where we walked through a housing estate to a little fifties flat at the top of a tower block in east London. She showed me the flat and I immediately thought, yes, I’m having it! It was so exciting to bump into other guardians on the stairs – it was all so new to all of us, it felt like such a novelty. We used to do ‘come dine with me’ evenings and visit each other’s flats for drinks. For me, they became my London community;  my best friends. Ten years later, I’m still close with several of them after bonding so much in those early days. 

I ended up staying in my fifties flat for six months where I paid £260 a month before we were asked to vacate the building. Luckily a 1-bed flat came up in an area nearby. Katharine was also living here at the time so we ended up living close by to each other. I ended up living in five different properties over the eight years that I was a guardian – I knew I wanted to stay living in east London and there were times that I moved out and privately rented somewhere else. It’s expensive, I had to share with other people in a small place and put my stuff into storage. And so I always came back to Dot Dot Dot. 

As a Dot Dot Dot guardian, you know that you’re going to live alongside good people who care about others. There was safety in it for me as well – I know what being a guardian involves and so I was keen to roll with moving to new places when we got given notice. Sticking with it, saving money and feeling secure allowed me to pursue my art career and volunteer with a big range of organisations. I’m not a guardian at the moment but there’s a good chance that I’d look to be a Dot Dot Dot guardian again in the future. 

Read more stories from our guardians on their volunteering and how living with Dot Dot Dot has given them the freedom and flexibility to pursue their goals.

Supporting long-term placemaking with Poplar HARCA in east London

April 15, 2021

Poplar HARCA is an award-winning Housing and Regeneration Community Association leading a long-term regeneration and placemaking project in east London. Since our foundation in 2011, we have built a long-standing partnership with Poplar HARCA to house guardians in empty properties awaiting redevelopment. We have housed over 350 guardians in a total of 111 guardianship properties in the nine years that we have worked together, and those guardians have contributed 32,663 voluntary hours to worthwhile causes.

Responding to Poplar HARCA’s needs

As part of our bespoke service, we wanted to better understand Poplar HARCA’s placemaking needs and how we could contribute to their vision ‘to create a place where people, communities and businesses can grow and thrive’. In order to do this, we commissioned a survey of our Poplar guardians and relayed their responses to the client, to help inform multiple placemaking projects and gain insight into guardian attitudes towards living in Poplar. We also wanted to steer guardian volunteering towards Poplar HARCA’s community regeneration aims, and three quarters of guardians were interested to find out more about their online Covid-19 volunteering opportunities. 

Keeping it local

We currently house 35 guardians in Poplar across 21 guardianship properties. 89% of guardians responded to the survey, which was conducted online and on the phone. Of those we surveyed, nine were already living in east London before their guardianship, and two were living in Poplar itself. We’re proud to be able to house local people in safe, affordable homes and give them the opportunity to give back to their local community. 

A third of participants volunteered in Poplar itself, and 55% of Poplar guardians (from our guardian-wide survey conducted in 2020) volunteered locally in their borough. Guardians have taken part in a wide range of volunteering, such as dance classes at Poplar HARCA’s Brownfield Community Cabin, the Chrisp Street Maker’s Exchange, hosting befriending sessions over Zoom, tackling isolation in the older local population and delivering food parcels.

New business

Property guardianship can be a great way of bringing new people to an area and boosting economic activity. Two thirds of those surveyed were new to Poplar, and 98% of all participants like living there. 29% of Poplar guardians run their own businesses or are self-employed, running businesses such as music production, a youth charity, construction, documentary filmmaking, singing and mental health support for LGBTQ+ people. This was significant to Poplar HARCA not only because it gives insight into the economic contribution of our guardians, but it also gave them an opportunity to gauge interest in a new Poplar Business Directory. The directory was set up by Poplar HARCA and lists small businesses in Poplar, to support local residents and businesses and boost economic growth in the community. Of those with their own businesses, six wanted to find out more about the directory and one guardian was already included in it.  

Together with Poplar HARCA we also wanted to explore interest in continuing to live in Poplar after guardianship. We found 48% of guardians would consider living in Poplar long term, and 61% indicated that long term they were interested in buying a home or settling down. 

