On the Dot Dot Dot bookshelf: 10 things to read to understand the business we are today

January 19, 2022

From our founder, Katharine Hibbert

At Dot Dot Dot we make no apologies for being geeks.  We think hard about housing, about social impact, and about how to be a successful business which makes a useful contribution to both spheres.  Many of our approaches and views come from our hands-on experience of housing nearly 2,000 people over the past decade, supporting them to give time worth more than £4m to good causes.  But just as important is what we’ve learned from books – and here are the top ten things to read that have shaped my thinking on our work. 

Housing

Where Will We Live?

James Meek (London Review of Books, 2014)

How did we end up in the situation where there is, as Meek puts it, “a huge, growing, unsatisfied need for housing that doesn’t require you to earn above an average income to afford”?  This essay – published by the London Review of Books and available for free – tells the story of how we ended up here through the prism of the housing situation in Tower Hamlets, the borough where Dot Dot Dot was launched and where we still work today.  It explores the human, social and economic impact of Right to Buy, beds in sheds, the bedroom tax and more, and is an indispensable read for anyone trying to understand why it’s so difficult to find a reasonable place to live.

The People of Providence: A Housing Estate and Some of Its Inhabitants

Tony Parker (Hutchinson, 1983)

Oral historian Tony Parker spent 18 months talking to residents on a then-newly built housing estate in South London – listening to stories of everyday life from mothers, vagrants, policemen and a 75-year-old widower who spends “an hour or two in bed each week with one or other of about twelve different ladies I meet at our church”.  Parker has an incredible ability to get people talking, and then to turn each person’s private thoughts and experiences into a compelling and enlightening chapter-length story.  The People of Providence is a window into what housing means to individuals and how it shapes their lives.  Written for a contemporary audience in the ‘80s, it’s just good a read today.

Estates: An Intimate History

Lynsey Hanley (Granta Books, 2007)

Part memoir, part history, Hanley’s book tells the story of social housing in the UK in a personal and even-handed way.  While admiring the early ambition of council house builders to create homes for heroes, she is critical of later developments of huge estates made up of poor-quality, badly located homes, like the one she grew up in herself.  Going back to visit her parents – who still live in the same estate, just outside Birmingham, she calls it “a clean, wide-open prison”.  She ends the book with recommendations for improving estates – centring on the need to give residents a say in how they’re housed.


Social Impact

Refinery29 money diaries

Dot Dot Dot’s mission is to provide housing that makes it easier for people to do more good, and this regular feature published by Refinery29, an online magazine aimed at Millennial and Gen Z women, shows why this is needed.  Every week, one woman documents in detail what they earn and spend during a seven-day period.  Week after week, it highlights the stresses and trade-offs involved in paying for housing, other living costs and a bit of fun on an ordinary wage, especially in London.  Few contributors have meaningful savings, and those who have managed to buy a home have usually had significant help from their parents.  I read it every week to find the motivation to keep working on providing inexpensive homes to people who’ll use the reduced financial pressure to make a contribution to their communities – and I also read it for the nosiness value. 

FREE: Adventures on the Margins of a Wasteful Society

Katharine Hibbert (Ebury Press, 2010)

My own book, telling the story of the squatters and scavengers who get by on what the rest of us throw away, sparked the ideas that became Dot Dot Dot.  Working on it helped me to understand why homes sit empty in the UK and to see a new opportunity to fix the problem, as I’ve blogged about here.  But it also gave me the motivation to build a solution that would contribute to community-building and neighbourliness in the areas where we worked.  The history of squatting contains some great stories of people getting together to fix the problems they faced using the resources that were at hand – many of today’s housing co-ops grew out of the squatting movement in the ‘70s.  Researching this history made me feel able to just get on and build something that didn’t exist yet – other ordinary people had got together to do it in the past, so why shouldn’t I?

Radical Help: How We Can Remake the Relationships Between Us and Remake the Welfare State

Hillary Cottam (Little, Brown, 2018)

Should we solve the social problems we face today by shrinking the size of the government to empower the private sector to find market solutions?  Or should we raise taxes and pump money into the existing system to make sure everyone gets what they need? Cottam, a serial social entrepreneur and academic, argues that the answer is neither – instead, she says, we should invest in structures which enable citizens and communities to work together to help each other alongside making sure that the state provides what is needed to make that a reality. 


Business

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Bruce Patton (Penguin, 2011)

It’s impossible to avoid difficult conversations – especially when dealing with people’s homes, jobs and money, as we do every day at Dot Dot Dot.  This book is the best guide I’ve ever read to making those conversations go as well as possible.  Its lessons – such as how to actively listen and make sure you’ve understood what your counterpart is saying, to think in terms of how each person (including you) contributed to the situation rather than trying to apportion blame, and to appreciate that people can agree on all the facts but still see things very differently – apply to any kind of difficult conversation, not just professional ones.  But they are so relevant to our work at Dot Dot Dot that I bought a dozen copies for the team last Christmas.

