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.

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.

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.

When “security” isn’t actually that secure

February 19, 2021

From our Chief Executive, Peter Brown

Much of our work supports property owners delivering estate regeneration programmes. The complexity and phasing of these schemes often means they take many years. As a result, they tend to be organised in phases across multiple blocks within a wider regeneration zone – with different areas needing to be secured on a phased basis. But security without people involved can mean a double whammy of both expense and ineffectiveness.

Due to the phased nature of regeneration activity, property guardians can be a very useful solution, because the number of properties that arise as empty at any point in time can be hard to predict in advance. A local authority or housing association will want to have a strategy that is flexible and which can mesh carefully alongside its existing regeneration plans. 

Another consideration for local authorities can be the need to use regeneration properties to support homeless families or those in acute housing need, particularly when the regeneration timeframes change and properties are available for longer than initially thought. Property guardianship has the flexibility to allow this because guardians are temporary and can move out with relatively short notice, in ways that other strategies like decommissioning a property and boarding it up do not.

We have seen and worked alongside a variety of security / deterrent measures – some more effective than others…and none, by themselves, as effective as having people on the ground visibly using the property.

Metal void property security screens on doors and windows are common and can be helpful for physical security – particularly when a property is at the end of its life and has been decommissioned. However, they do serve to advertise the fact that a property is empty, so can be counter-productive if owners are worried about attracting ASB.

Remotely-monitored rented alarms specifically designed for void properties have the advantage over security screens by being discrete and not advertising a property as empty.

And there’s always the option of disguise! If the practical risk of damage or unauthorised access is low, then disguising properties can be surprisingly effective. We have clients who have used a simple kit: curtains, a few pot plants and perhaps a light on a timer can go a long way.

It’s important to note that these measures certainly can’t bring any guarantees that properties will stay safe and secure and for an extended period of time. In many cases we’ve seen clients disappointed when they try these measures without property guardianship alongside them, because they have invested money in security only to find it was less effective than they had hoped. 

There can be a range of problems when property is left void, including unauthorised access of the property, break-ins, property being used for unlawful activity and metal stripping and theft. Only the human solution of property guardians can bring both the confidence that a property will be cared-for and protected through occupation.

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.

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.

 

Why is Dot Dot Dot a member of the Property Ombudsman scheme?

January 15, 2021

Dot Dot Dot has been a member of the The Property Ombudsman scheme for a few years now, and you might have spotted the Ombudsman’s membership logo on some of our communications. Our Chief Executive Peter Brown explains why Dot Dot Dot a member and why we think it’s important.

Whilst Dot Dot Dot is not an estate agent, there are similarities between our day-to-day property management activities and the activities that you’d see any letting agent carrying out:

  •       making sure property is safe and ready to be lived in,
  •       advertising property and explaining the options,
  •       being clear and transparent on pricing and costs,
  •       marketing properties,
  •       vetting applicants fairly to find the most suitable occupant, and
  •       moving them in so they can make their chosen building their home. 

Several of our long-held company values and the way that our team always strive to do things – holding ourselves to high standards, treating everyone fairly and in a straightforward way – are reflected in the Property Ombudsman’s codes and its instructions to all members. So one of the appealing things for me about joining the Property Ombudsman scheme was that it gave us a considered framework for treating customers fairly. 

We’ve found that it’s been useful to reflect the Ombudsman’s requirements in our own processes because this gives us an additional way of making sure our values translate into action, and therefore shapes how our customers experience working with us.

We also think it’s a positive thing to be a part of a scheme that is improving standards across the lettings industry, even if the way we need to do things as a property guardian social enterprise is sometimes different from agents in the mainstream lettings industry. We’ve consistently championed over a number of years why we want all guardian properties to be safe, enjoyable and comfortable homes that meet all required legal standards. It’s important to us that we help drive up standards across the property guardian sector because we believe this benefits everyone involved. We see our Ombudsman membership as complementary to our approach in this important area.

We believe we are the only major property guardian provider to have signed up to the Ombudsman scheme. We hope that being a member of the Ombudsman scheme and what this signals is reassuring to everyone that is considering doing business with Dot Dot Dot – whether a property owner or someone looking for housing as a property guardian. 