Through our tailored approach to property guardianship, we have been able to support Poplar HARCA to achieve both their short and long term placemaking aims, working together to help the Poplar community thrive and bring social value to the area.

If you’d like to find out more about how we collaborate with our clients, you can sign up to our newsletter, Meanwhile Thoughts, or get in touch with us at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com.

Spotlight on: Aoise and Zoe, International Women’s Day

March 19, 2021

For International Women’s Day, we highlighted two of our guardians who are supporting women through their work and volunteering, helping to build a more equal future for all. Read more from our former guardian Aoise who’s paving the way for women leaders in social enterprise through her work with Supply Change. And our east London guardian, Zoe, who has been supporting vulnerable women and children in temporary housing through her volunteering with the Magpie Project.

 

Aoise, Supply Change

From our former guardian, Aoise

I was trying to find a place to live in London, and to do that in an affordable way was really difficult because London is so expensive…My weekend jobs were mainly waitressing which wasn’t that well paid, so I really wanted to be able to find a place that would allow me to continue with Year Here (a programme for entrepreneurs driven to create meaningful social change). That’s where Dot Dot Dot came in.

Living with Dot Dot Dot and not having to pay huge amounts of money for housing was a huge aspect of being able to carry on with Year Here. It gave me that breathing space to explore options with Supply Change, the social enterprise I set up with two of my fellow alumni, and really build on the learning I had gained from Year Here. It gave me a great launching pad and foundation.

The whole ethos and mission of Supply Change is to help social enterprises win and deliver more contracts. Our supplier base is over 50% women-led, which I think is quite common across the sector, and from the outset we try to support them to get them in front of buyers. We believe that redirecting some of that buyer spend to social businesses and social entrepreneurs can be really meaningful, especially when they’ve got past the stage of relying on grant funding. Directing revenue and regular contracts to these businesses is a really really great way of supporting social enterprises and the women who lead them.

Another way I support women entrepreneurs is through Supply Change itself. We are completely women-founded and we are a 75% women team. There are a lot of amazing women leaders in the social enterprise sector. Three female leaders in procurement is definitely a change in the way things have been done previously. We are paving the way for a lot more women to be leaders within the social enterprise sector and social procurement.

Zoe, The Magpie Project

From our east London guardian, Zoe

For a long time I had been looking to be involved with an organisation focused on supporting women, but hadn’t found myself with enough time to do so. Then after becoming a guardian with Dot Dot Dot, I found myself with more time to dedicate to issues I cared about. After learning about the incredible work that the Magpie Project does to support women and their children, I knew their cause was the one I wanted to be involved with.

The Magpie Project is an amazing charity that supports vulnerable women and their small children that are living in temporary accommodation. They work incredibly hard to get these families on their feet, and they stand up for them in ways that others haven’t. Since I started volunteering for them my role as a volunteer has involved a bit of everything. On a regular shift my role involves helping during a day session at their centre in various ways, as well as creating illustrations that they could use.

Since the pandemic started the Magpie Project has been working very hard to find ways to continue supporting its families in a safe and socially distanced way, and they’ve been very successful in finding ways to deliver help such as food and essentials to their homes. Even when the Magpie Project centre had to close its doors because of the pandemic, it found ways to continue delivering help to families that would otherwise be destitute

I volunteered for them remotely by creating some videos for the children and families to do illustration and creative activities at home. Volunteering for the Magpie Project allowed me to support women not only by helping with the work that they do every week at their centre, but also using my own skills, such as creating illustrations they could use to raise awareness about their cause, or to sell and to raise funds for the women and their families.

Becoming a Dot Dot Dot guardian enabled me to dedicate more of my time to causes I care about, which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible given the high cost of living and rent in London.

Dot Dot Dot not only gave me the opportunity to pursue my own path, as I was then able to afford enough space to have my own studio at home to develop my work, but also gave me the opportunity to give some of my time to others and help causes I feel are meaningful and worth supporting.

Read more stories from our guardians on how living with Dot Dot Dot has given them the freedom and flexibility to pursue their goals.

Creating social impact with London Borough of Newham and Civic in east London

March 16, 2021

Since 2016, Dot Dot Dot has worked alongside London Borough of Newham to house a total of 159 property guardians in 46 properties awaiting regeneration across east London. Beyond the invaluable work we do to manage and secure empty properties in the area, our mission to create social impact in the communities in which we work has given us the opportunity to partner with London Borough of Newham and Civic to repurpose empty spaces for community use.

