Balance busy city living with peace and tranquility in Croydon

February 3, 2022

For all those searching to exchange the busyness of the city with a leafy retreat, our double room available in a 2-bedroom period cottage is well located within the grounds of Ashburton Park, north Croydon. With its ever growing restaurant scene, abundance of serene spots to unwind and surprisingly good connections to central London, discover why this leafy borough might just be for you.  

Escape to the country park 

In Croydon, you’re never far from a multitude of green spaces and serene spots to unwind. Our 2-bed cottage sits within the grounds of Ashburton Park, with acres of green space to enjoy, including two tennis courts and a basketball court.  But if it’s a real oasis of tranquility you’re after, then South Norwood Country Park offers vast meadows and wetlands to amble through plus an idyllic lake with swans, geese and waterfowl.

Fast growing food scene 

Croydon has some great spots for trying cuisines from all over the globe. Independent and local street food traders offer up their inventive menus – from Egyptian to Caribbean. You can also taste your way around the world at some of the town’s upscale restaurants.

Plenty to see and do

Calling Croydon home means that you’re never short of activities to enjoy. Whether you’re a first timer or a seasoned pro, CroyWall is the place to be when it comes to bouldering. Or to experience a traditional Canadian pastime, Bad Axe Throwing is a must. Take some friends and enjoy an evening blowing off some steam! 

Don’t miss the magnificent clocktower building on the edge of Queen’s Gardens, which is actually the Museum of Croydon. The museum documents the development of the town since 1800, and provides artefacts donated by current and former residents of Croydon.

Well connected to central London

Despite having no tube station, Croydon is surprisingly well-connected to central London with frequent, direct trains to most major inner city stations within 15-20 minutes (or Brighton within the hour if you fancy a spontaneous trip to the seaside). Croydon’s vast tram network makes getting around the area convenient and will even take you towards Beckenham and Wimbledon. Plus the London Overground from West Croydon will deliver you to east London and beyond. 

Discover more about our available double room in the area and how you can apply to move to Ashburton, north Croydon.

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 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: Helen, our beekeeping guardian in Letchworth Garden City

July 30, 2021

From Helen, Dot Dot Dot guardian in Letchworth Garden City

Every Wednesday I volunteer in Hitchin, Hertfordshire with Buzzworks – a charity whose mission is to help people learn about the world of bees and train people in the art of beekeeping. I started off by helping to maintain the education centre gardens, before moving to assist the head beekeeper. We extract the honey from the hives which are then put into jars and sold at a market in Hitchin every month.

Before I became a Dot Dot Dot guardian, I was already volunteering with Friends of Norton Common. I used to go dog walking on the common and one day another dog walker told me about the group. It’s a lovely mix of people who are very knowledgeable, together we make sure that the green spaces are well maintained and safe for visitors to enjoy. We have such a laugh and come rain or shine we are there. Plus it keeps us fit and healthy and helps us feel connected to each other and nature. I’m learning many new skills and can do things now that I never thought I would.

I’m so grateful to Dot Dot Dot for providing me with a safe space in Letchworth so that I could continue living here after moving out of my previous flat. I work in social care and wouldn’t have been able to afford my own space. Now, I have the financial security to be able to enrol in courses and invest in my personal development. Plus, I’ve managed to pay off all my debts and become independent.

I cycle to both volunteer locations every week which makes me feel great and means that I’m not using my car which is good for the environment and my mental health. I’m passionate about normalising conversations around mental and emotional health, and whenever I volunteer I am able to discuss these topics with the other volunteers.

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.

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.

Guardian of the month: Laura Chaitow

March 26, 2021

From our Oxford guardian, Laura Chaitow

As a critical care nurse I have experienced, first hand, the stress and trauma of working in the Coronavirus pandemic. I originally set up a role to support my colleagues well-being 2 years ago. However, due to social distancing it has become difficult to support my colleagues in the way I would have liked. I have, this month, set up debriefing sessions over Zoom. These run 6 times a week for at least an hour but generally as long as people need them to be. This is a free service I have set up to support colleagues who are struggling to come to terms with the unprecedented stress we have been experiencing at work.

I’m a lead for staff mental health and wellbeing in my department and was originally working on a project to build a mindfulness room for staff to use. Then the pandemic happened and we lost our funding. I kept thinking I needed to do something to help my colleagues and then when I became a guardian it made sense to use my volunteering to help NHS workers. It all comes down to the need and whoever wants to come – most of them are girls who I work with but my aunt works as a psychologist and my mum is a nurse too so I’ve spoken to some of their colleagues.

I try to structure the month’s sessions around a theme, and this month is ‘compassionate inner voice’. They’re generally very loose themes as I like not having a huge amount of structure to what we have to talk about. Everyone brings a cup of tea or a glass of wine and it’s just a no pressure chat – sometimes it’s a Covid-free zone! A lot of the people who join either live alone or have lost relatives to Covid. A couple of the women I work with have had really intense struggles with their mental health and it’s made worse by the fact that many are single and can’t see their parents. They’re all such a wonderful bunch and I’m glad I can offer them support. I’m quite ambitious and would be keen to turn the sessions into a way to give back to others and create new projects from this one. Watch this space!