Over the years that I’ve led Dot Dot Dot, we’ve seen increasing regulation and higher standards in many aspects of the property rental sector (electrical safety, property licensing) alongside a suite of stronger consumer standards (restrictions on the fees that can be charged, capping of deposits). These represent improvements to the private rented sector and provide a set of important minimum standards that give customers confidence, especially to those who are housed regardless of tenure type. 

Dot Dot Dot has always taken the approach that these standards apply to what we do – certainly we have seen ourselves following the legal requirements more willingly compared to some property managers. We welcome anything that helps to improve health and safety of the buildings which people call home, and we see that improved standards give guardians and property owners confidence in the property guardian sector.

It’s also a legal requirement for all property agents to be a member of a redress scheme, so, should it ever be needed, the Ombudsman’s high quality and independent service is available to our customers in the rare event a complaint could not be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

If you’d like to find out more about how we work, you can sign up to our monthly newsletter, Meanwhile Thoughts, here.

So, who do you house?

December 18, 2020

From our Chief Executive, Peter Brown

We’ve always known that Dot Dot Dot guardians are a dedicated, energetic bunch who are up for sharing their time, skills, energy and compassion through their volunteering. Our work creates homes for people to give their time to support causes they care about.

One of the questions I’m often asked is “so who do you house?” People who haven’t considered being a guardian – or who haven’t heard of the concept – are curious about who would choose to become a guardian. And clients are naturally interested in understanding what kind of person wants to live in their buildings.

We’ve learned more over the last few months about who we house, because we have recently surveyed our guardians about their volunteering and captured demographic information. I’m sharing here a few insights here about the things I see in the data, and you can read more about the benefits our guardians have derived from their volunteering in a blog by Dot Dot Dot’s Founder, Katharine Hibbert.

So what did we learn? First, let’s talk gender. We house more women than men, which perhaps is surprising given property guardianship’s heritage as a ‘security’ activity. That has often conjured up images of guardians roughing it in sub-standard, uncomfortable accommodation, often from the misunderstanding that property guardianship is for would-be security guards who happen to need housing. We turned this the other way round and were clear from the start that we are a housing provider first and foremost (whilst always being clear that we do this on a meanwhile, temporary basis). For us, the important duties that guardians play to support the safety and security of the building where they are based arise alongside that housing.

I think the vetting that we undertake on all guardians is important too, and likely to be reassuring to female applicants, particularly when considering living in shared accommodation. Everyone we house goes through rigorous vetting, and I hope this creates confidence about the values and attributes of housemates that any new guardian will be living alongside. Everyone approaching us for housing knows that everyone else goes through the same vetting and checking process. It can only help too that two-thirds of our staff team are women and that we have always been transparent about our team and who manages our housing (compared to many of our competitors who can be quite cloak and dagger).

Next, on to age. Just over half of Dot Dot Dot guardians are under 34. With younger people disadvantaged in housing and economically locked out of the housing market, it’s not a surprise that more younger people turn to explore other housing ideas such as property guardianship.

The data also shows around one in five of Dot Dot Dot guardians are aged between 45-54 years. There will be likely several reasons for this: we know that some guardians in this age group will be seeking new housing because their life circumstances have changed – perhaps a divorce or a separation. Others in this age group are choosing to try new housing types alongside a deliberate change in their work: becoming entrepreneurs or a change in career that prompts them to choose new surroundings and a new community to live alongside. And at any age, we have guardians seeking the interesting locations and unusual buildings that property guardianship can bring. We know some people love the idea of living in a former school or office building (not always though, and for those we have lots of very ordinary residential buildings on our books!).

When we compare our guardians to the wider London population (where we do the majority of our work) they are more diverse in terms of ethnicity, sexuality and socio-economic background (i.e. those who were in receipt of free school meals). Just under 30% are White British, compared to 44% of the London population; 16% are gay men, gay women or bisexual – compared to 2.6% of the London population; and 28% received free school meals – compared to 17% of both the London and UK populations. It’s a great source of pride to me that we are attracting a broad range of people and providing safe, affordable housing to them.