Aligned values

Like Dot Dot Dot, Newham are also committed to creating social impact through their Community Wealth Building initiative. Community wealth building, according to CLES (the national organisation for local communities), is ‘a new people-centred approach to local economic development, which redirects wealth back into the local economy, and places control and benefits into the hands of local people’. Championed by Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, Newham’s commitment to community wealth building aims to address poverty levels in the borough by economically empowering local communities. 

Almost half of Newham’s homes are in the private rented sector, where rents rose 56% between 2012 and 2019, and a huge 75% of salaries in Newham are put towards rent. At Dot Dot Dot, our commitment to affordable housing in areas where local people are priced out by high rents has provided a strong foundation for our partnership with the borough council.

Supporting relationships with stakeholders

Aside from delivering residential meanwhile projects for empty properties, there are many other ways we can support our clients. In 2017, Newham council reached out to Dot Dot Dot for some guidance on a potential meanwhile project on a piece of land earmarked for regeneration.

In the short term, they were sensitive to the possible disruption for residents, and wanted to utilise empty spaces in Custom House to bring the community together. Beyond our work to secure empty properties for Newham, we have also been able to support relationships with stakeholders, be it current residents or fostering new partnerships with other meanwhile organisations. In 2017, we used our expertise in the field to set out two proposed organisations that Newham could work with to repurpose the land, with Dot Dot Dot as the junior partner. By 2018, Newham had cemented their partnership with Civic, who are ‘supporting the new development of civic infrastructure’ in east London. 

Social impact in Newham

Civic’s work to reutilise disused spaces as community hubs mirrors our mission to repurpose empty buildings as housing and give back to the community through volunteering. As part of their transformation of the empty space at 3-9 Freemasons Road, Civic have encouraged community involvement in the project through volunteering. 

Dot Dot Dot has been able to assist Civic through our partnership with Newham council, by connecting local guardians in Canning Town and Custom House to Civic’s volunteering opportunities. Guardians have assisted in the transformation of the Custom House Civic Community Hub in a variety of ways, including painting a mural, building outdoor furniture out of pallets, helping out in the community garden and painting ahead of the building’s transformation into community spaces.

Civic has been delighted to welcome our guardians into their voluntary effort, and the project is a great example of how guardians can contribute to their communities: “Dot Dot Dot volunteers have been an invaluable resource in our journey to reopen the high street. They have given back to the community in more ways than one. Together we’ve launched a fruit and veg pop up shop, a podcast and rehearsal room, a hanging garden, a Covid-19 response and so much more. It’s been incredibly fun and they feel like part of the team. We can’t wait to continue to work with Dot Dot Dot across our Newham project”. 

Adapting to new challenges

In March 2020, the arrival of Covid-19 put plans for the community spaces on hold. Civic had to adapt to their changing environment and turned their hands to assisting their community in what was, and continues to be, a difficult time. Dot Dot Dot guardians did not hesitate to help the crucial effort, providing support by distributing food and PPE, assembling activity packs for homeschooling, creating “thank you” packs for key workers and sourcing clothes for those in housing need with Amy’s space.  As each guardian commits to contributing 16 hours of volunteering each month, Dot Dot Dot can provide an invaluable resource and direct volunteers to causes that matter most to our clients and the communities that they serve. Once plans for the community hub remobilise, guardians will be key contributors to Civic’s vital work for the Newham community. 

Not only does our crucial work with Newham continue to provide affordable housing to residents, but it has provided the support and voluntary hours to enable them to invest in meanwhile projects with the community at their heart.

If you’d like to hear more about how we work with our clients and their partners, you can sign up to our newsletter, Meanwhile Thoughts, here or contact us at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com.

Life as a Dot Dot Dot property guardian: Tom, east London

January 29, 2021

From east London Dot Dot Dot guardian, Tom

I’ve been a property guardian with Dot Dot Dot for nearly four years. I’ve lived in my current home in Tower Hamlets since January 2020. 

