Providing reassurance to residents in Shoreham-by-Sea

August 18, 2021

We added another seaside location to our portfolio in December 2020 when we partnered with Southern Housing Group, a not for profit housing association, in Shoreham-by-Sea. As Southern Housing Group relocated existing residents of The Mannings estate, Dot Dot Dot took on four flats in late December, housing four guardians for the duration of the six month project. 

A greater sense of safety for existing residents

The Mannings project was unusual in that we were brought in towards the end of the residents’ rehousing. Southern Housing Group had grown concerned that there was one remaining family in an emptied area of the estate that had grown increasingly vulnerable to ASB. We knew from the outset that Southern Housing Group needed to secure the properties quickly. Our experience of housing guardians alongside vulnerable residents and commitment to understanding both the Group’s and the residents’ needs made us best placed to take on the project.

Southern Housing Group’s key consideration was the safety of their residents. Like Dot Dot Dot, they exist to help the communities in which they work, and our aligned values made a strong foundation for the partnership. Residents from the estate were involved in key stages of the selection process, allowing them to have a say in who was appointed.

It was important to Southern Housing Group that any new neighbours would not only be responsible but well-managed. As part of our proposal, we included a profile of Jess, Dot Dot Dot’s relationship coordinator (RC) in charge of property and guardian management at The Mannings, to provide reassurance and a personal touch. With the lowest relationship coordinator to guardian ratio in the sector, our RCs each look after 75 guardians, allowing them to develop supportive relationships and address any issues effectively. 

We also made it clear to our prospective guardians that it was important they built a good relationship with remaining residents in the block. We build good neighbourliness into our model because we know that our guardians, by virtue of their volunteering (each guardian volunteers for 16 hours per month for good causes), make great neighbours and responsible temporary residents.

Our agile approach at Shoreham-by-Sea

We were brought onto the project at The Mannings to provide an effective short-term solution for Southern Housing Group, who needed not only to ensure the safety of the emptying estate, but the safety of their residents as quickly as possible.

Our agile approach allowed us to set out a quick setup plan, bringing four properties up to standard and moving our first guardians in by the end of January, just a month after signing the management agreement. It is testament to the dexterity of our approach and the hard work of the Dot Dot Dot team that we were able to take on a project over Christmas, at the start of a new lockdown and away from our London headquarters with such a quick turnaround.

As we had come onto the project at a late stage in the rehousing process, it was also vital that we could ensure a smooth handover once our service was no longer needed, six months after we moved our first guardian in. Southern Housing Group were impressed with our service, commenting that “Dot Dot Dot were a pleasure to work with from start to finish. All departments and officers were helpful, understanding, and knowledgeable. We didn’t have any issues with the property hand back and there was clear communication and expectations set, which meant it all went smoothly.” 

We set out expectations right from the start, offering transparency and giving our clients peace of mind that we can guarantee vacant possession within 30 days of being given notice, which was particularly important given the short-term and sensitive nature of The Mannings project.

Introducing additional security: Vigilance

As Southern Housing Group continued to rehouse residents in different areas of the estate, more areas started to become vulnerable and there were concerns over an increase in ASB. Due to the condition of the properties, guardianship was not a viable option, but we recommended Vigilance, an ethical security company, to provide hard security services at the estate. Vigilance employs ex-Armed Forces personnel to help them reintegrate back into the workforce, and their commitment to social value both through their work and support for the Gurkha Welfare Trust make us proud to partner with them. 

Our commitment not only to our clients’ needs but also to existing, often vulnerable, residents makes us best placed to navigate sensitive contexts and complex needs in estates like The Mannings. We work closely with our clients through often changing and challenging circumstances, offering alternative solutions like Vigilance in addition to providing property guardianship with purpose. Despite The Mannings project’s short lifespan of six months, we were still able to deliver approximately £608 worth of social value, alongside great neighbours and a greater sense of safety for the remaining families. 

If you want to find out more about how we can cater to complex empty property needs, sign up to our newsletter, Meanwhile Thoughts, or contact us at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com.

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.

Six tips for sourcing furniture on a budget

July 28, 2021

You have just had a meeting with the Dot Dot Dot team to welcome you to property guardianship, and you’ve been given the keys to your new space! What next? 

Alongside cheaper living costs, a welcoming guardian community and an opportunity to give back to causes you care about, living with Dot Dot Dot also enables you to get creative redecorating your home. The prospect of filling an empty space can often feel daunting, so just follow our guide to sourcing furniture on a budget based on our recent experience of  furnishing  a studio flat in Queen’s Park, north west London.

1. Connect with friends who are giving stuff away

If you’ve got a friend who’s decided to Marie Kondo their life, now is the time to get in touch with them. Start contacting friends and family early to ask if anyone is having a clear out. You’ll find that people are more than happy to donate their unloved items. We were kindly given some cushions, a print for the wall and a chair!