Regardless of their individual diversity characteristics, what unites our guardians is that they are adaptable, resilient, curious and interested in each other and their neighbours. We hope they share our values and we continue to welcome more of them as we grow and work in new areas and locations.

On the ground: Guardianship that meets your needs

December 18, 2020

From our Director of Services, Mark Ackroyd

In the first of our ‘On the ground’ series, we explore some of the details of how our service works. In future articles, we’ll look in more detail at how we set up, operate and demobilise our service in different settings. In this article, we describe how Dot Dot Dot creates the right division of property management responsibilities for each client.

How to prepare a property for safe occupation can often seem like the most important question. It’s a critical step (both practically and financially), and we will be exploring the setup phase in future articles. But it is important to think more widely about how property management will function across the lifetime of a guardian contract; in many projects, this is the critical factor that helps guardianship deliver the maximum benefit to property owners. From my experience, this is one of the most pressing questions for clients who have to juggle existing property management budgets and pressures.

 

Matching contract responsibilities to client needs

At Dot Dot Dot, we think it is critical to understand not just the properties, but also the needs and operating environments of our clients. The following examples of issues or pressures are likely to be familiar to all property owners, but we find that each client has a unique set of priorities:

  • Mitigating fixed costs (e.g. council tax, utilities, maintenance contracts)
  • Protection against unauthorised occupants or vandalism
  • Removing day-to-day property management demands (e.g. access, security, repairs)
  • Handling core FM functions such as managing a planned maintenance programme
  • Buffering against occasional costs (e.g. roof repairs, flytipping)
  • Controlling long-term dilapidation and disrepair 
  • Reputational or political pressure around property use

Our goal with any client is to offer contract options that are a good match for their specific needs. We can customise and adjust this very finely, but below are some examples of common approaches.

 

Example 1: Like a lease, but not a lease

Under this model, clients hand over properties at a basic standard, and Dot Dot Dot takes on all of the in-life compliance, repair and management responsibilities. This includes the costs, repairs and maintenance that would normally fall to a leaseholder. Property owners or asset managers retain responsibility for block level maintenance (though we can often assist).

This structure has similarities with a leaseholder arrangement, but there is no lease required. Clients can end our service contract with 30 days’ notice. This model works well in many residential settings, and is particularly useful during ongoing decants with an uncertain pipeline of void properties.

 

Example 2: Shared management 

In larger buildings (commercial or residential), many clients wish to retain their own PPM and compliance regimes. One solution is to share the ongoing management with Dot Dot Dot. We can take on the on-site operations and daily FM responsibilities at the property, including responsive repairs. In major assets, this might include establishing suites of operating procedures and monitoring regimes.

By working with existing safety systems and regimes, we can simplify the cost structure and workload of our client. This leaves them free to focus on predictable upkeep, and on securing the next phase of the building’s life. This is a collaborative approach for hands-on clients. It can be a great solution for complex assets where owners or asset managers want to solve security or FM problems, but need close control of financial and operational risks. 

 

Example 3: Turnkey property management

One of the simplest contract options is for Dot Dot Dot to take on the full breadth of property management. We’ll develop a full management and occupation plan, allowing us to take care of all compliance, maintenance and management in line with the client’s needs.

Clients may choose to take an arm’s length approach and to rely on our reporting and reviews to keep in touch with their property. Others might remain closely involved in monitoring and decision-making. Armed with a detailed understanding of our client’s needs and of the property, Dot Dot Dot can often help clients to navigate uncertain development or sales timelines by assisting with medium-term asset management decisions or projects such as minor works.

This is a good option for clients with multiple competing priorities. It allows owners and asset managers to put assets ‘on hold’, while being reassured properties are secure, managed and maintained until needed.

 

Picking the right approach

Owners and asset managers with experience of guardianship may have a clear view of the service they require, but they do not need to decide in advance which approach will best support them. 

By sharing their priorities and needs, clients enable Dot Dot Dot to identify the right structure. Although guardianship is always at the heart of our service, we recognise that a “one size fits all” approach will limit the value we can offer. Instead, we believe in matching our service to the circumstances and needs of each client.

 

Next in ‘On the ground’ – How we mobilise in large and complex properties.

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

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