Years of private renting meant rarely picking up a paintbrush, or delving into any DIY. Tight rental rules on decorating, and deposits, means properties have to remain how they are. As a guardian, I have helped paint rooms, put up shelves and hang pictures. It is enormously liberating to know I can try new things without the restrictions normally found in renting. My knowledge of plumbing has also improved as guardians are encouraged to find fixes for small issues themselves before calling assistance. I’m far from a handyman, but I feel I’m getting better all the time.  

Dot Dot Dot’s focus on volunteering has led to opportunities that could have otherwise passed me by. Life can be fast-paced and even with the best intentions, volunteering time can be choked by other commitments. The obligation to do 16 hours a month as part of my licence agreement makes volunteering part of my weekly routine, and never an “extra” thing that gets squeezed in (or squeezed out). I’ve given time to many organisations and causes close to my heart such as male suicide prevention, community sport and local regeneration. I’ve made terrific memories and met lots of new people through my volunteering. I’m currently a listening volunteer at Samaritans 

Guardianship has also given me peace of mind. Dot Dot Dot’s warm, approachable relationship with their guardians is hugely reassuring, especially during a pandemic. I’ve only had one experience of being given notice but I was soon offered another in the same part of London. I knew this wasn’t a guarantee so I was grateful for Dot Dot Dot’s efforts. Staying in the same area means remaining a short walk from my office (when I’m allowed there!) – saving time and money that could be otherwise lost to a commute. Communication from Dot Dot Dot is excellent – it feels very clear what I can expect, and what’s expected of me – which only adds to a sense of stability and clarity.  

A good home for less-than-market-rate cost made my 2019 career change easier. After ten years in one industry I began in another I was more keen to develop in. This meant an inevitable pay cut and the inevitable internal questions. Among everything else I had to think about, I felt fortunate to need not worry about affording my licence fee and could focus on managing the transition. 

Becoming a guardian has introduced me to an unfamiliar area of London and one I now love. Living in modern developments in Finsbury Park and Stratford, I had never spent meaningful time in the Custom House / Canning Town / Poplar corridor, just north of the Thames. I try to visit the river everyday if I can. The beautiful Thames Barrier Park is perfect for exercise and the peaceful Thames path is great for disconnecting from the world. I’ve become a regular open-water swimmer (and a volunteer) at Royal Victoria Dock, completing the 10K Dock2Dock in September and have volunteered with several community events. 

I never shy away from recommending property guardianship with Dot Dot Dot to others. Its’ differences to renting means it usually requires a bit of explaining but I’m happy to take the time. Being a guardian has given me the freedom to pursue my goals, develop skills I didn’t know I had and live in an area of London I love. I’m very grateful to all those who have helped give me this opportunity.  

Read more from our Founder Katharine Hibbert, as she explores what change has meant for our current guardians, and how our model has helped them through periods of transition in their lives.

Be the change – how Dot Dot Dot’s model helps people going through transitions

January 22, 2021

From our founder, Katharine Hibbert 

Change is always hard, whether it’s change you chose yourself or change you didn’t want but have to deal with anyway.  We know this first hand at Dot Dot Dot, because change is central to our work – for the buildings we manage, for the people living in them, and for the neighbourhoods living locally.  We regularly discuss how our work fits in with property owners’ transformation plans and how it smooths the regeneration process for local communities, so this blog focuses on the ways in which our work helps guardians who are going through changes themselves.

The most obvious way that we help guardians through times of change is by providing well-managed homes in convenient locations, costing a fraction of local market rents.  With some financial pressure off, guardians who want to retrain for a new job or start a project of their own are sometimes able to cut down on paid work to ease the transition.  For example, our guardian Rachel, a dancer, was able to set up her own business whilst still affording a home in London by living in one of our buildings.

On the other hand, some guardians need this breathing space for reasons they didn’t want.  When a relationship ends, it can be difficult for both partners to afford homes of their own when previously they were only paying for one.  We find that the housing we offer can help people to avoid adding financial stress to an emotionally fraught time.  Similarly, we hear from current guardians that the fact that they were already paying less for their housing has helped them to deal with a downturn in earning caused by the pandemic.