I used to live alone in Oxford and it was so expensive. In January last year I decided that I could no longer afford it and moved back in with my parents. It was a struggle at first having to move back home at 29 after having my own independence. I started thinking that I wanted to move out but at the same time I wanted to save and hopefully own my own place one day. It was then that I got chatting to a friend of mine who is a guardian in Oxford. I thought I’d just have a look but there was nothing available and I thought there never would be. But my friend encouraged me to apply with Dot Dot Dot in case – when I did something came up immediately which felt really fortuitous and was perfect for the stage I was at in my life.

Being a Dot Dot Dot guardian has given me the space to think more creatively and be more self reliant. I love my own space and never thought it would be an option. It’s in such a lovely area, in this beautiful forgotten crescent by the river, a few minutes stroll into town. Having the ability to live alone in Oxford, is such a privilege. I was always so envious of friends who had their own houses for pennies and I was really craving that level of independence but didn’t want to have to worry about finances and not be able to save. I have these moments where I look around and it’s so empowering to be a woman in my own space in my own flat in central Oxford. You’re able to make it a home and paint the walls – I’m such an intuitive person and if my space doesn’t feel comfortable then I struggle.

I’ve got a pink living room now and my boyfriend is a carpenter. And so he put a new wooden floor in my bathroom and made me some kitchen units. I recently bought home two chairs from the hospital that they were throwing away and I’m going to upcycle them. I learnt how to upholster on YouTube and I’ve bought some tweed offcuts on Ebay that I’m going to use for the covers. I’ve got some other really fun pieces that I’ve made or found in charity shops, and my flat is filled with macrame! Lockdown has given me the time to decorate my flat, and probably none of this would have happened otherwise. Having the time to follow those ideas through and complete projects has really boosted my self-esteem and been really wholesome.

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.

Life as a Dot Dot Dot guardian: Mahmoud, Oxford

February 26, 2021

From Dot Dot Dot guardian, Mahmoud, Oxford

I first heard of Dot Dot Dot through a friend who was a property guardian in Oxford. At the time I was living in a flat near my restaurant, Za’atar Bake which was expensive for the area. When the lockdown started last year, I realised I needed to save money in order to be able to sustain my business – otherwise I’d lose it. I saw that there was a Dot Dot Dot flat available so took my chance and applied. Now I’m saving hundreds of pounds each month which gives me peace of mind that my restaurant will be OK.

Last May, we started offering free home-cooked meals every day during lockdown to the homeless and others who couldn’t afford to buy their own food in our community. We thought maybe 10-15 people would show up. We ended up regularly giving away 60 meals a day. A lot of the money I’m saving through living with Dot Dot Dot is redirected to the restaurant and goes towards providing the free meals. I’m grateful to know that I can do this with comfort and continue to do so once we can reopen which I’m hoping will be in March for our community.

We also did a meal for 90 people on Christmas Day for people who didn’t have anyone to spend it with – we were really supported by the community who gave us a Christmas tree, decorations, lighting and we were even gifted 300kg of rice! Oxford Hub (a social action charity committed to bringing people and organisations together) invited us all to have a free buffet to say thank you and I even spoke to the Oxford Lord Mayor about more ways to give back to the community. It’s great to see people paying attention and thinking about other ways they can help.

Since we started offering free meals we have also seen our sales increase through people coming in to support us and our bond with the community has gotten stronger. We didn’t want donations or to make money off the back of offering free meals, so the best way that we can be supported is through people coming and enjoying the food at Za’atar Bake. Giving is about giving to everybody and doing charitable work is an amazing feeling. I want to spread good vibes and hope to the Oxford community and I’m proud to do it. It keeps us all going to see people being positively affected by what we’re doing.

I love sports and staying active, and last June I set a challenge for the community called ‘Running for 30k’ (or ‘Walk for 30k’!). People had one month to either run or walk everyday until they reached their goal of 30k – the aim was to get people outdoors in the fresh air and enjoying sport. Once they’d reached their goal of 30k they were able to come to my restaurant and claim their free lunch or dinner. So many people got involved and one woman told me it was the first time in her life that she felt fitter and lost weight. It shows what happens when you give people a challenge and spread hope.

A lot of people don’t think about giving time to charity when they’re busy with their lives and working hard. It’s all too easy to not think about giving back. Since living with Dot Dot Dot, I’ve not only saved money but gained flexibility in my life in order to give what I can to my community. I enjoy living in a society where we do what we can to help others.

You can find out more about the work that Mahmoud and his team are doing for the Oxford community here. You can also read more stories here from our guardians on how living with Dot Dot Dot has given them the freedom and flexibility to pursue their goals.

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.