2. Keep an eye on Freecycle, Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree

There is a wealth of furniture being given away or sold cheaply online if you’re willing to look for it. We found a 2-seater sofa worth £500, a coffee table and a bedside table that were going for free, so it’s worth signing up for email notifications and keeping an eye out for gems. You could try:

3. Get creative

Decorating on a budget sometimes requires creativity to get the ambience you’re looking for. For the creatively challenged, there’s some easy options out there for you. Try putting dried lavender in an old glass bottle, or installing a lantern-style light shade for softer lighting. We found three light shades for £6 on Argos. 

4. Look for cheap soft furnishing options in charity shops

Charity shops are not just for clothing – you can also find some great homeware if you know where to look. We found a fluffy grey rug which is great for sectioning off the living space in a studio flat. There are also plenty of online guides to the best areas for charity shopping.

5. Get same day delivery on Argos

Argos offers same day delivery on most of its items, so it is a good resource if you are keen to get settled into your new space. It has everything from lamps, to bed frames, to kitchen appliances, so you can order everything in one go. They also have some great artificial flowers and plants if you have a tendency to kill the real thing.

6. Hire a van with Zipcar

If you want to make the most of sites like Freecycle and need a van to pick up larger items, Zipcar is the place to go. They currently operate in London, Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge, and you can hire a large van from £10 an hour or £95 for the day. Pick up and drop off points are easy to come by, so it’s perfect if you need to transport furniture from A to B.

For more inspiration for decorating your space on a budget, check out our guide for re-styling your home. If you’re not yet a Dot Dot Dot guardian, apply now online.

 

Never knowingly underhoused

July 20, 2021

At Dot Dot Dot, we know from our own experience and from our guardians that finding a home to rent in the private rented sector is a gamble.  Some landlords are considerate and diligent, and some homes are well maintained and in good condition, but many aren’t.  Creating an alternative to this uncertainty by providing well-managed, inexpensive homes is part of our reason for existence.

New entrants into rentals market

So it’s good to see household names entering the market for private rented homes on a large scale, with an intention to provide a consistently good quality experience for residents and a long-term commitment to the sector.  John Lewis has announced that it will build around 10,000 homes for private rent, and Lloyds Banking Group plans to become a large private landlord too, through its new brand, Citra Living, which it launched this month.  Citra is making 45 flats in Peterborough available over the coming weeks, with 400 more to follow this year and 800 expected in 2022.  

The homes will provide the businesses with a reliable rental income, making up for earnings both are seeing disappear elsewhere as John Lewis stores lose out to online shopping and Lloyds’ profit margins on lending are hit by low interest rates. 

Given the size of both businesses – and the value of their brands as signifiers of reliability – they can’t afford to provide a poor service through these new offshoots, since to do so would tarnish their reputation as a whole.  Also, because they will be planning to own and manage their buildings for the long haul, they may be able to offer greater security of tenure to their tenants, giving confidence that residents can stay in one place for as long as they like, unlike many private sector tenants who have to relocate every year or two.

The growth of “Built to Rent”

It is likely that they will be followed by more well-known businesses into this ‘Built to Rent’ (B2R) market.  Research by Savills suggests that there is huge scope for growth here.  It estimated that there were already 30,000 completed B2R homes in 2019, with 37,500 under construction and 72,200 in planning.  While these are large numbers, the completed homes so far make up only 1% of the total value of privately rented housing in the UK, dwarfed by the millions owned by individual landlords.  

Savills predicts that the proportion of homes rented out by large businesses will rise to 35% of the private rental market, worth £544bn, when the B2R sector reaches maturity, though this will take decades.  Even at the predicted scale, the B2R sector in the UK would be smaller than that in the US, where 47% of rented homes are managed by institutional investors.

At Dot Dot Dot we welcome this shift, not because it is a perfect solution but because it should incrementally improve the experience of private tenants.  This should occur directly, through B2R landlords offering a better service, but also because high-street estate agents and small landlords will need to up their game in terms of quality and reliability to compete.   

Pushing up standards

In the same way, we want to make sure that property guardianship is a reliable option for people who want flexible housing that is also great value.  That means all property guardian companies need to reliably meet basic standards, so that would-be guardians can choose the company whose approach and properties they like best without worrying about safety or professionalism.  We work towards this by delivering our own work to high standards so that others have to improve to remain competitive, and also by publicising the legal minimum standards all guardians are entitled to.

Improvements for tenants and guardians are particularly important since the government’s current focus on supporting homeownership alone isn’t a complete remedy for Britain’s housing problems.  Given the levels house prices have reached, many people – including many of our residents – believe they will never be able to afford to buy even with help from government schemes, which in any case often only serve to push up prices even higher.  Large numbers of people will be renting in the private rented sector – or living as property guardians – for the foreseeable future, so pushing up standards here has got to be part of the solution.