On top of this, the flexibility of the housing we provide is often useful to guardians going through a time of change.  It’s a fact of life for property guardians that their homes are only temporary.  They are placed in them as licensees to take care of them on behalf of owners, and may have to move out at 28 days’ notice if the owner wants them back.  While this lack of security is a down-side of guardianship for some, this flexibility works both ways.  Guardians are not locked into six- or 12-month contracts, and can time their move-out to suit themselves rather than to fit in with a tenancy duration.  This is useful for people who are finding their feet in a new city.  It also enabled some of our guardians to move out of our properties and back to their home towns at short notice when they realised that they wouldn’t need to go to the office for the foreseeable future.  Although we were sorry to see them go, this also created space for us to house new people who had to reconsider their housing situation due to the pandemic.

Our emphasis on volunteering is important for its own sake, but it also helps guardians when they’re going through transitions.  Giving time to good causes is a way to learn new skills and try new things, as our guardian Elizabeth describes here, and can lead to results that look good on a CV and support career changes.  Just as importantly, it often leads to working alongside people you’d never normally have met – whether charitable beneficiaries or fellow volunteers.  A survey by the British Heart Foundation found that four out of five of its volunteers had met new people through volunteering, and more than half felt less lonely as a result.  This mixing is also a way to see the world through a different lens and consider different value systems, which can lead to new ideas and open the door to fresh opportunities. 

Finally, we hear from guardians that our emphasis on neighbourliness and community is a support through times of change.  Leaving the familiar and working towards the new can be isolating – whether that’s arriving in a new place or moving on from a job or relationship, and whether or not that change was deliberate.  Having friendly faces around, and knowing that help will be available if you need it, can make a big difference.  Even though much of this mutual support has had to move online during lockdowns, just exchanging a ‘hello’ and a few words in passing with familiar people who live nearby can go a long way, as The Samaritans emphasise in their ‘Small Talk Saves Lives’ campaign, and as The Economist discussed in a recent issue. 

So, while we can’t take away the difficulty of change altogether, we’re glad that through our work we’re able to make it a bit easier for some of our guardians, and we’re looking forward to doing as much as we can to help people through the uncertainty to come in 2021.

Find out more about our commitment to providing great housing to property guardians and raising standards in our industry here. Over the next three months, you can hear more on our Instagram from our guardians about how we are helping them through periods of change or to achieve a long-term goal. Follow us to keep up to date here.

The law has spoken – property guardianship and business rates

January 15, 2021

From our founder, Katharine Hibbert

Until recently, the situation on business rates for buildings lived in by property guardians was clear – the buildings were exempt from the business rates which would normally be due on empty buildings, and liable for Council Tax instead.  The conclusion last month of a long-running court case has changed that.  This blog by our Founder Katharine Hibbert, explains the situation now, and gives Dot Dot Dot’s response.

What happened?

Back in 2017, London Borough of Southwark challenged the decision that a building on London’s South Bank, Ludgate House, should be exempt from business rates due to its occupation by guardians.  The first round Valuation Tribunal for England agreed with LB Southwark that rates were due.

Ludgate House’s owners appealed this decision in the Upper Tribunal, and in 2019 were successful in overturning it, returning the situation to what was the norm elsewhere i.e. that the building was not liable for business rates, and council tax was payable instead. 

However, LB Southwark appealed again, and last month the case was heard in the Court of Appeal.  We blogged about the case back in November, before the court had heard it, and you can find our previous take on the matter here.

When the case was heard in December, LB Southwark were successful, and the Court of Appeal decided that business rates rather than Council Tax are due.  This is now the final word on the case, and sets a precedent for all similar arrangements, so is significant to the property guardian sector.

The full judgement is available here, and Giles Peaker, a housing lawyer who is an expert on property guardianship, has provided an in-depth discussion of the legal reasoning behind this judgement on his blog, here

The central issue which shaped the judges’ view was the fact that the owners of Ludgate House retained very significant control over the building and guardians’ use of it. This meant that although guardians were using it as their home, the purpose of their being there was of direct benefit to the building’s owners.  Therefore, the judges decided that the building’s owners hadn’t given up control of it to a sufficient degree to enable it to be removed from business rates.   

What didn’t happen?

Because the judges’ decision was based on fundamental points of property law, they did not consider the point made by LB Southwark’s lawyers that the property guardian scheme in question was unlawful in any case because the property guardian provider (VPS) did not have a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licence in place even though the building needed it.  As the judges said: “it is unwise to deliver judgments on points that do not have to be decided”.