The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right

Atul Gawande (Profile, 2009)

The premise of this book is simple – almost every task can be achieved more reliably and with fewer errors by using a simple but well-designed tick-list.   Because Dot Dot Dot aims to provide a consistent, predictable and reliably good quality service to everyone we work with, and because we work with so many different kinds of buildings in different areas housing different people, it’s essential that we get the basics right every time.  We’ve moved away from paper checklists on clipboards, onto a bespoke system that all of us can access from the cloud, but we employ a full-time member of staff to look after our data and make sure we know if things aren’t as they should be.  Gawande’s commitment to systematising tasks is a good back-to-basics reminder of the importance of getting things right every time, and how to do so.

Getting To Yes

Roger Fisher and William Ury (Cornerstone, 1981)

This book gives me optimism about the world by making a money-driven business case for being a basically decent person when negotiating.  It argues that the aim of any negotiation should be to explore opportunities to “grow the pie” – to listen carefully and think laterally to find things that you can do for the other party which will be of greater value to them than their cost to you.  It also reminds negotiators that such deals are rarely one-offs, so relationships and reputation matter.  And – importantly for a social enterprise committed to behaving ethically – it advises on what to do when faced with a counterparty who isn’t playing fair.   This book, a deserved classic, is readable and short and should be read by everyone who ever has to negotiate over anything – in other words, all of us.

Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big

Bo Burlingham (Penguin, 2006)

So much of the narrative around entrepreneurship is focused on achieving vast scale.  This book presents the alternative to “go big or go home”, arguing that doing a great job for a bounded group of clients is often a better route to business success than trying to be all things to all people.  Our focus at Dot Dot Dot has always been on winning projects in contexts where we can do our best work, rather than picking up as much volume as we possibly can if doing so dilutes our quality or social impact.  This approach – built into our decision-making process – has served us well for the past ten years, and Burlington’s work explains why it is likely to continue to do so into the future.

If you want to read more about our approach, you can visit our approach page or sign up to Meanwhile Thoughts, our monthly newsletter for property owners.

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.

How guardianship can complement Temporary Accommodation

October 26, 2021

Housing homeless families is rightly a priority for local authorities. But Dot Dot Dot guardians can be a helpful addition to communities and councils’ regeneration plans explains CEO Peter Brown.

We get a lot of questions about how we interface with Temporary Accommodation (TA), and so I thought it would be helpful to set out how choosing to work with Dot Dot Dot can be a useful element of local authorities’ strategies for TA.

It’s worth being upfront that Dot Dot Dot’s view is that, if a home can be used for permanent, settled housing then it should be used as such. And, if a home is available for a long enough period to house a household that needs temporary accommodation, then it should be used for that. 

However, property guardianship as a meanwhile housing service can still be useful in these same homes. It fills in the gaps when an estate is being readied for development, and is an option if a property could not be brought up to the necessary standard for a family in a financially-viable way.

The increasing pressure to provide Temporary Accommodation

Often the households housed in TA are families including children, and for those who need to rely on it, “temporary” can be an inaccurate description since it can be far from temporary, and can sometimes last for years. This length of wait is due to the lack of supply of low cost rented homes in the social housing sector, and especially a shortage of family-sized homes. Unfortunately, too, the standard of accommodation can be far from desirable. It’s not uncommon to accommodate a family in a large room or bedsit, which is the much-criticised ‘bed and breakfast’ accommodation. 

The bill to local authorities for TA gives one an insight to the scale of the problem caused by rising demand for social housing and not enough homes created to satisfy that demand. According to Inside Housing, in 2019/20 local authorities spent £1.2bn on TA, up 9% from the previous year and double what was spent in 2014/15. What’s more, 87% of these monies went to private landlords or private providers.

Helping create resilient communities

Some of our clients say that having a group of guardians living alongside temporary accommodation homes is helpful because it helps to create a mixed and resilient community, even on a temporary and meanwhile basis. Guardians can report on maintenance issues and anti-social behaviour, and all our guardians commit to volunteering for 16 hours a month, often on local projects which can benefit local residents.

In most regeneration schemes, a proportion of homes will necessarily become vacant too close to the target end date to be able to move in TA residents, for example within three to 12 months. While it wouldn’t always be appropriate or possible for local authorities to house the households who need TA in this time, Dot Dot Dot is able to make use of these short term properties. 

Guardianship can work where Temporary Accommodation can’t

Any property that requires too much investment to bring it to the necessary standard for TA could still be suitable for guardian occupation. Dot Dot Dot works to strict health and safety, and licensing standards, however this is different to the standard required to house families, which gives councils an option when they have assets of varied condition.

So, where estate regeneration timings and the finances allow properties to be used to prevent homelessness and are of the right standard, Dot Dot Dot supports that use. But we can be an excellent option to throw into the mix when money or time are tight, or when vulnerable existing residents need support.

If you would like to find out more about how we could work with you on a new or existing project, contact us at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com.

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.

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.

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