 

Five simple steps to re-styling your home

July 14, 2021

Once you’ve secured your new home, you’ll probably be thinking – how can I start decorating? One of the benefits of being a Dot Dot Dot guardian is that in a lot of our properties you have the creative freedom to paint and refresh your space so you can really feel at home. As we recently created a show flat in Queen’s Park, we’ve got plenty of top decorating tips to share – with one key thing in mind – how to decorate affordably. 

1. Stripping wallpaper

Time to ditch that tired wallpaper to give your walls a fresh start? Thankfully this one-day DIY job can be done fairly painlessly. First, make sure your floors are covered with old sheets or newspaper to protect them from debris. Next, test how easily the paper peels off the walls with a putty knife – if it comes away easily, then you’re dealing with an easy task. If it doesn’t budge then you’ll need to use water and a chemical stripper. We’ve got the method for both below:

Peelable wallpaper

You’ll need:

  • Putty knife or an old bank card cut into the shape you need 
  • Soap
  • Water
  • A cloth

This simple method entails loosening the edge of the paper with the putty knife, and tearing carefully. Repeat all around the room until the walls are free of wallpaper, and voila – all that’s needed now is a thorough clean with soapy water. Make sure the walls are completely dry before you begin painting.

Traditional hard-to-remove wallpaper

  • Water
  • Wallpaper stripper like this one from B&Q
  • Spray bottle
  • Putty knife or an old bank card cut into the shape you need 
  • Soap
  • Water
  • A cloth
  • Rubber gloves

Mix your wallpaper stripper with water as per the instructions on the bottle, then pour into a spray bottle. Spray the mixture onto a small section of the walls and leave to absorb for a few minutes. Then, as with the peelable wallpaper, use the putty knife to loosen the edges of the paper and scrape off, repeating the spray, absorb, peel method all around the room. Lastly, go over the walls thoroughly with soap and water to remove any residue left behind!

2. A fresh coat of paint

A good place to start is to consider what you want the finished look to be. Don’t forget that you don’t have to paint all four walls the same colour – do you want an accent wall? Could the door frames be a standout colour? Make sure to consider your approach carefully before you begin. 

Once you have an idea of the style you want, pick up some samples and get testing your colour palette out. This will give you the chance to see what the colours look like at different times of the day and in different rooms. We recommend painting your samples onto paper and tacking the paper to the wall – just in case the light colour you might choose doesn’t cover up the dark sample you started with!

must haves for painting your walls:

  • Paint
  • Paint roller
  • Paint tray 
  • Drop cloths
  • Paintbrushes
  • Masking tape (for neat edges)
  • Damp cloth

Before getting stuck into the main event, ensure that all of your furniture is either out of the room, or completely covered with old sheets or newspaper for protection. Next, grab your masking tape and firmly cover where the wall meets the floor or skirting board, and the ceiling, to ensure clean paint lines.

Next, with your roller brush at the ready, work from the ceiling down, moving your way methodically around the room. Roller brushes are good for covering large areas quickly but you will find it easier to use a paint brush when it comes to painting closer to the ceiling and floor/skirting board. 

You’ll want good ventilation to keep the air flowing through your property at this stage – make sure to keep windows open and consider having a fan on to encourage air movement (plus, the fans will help speed up the drying process). 

If you’re covering up dark walls, don’t forget that you’ll probably need to apply several coats to ensure complete coverage, or first use a primer. 

Once you’re done with the fun part, you’ll want to clean your brushes and rollers to keep them in good condition for next time. For latex and water-based paints, all that’s needed is a thorough rinse through with soap and water. For oil-based paint, you’ll need some mineral spirits to really wash the residue away. 

Top tip: people will often give away free paint that they no longer need or want on Freecycle and Facebook Marketplace. Check out these options if you’re looking to source paint on the cheap!

3. Easy to lay flooring

For a cheap and effective option to cover up any worn out flooring, you’re in pretty safe hands with a roll of lino, or stick on vinyl tiles. As the simplest and most cost-effective way of sprucing up your floor, peel and stick tiles can look more professional than you might think. B&Q does a great range of simple colours from just £8 per M2. 

If you’re after something soft under foot, you might consider opting for carpet tiles. Most of them will come with sticky backs making application simple and straightforward. Check out Screwfix’s range of shades and hues for prices from £39.99 for a pack of 16 tiles. 

A third low-maintenance option is a good coat of paint. This oft-overlooked method of sprucing up a floor can add a sumptuous accent to your new room – plus, it’s a great way to use up any leftover paint you might have from refreshing the walls! 