Whilst no doubt the judges made a wise decision here, Dot Dot Dot would have welcomed examination of this issue at high level.  Existing law makes it very clear that buildings lived in by property guardians need HMO licences if they are HMOs, and Dot Dot Dot always secures such licences or others required by local authorities where relevant.  Not all property guardian companies do so, which puts property owners, property guardians and the reputation of the property guardian sector at risk – not to mention the fact that it enables property guardians to claim back fees they have paid to live in a property which should be licenced and is not.   

It was also not relevant to the judgement that the building was lived in only by a few guardians. Even if more guardians had been present, the property owners would have retained overall control of the building, meaning that rates would have been due.

Dot Dot Dot’s response

At Dot Dot Dot, we are disappointed that buildings lived in by property guardians will now be eligible for business rates and not Council Tax under current legal arrangements.  The previous situation created an extra incentive for property owners to work with property guardian companies by creating tax savings, meaning that more buildings were brought into use as homes instead of being left empty. 

It is not even likely that this judgement will create significant additional tax revenue – a wide range of other rates mitigation schemes are available, most of which have no socially positive effects but which cut revenues to the government.  For example, leasing a building to a newly created company set up purely for rates mitigation purposes, which is then liquidated, is a legitimate way to avoid the tax which benefits no one except property owners and scheme providers. 

However, rates mitigation was never a major selling point for Dot Dot Dot – most of our clients work with us because they are looking for reliable, flexible, cost-effective property security and an opportunity to make a positive difference to society.  And, in fact, the majority of buildings we manage were not eligible for rates in the first place, because they are residential or properties like halls of residence or sheltered accommodation. We have already discussed the changes with the minority of our property-owning clients who it will affect, and are working with them to find ways forward.    

The most positive part of this judgement is that it reinforces guardians’ status as licensees. Licensees have permission to live in the building in order to take care of it on behalf of the building’s owner, rather than tenants who have a right to exclusive occupation.  This distinction has always been clear, but understanding of it is growing as property guardianship becomes more common and widespread, so every further reiteration of the point – especially in the highest courts – is helpful in reducing the potential for confusion.   As Peaker says in his blog: “This judgment does, however, mean that there are greater hurdles to climb in any possession defence by guardians alleging a tenancy.”

More widely, we at Dot Dot Dot agree with those calling for wholesale reform of business rates – including, last month, the Financial Times and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.  Taxes shape decisions for individuals, businesses and local authorities, so we hope that any future update to the business rates regime will encourage socially worthwhile uses of buildings that would otherwise be empty. 

Update 26th January 2021:
We understand that the owners of Ludgate House are challenging the Court of Appeal’s decision in the Supreme Court, so the verdict discussed here may not be the final word on how buildings lived in by property guardians should be taxed. We will provide updates as the case moves forward.

To talk to us about how Dot Dot Dot’s brilliant property guardians could be part of your regeneration strategies, please do get in touch at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com.
You can also find out more about our commitment to raising standards in our industry here.

 

Spotlight on: Tom – what it’s like to volunteer for Samaritans

December 18, 2020

Writer for The Economist by day and volunteer with Samaritans by night, east Londoner, Tom, has been a Dot Dot Dot guardian for three years. Writing from his 2-bed flat, Tom describes the reality of his eye-opening role as a listening volunteer, and how being part of an army of like-minded people looking to make a positive difference is an extremely rewarding venture.

It’s 10.30pm on a Monday and I’m one of hundreds of Samaritans volunteers on duty tonight. I cycle from Poplar along the Thames path and under the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to my local branch in Lewisham. The river is peaceful and the path quiet. It’ll be silent when I return just after 3.

Becoming a listening volunteer begins with an information evening and a short selection process. Training normally involves several sessions which mix theory and role-play. These are usually in person but have been virtual during the pandemic. New volunteers are then assigned a mentor and you work together to develop your practice until you’re ready to take calls independently. However, you’re never “flying solo” – there’s always at least two on duty in a branch at any one time plus a leader on call. Training is stimulating and eye-opening. I was part of collaborative and close-knit group and many of us have stayed in contact. “This is not work experience” we are told early on. And it’s a really important point. Volunteers are discouraged from seeing training at Samaritans as just a stepping stone to a career in counselling. To train as a listening volunteer is to share the mission of the organisation and commit to regular duties in the long-term.