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

Volunteering: Once you pop, you can’t stop

December 2, 2020

From our founder, Katharine Hibbert 

“Thank you for the diligent chivvying”

Perhaps it’s a surprising thank-you note to feel particularly good about, but one of the most cheering emails I’ve had from a Dot Dot Dot guardian was to let us know that his experience with us had changed his mind about volunteering.

He had moved into one of our homes prepared to volunteer for a good cause because he understood that it was part of our model, but he wasn’t very enthusiastic about it.   He had chosen to become a property guardian with us because we had nice flats at a good price in the right place for him, and because of our reputation for fairness and thoroughness.  He didn’t mind volunteering for the 16 hours a month we expected, but he wasn’t particularly excited about our vision of a society where people have the time and energy to give back to causes they care about.

But by the time he moved on from our housing, volunteering had become part of his life, and he carried on after he left – so he emailed me to say thanks for the accountability we’d created for him while he got going.

A survey to make us smile

This man’s email was unusual, but his journey wasn’t.  We recently surveyed our guardians, and of the nearly 100 people who replied, 98% of them said they plan to carry on volunteering after they leave our housing, even though nearly half didn’t volunteer before they joined us.  These responses are encouraging, since enabling people to get involved in good causes and supporting them to become lifelong volunteers is central to our purpose.

Two thirds of the guardians said they plan to carry on doing the same amount of volunteering or more than they have done while living with us, which means continuing to give at least half a day a week to a good cause, a significant commitment.  And two thirds of them volunteered within the borough where they live, meaning that our work has a directly positive effect on the local areas where we operate.

Of the 55% of guardians who volunteered before they joined us, more than half now do more volunteering than before.  Only 4% of guardians surveyed volunteer less than they did before they were housed with us.

A majority also replied that they experienced no down-sides to volunteering – although three in ten said they found it difficult to make time for it.  Covid-19 has also forced four in every five of our guardians to update their approach to volunteering – 11% now volunteer with a different organisation, 13% have moved their volunteering online and, for 21%, the venue in which they used to volunteer is currently closed.  Around a quarter are currently volunteering for less time than they did before the lockdown, while 10% are volunteering more.

When we asked guardians what benefits they experienced from their volunteering, the most frequent responses included the feeling of making a difference, appreciating the roots it gave them in their communities, the fact that it gives them more empathy with people in need, and their own improved mental health and wellbeing.

Giving a helping hand…to form a lifelong habit

These results – and feedback like that quoted above – are very important to us at Dot Dot Dot.  We are not here to press-gang people into doing something they would prefer to avoid.  We aim to attract and house people who want to volunteer and who would like a solution like ours to lower the barriers to doing so, and perhaps a bit of encouragement to actually crack on and do it.

We’re very clear with applicants for our housing that if they’d prefer not to volunteer, they’ll be better off with one of the other property guardian companies in the market – and in this respect it’s fortunate that the other providers don’t expect their guardians to help good causes.  We understand that not everyone has the time and inclination to volunteer, and that’s totally fine – it’s just that we exist for those who do.  So it’s great to see that our guardians are committed enough to their volunteering to continue beyond their time with us.

Our experience is that once people get involved with charities and projects that they care about, and once they are using their skills effectively alongside people they’ve got to know and like, the satisfaction and benefits of volunteering create their own momentum.  So even if getting involved is a bit of a chore at the beginning, it quickly becomes worthwhile in its own right. And those who didn’t volunteer previously are much more likely to report that volunteering has given them new skills they can use professionally and greater satisfaction. We’re glad this means that we’re helping our guardians to improve their own lives, as well as encouraging them to help others.

We’ve thought hard about the ways in which we can help to make volunteering as rewarding as possible for the guardians themselves, as well as impactful for the charities they help.  At its simplest, we aim to help people to find more time to volunteer by lowering their cost of living and providing homes in areas they couldn’t otherwise afford.  Many of those locked in the private rented sector have to work for longer or commute further than they ideally would, and the pressure saps their energy and enthusiasm for giving back.  Reducing the burden of housing costs frees them up to do things they would like to do but previously couldn’t.

On top of this, we find that by creating an environment where being a good neighbour and giving time to good causes is the norm, getting involved feels natural.  And the fact that we send round volunteering opportunities and check how all our guardians’ volunteering is going every month creates accountability.

We think of this aspect of our work as being similar to the role of a personal trainer in a gym.  Even if you know that exercising is good for you, getting started can be hard work and you may need a bit of outside help to get you to actually do it.  It’s not that the personal trainer forces you to do anything you don’t want to, they just reduce the amount of willpower you need to exert to get it done.  We hope that our contact with guardians about their volunteering does a similar job for them, in encouraging them to do something they would like to do anyway.

So while we’re very glad we’re able to support our guardians to collectively give thousands of hours to good causes every month, credit for the effort should go to the guardians themselves – they’ve found the charities they want to help and the roles they want to do, and they’re going to continue into the future.  We’re happy we’ve been able to provide some help along that journey.

You can see more of our guardians’ volunteering stories here. Or to find out more about how we are supporting our guardians to volunteer for good causes, why not read How volunteering helps everyone – not just the beneficiaries.

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