Contrary to perception, and despite being founded by a vicar, Samaritans is not a Christian organisation. The Rev Dr Chad Varah described its beginnings as “a man willing to listen, with a base and an emergency telephone.” The Daily Mirror called Chad the “telephone good Samaritan” and the name stuck. Now, over 20,000 volunteers in over 200 branches provide emotional support over the telephone, via email and by letter. There’s currently a pilot project trialling instant messaging too.

When people find out I volunteer at Samaritans, they usually have lots of questions. Our strict confidentiality policy – everything said in a contact remains within Samaritans – means volunteers do not share what’s been said in a call, even with those closest to them. There’s lots of support within the organisation. Common questions asked, that can be answered, include how often do you do it (I volunteer once a week) and do you always do nights (no, you can generally choose your hours but you are expected to contribute to the night shifts).

Volunteering for Samaritans is extremely rewarding: after each shift you know you have helped a number of people. You sense you’ve made a difference at the most basic level – you have been there for someone. You feel part of an army of like-minded people with similar motivations. Although the charity is vast, each branch has its own ways of doing things and each is its own unique community. As a guardian, my regular duties enable me to fulfil my 16 hours and often more.

There are lots of development opportunities within Samaritans. Each branch relies on volunteers taking on additional roles: from management, to mentoring to fundraising. Volunteers are supported to develop their skills and follow their interests. Two years into my Samaritans journey, I’m now helping my first mentee begin theirs.

You can donate to help Samaritans maintain their listening service at www.samaritans.org/donate-now. Whatever you’re going through, you can call Samaritans any time, from any phone for free on 116 123. You can email Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org. For more, visit www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan.

Read more of our guardians’ volunteering stories over at our guardian spotlight

How volunteering helps everyone – not just the beneficiaries

October 29, 2020

From our founder, Katharine Hibbert

Supporting volunteering has always been central to Dot Dot Dot’s work – and our focus on it is something we are never asked to justify.   No one needs an academic paper to tell them that it’s worthwhile to support people who’d like to do good for others. And it’s easy to see that volunteers keep a huge range of worthwhile organisations going, from household names like the Samaritans and the St John’s Ambulance through to small local food banks and sports clubs.

But the indirect benefits to society as a whole of volunteering, neighbourliness and civic engagement go way beyond the benefits to individuals in need who receive help from volunteers, or to the volunteers themselves who get satisfaction from doing it.  People living in societies with more volunteering, more social connections and higher trust tend to be happier and wealthier, so participation deserves to be measured, celebrated and promoted for these reasons too.

Most current discussion of the benefit of living in a community where people are engaged – either by volunteering formally, getting involved in neighbourhood groups or helping others informally – traces back to Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone, published in 2000.  In it, he argued that social capital is essential to a well-functioning democracy, and defined it as “connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them”. 

He also drew a clear link between the frequency with which people get involved in third-sector activities and organisations, and higher levels of trust and social capital.  As he put it, ‘‘civic engagement and trust are mutually reinforcing’’ and ‘‘the causal arrows among civic involvement…and social trust are as tangled as well-tossed spaghetti’’. 

While it usually takes a certain amount of trust and positivity to start volunteering or to get involved with a club or society in the first place, Putnam’s point is that doing so creates a virtuous spiral – the more you participate, the more positive you feel about others because you have more good experiences and you benefit from more reciprocity.  And this in turn makes you more likely to believe that most people are basically trustworthy, which encourages you to participate more.

This is good for individuals. Sociological research repeatedly shows that higher social trust is correlated with higher levels of happiness, life satisfaction and subjective wellbeing, and we frequently hear from our guardians that their volunteering is positive for them as well as helpful to the causes they give their time to.  

But it’s also good for society as a whole.  Work by Marta Portela and others in the journal, Social Indicators Research, shows that the higher the level of social capital a country has on average, the more likely individuals in that country are to be happy and satisfied with their lives.  And these benefits occur even for those who don’t participate regularly – if you live around others who get involved and have a good opinion of their fellow citizens, your life is probably better too. 

It also makes us all richer.  A country’s average levels of social trust predicts its economic growth more accurately than its average skill levels, according to Dr David Halpern, the Chief Executive of the Government’s Behavioural Insights Team.  As he puts it, “Low trust implies a society where you have to keep an eye over your shoulder; where deals need lawyers instead of hand-shakes; where you don’t see the point of paying your tax or recycling your rubbish (since you doubt your neighbour will do so); and where you employ your cousin or your brother-in-law to work for you rather than a stranger who would probably be much better at the job.”  All of that makes life less enjoyable – but it also makes it more expensive and holds back innovation and entrepreneurship, making countries who lack social trust poorer too.

So even though most people who get involved in formal or informal volunteering do it because they want to help a specific cause and because they enjoy it, by doing so they are also making everyone a bit more likely to be happy and wealthy.  We support volunteering because of its positive impacts on good causes and on the volunteers themselves, but by doing so we hope we are also making a small contribution to building a more positive, happier and richer society as a whole.

You can find out more about our commitment to supporting the volunteering efforts of our guardians here, and read more of our guardian stories here.

How being a property guardian with Dot Dot Dot is different

June 16, 2020

Expensive rent and bad property management are just two examples of how the housing sector is failing many members of our society. At Dot Dot Dot we keep compassion at our core, setting ourselves apart from others in our industry through our continued focus and care in helping our guardians to build safer and stronger communities.

This purposeful approach means that we pay considerable attention to supporting our guardians to thrive. By providing them with good-quality, affordable homes, we enable them to use their extra time to volunteer for a cause that they care about and that will instil positive change within both their communities and themselves.

Read on to learn more about how being a property guardian with Dot Dot Dot is different.

We make it easier for you to focus on the causes that really matter to you

Since we began in 2011, we have turned hundreds of empty properties into homes for community-minded people who volunteer for 16 hours a month, enabling the buildings to become hubs of social value. Our vision is simple: we give homes to people who will breathe life into empty buildings, and who are invested in making a positive impact on their neighbours and communities. With lower monthly living costs, our guardians have more time and freedom to focus on a cause close to their heart without the pressure of needing to be elsewhere to earn money.

Volunteering outside of work is a chance to dedicate time to the things you love doing – whether that’s helping to plant a community garden, turning your own project into volunteering, or learning more skills. Your experience will be all the richer if you feel excited and motivated by the field – this is why you have the opportunity to use your voice and choose an organisation that fuels your passion.

You’ll have the opportunity to meet like-minded people and extend your network

We know that friendships come in all shapes and sizes. We also know that everyone has a skill to offer that is useful. At Dot Dot Dot, we will help you to organically grow resilient communities that allow everyone to use their strengths for the benefit of their fellow guardians and their neighbourhood. Our guardians are made up of designers, students, teachers, cleaners, magazine editors, librarians, support workers, engineers, zookeepers, midwives, DJ’s and dancers. No matter what their reason for loving the experience of guardianship – whether it opens up a new way of living for them, or it makes their existing lifestyle easier and more affordable – all our property guardians share a common trait: they are committed to volunteering for a cause that is bigger than themselves.

Being part of a community based on something more than just geographical location is to share a common belief in the world; volunteering will enable you to connect with others who also give value to your belief in the importance of giving time to projects you care about. By regularly giving your time to a good cause, you will have the chance to develop strong bonds with others in your own community, increasing your sense of belonging and connections to those around you.

Your volunteering will stay with you for the rest of your life

Whilst we don’t offer ‘forever homes’, we do offer homes that have a ‘forever impact’ on you and the people around you. The benefits of volunteering on you as an individual as well as those you engage with are tangible and far-reaching. You are giving yourself and others the tools and skills needed to create a real and sustainable future by keeping connections and friendships alive.

Volunteering also has long-term positive effects on both your mental and physical health. The National Centre of Volunteering conducted a study on the benefits of volunteering on mental health and found that 80% of participants reported a positive effect on their mental health and wellbeing through providing a sense of purpose and meaning, along with improved confidence and self-esteem.

To find out more about how to become a Dot Dot Dot property guardian, check out our guardian website page or complete an application form today. You can also head over to our Instagram to follow our Summer Series, where we’ll be telling our guardians’ volunteering stories every week. 

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