4. “Upcycling” second-hand furniture 

Tired and dated furniture might not be on the top of your list to collect via Freecycle or a charity shop – but what if you were to give it a revamp? Instead of buying new and often badly made pieces, restyling a second-hand table means you’ll be  creating a unique item for your home. 

Check out car boot sales, charity shops, Freecycle and Facebook Marketplace for inspiration. If the item is wooden, consider how you might give it a spruce – does it just need sanding and re-varnishing? Or would it benefit from a coat of paint? Remember that chalk-based paint works best on wood, and you’ll need to add a top varnish or wax layer to protect your piece and give it a finished sheen. 

If you have a chair with grubby material on it but have never re-upholstered before, don’t worry. YouTube is a great resource for simple how-to videos to make the most out of your new item. Plus, a simple search on Ebay will throw up a wide range of fabric offcuts for low prices to give your piece a brand new style. 

5. Deep clean

Top tip: if you’re looking for an economically and environmentally friendly cleaning solution for your home, a solution of bicarb, vinegar and lemon can actually clean just as well as many commercial cleaning products! The Guardian’s handy guide provides a run down of how the experts give their homes a going over with these three simple ingredients. 

Start with cleaning the bathroom. Spray your shower, bath, toilet and sink down with your chosen bathroom cleaner and leave to soak for a few minutes. Using the rough side of a cleaning sponge, get to work scrubbing down the bath or shower, focusing on areas that need special attention. 

You’ll then want to give the kitchen some attention. Starting with the fridge, use an antibacterial spray and go over all exterior surfaces. Remove shelves and trays from the fridge and clean thoroughly with soapy water.  Repeat this step with any other white goods you have in your kitchen. Then wipe down drawers and cabinet faces, and clean your sink with bleach making sure to rinse thoroughly afterwards to avoid staining. 

Next using glass cleaner and a microfibre cloth, go through the property to remove marks and stains on all of the windows and mirrors. 

Lastly, using a hoover or a dustpan and brush, make your way through each room to clear up any dust and debris left behind after your wall-painting and floor-laying. A damp cloth can be handy to really get into the corners of your rooms to ensure a polished finish. 

Discover more about Dot Dot Dot guardianship and how to apply to become a property guardian. Stay posted for part two, where we’ll be revealing six tips for sourcing furniture on a budget. 

Property guardianship isn’t just for Londoners: Letchworth Garden City

June 25, 2021

In 2019, we brought our mission to provide safe, affordable housing for those who want to do more good to Letchworth Garden City, the world’s first garden city, in North Hertfordshire. We have partnered with Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation (LGCHF), a self-funded charitable organisation, to secure a block of flats in the town centre, housing 36 guardians in 19 1- and 2-bed flats across the three years. 

Letchworth still upholds its original vision, set out by Ebeneezer Howard before its conception in 1903, that income generated by managing local assets will be reinvested back into the community. LGCHF continues this work today, working to invest in initiatives with its community in mind. 

We are proud to support the foundation not only in securing their empty assets, but in their placemaking objectives, assisting them to ‘support, fund and deliver activities to meet [their] charitable commitments for the benefit of our local communities’. Since the project began in 2019, our Letchworth guardians have contributed 4,147 hours of voluntary work to local charitable causes such as Letchworth Foodbank and Love Letchworth.

Not just for Londoners

Property guardianship has typically been associated with cities, and particularly London, and if you asked someone to describe a ‘typical’ guardianship property, they will probably describe an unusual building, likely a pub or a bank, in a desirable location in the heart of the city. In reality, the need for property guardianship is widespread, and there is no such thing as a typical property or a typical guardian. We have taken on a huge variety of residential and commercial properties, and myriad projects in areas beyond the M25, from Shoreham, to Manchester, to Henley-on-Thames. 

Empty properties are not just a problem for London’s housing circles; all over the UK, long-term vacant dwellings are a security risk, a nuisance to the communities that surround them, and a financial burden for their owners. In 2020, there were 268,385 empty buildings in the UK, with 30,548 of those in London. Outside of London, it is a similar story: there were 26,275 empty buildings in the East of England last year, which is almost the population of Letchworth. Our experience has shown that towns are not exempt from the predicament of empty buildings; there is just as much of a need for property guardianship in Letchworth or High Wycombe as there is in London. 

Setting up outside of the city

The age of the Letchworth’s original buildings and its additions in the 60s and 70s has inspired LGCHF’s plans to regenerate several of its assets. The long-term nature of the regeneration has left some buildings empty with an uncertain purpose, leaving them vulnerable to potential security risks. With our broad experience of delivering property guardianship outside of London, we were able to mobilise a management plan quickly, allowing LGCHF the time and space to solidify their plans whilst we secured the building. 

Filling voids in non-traditional property guardianship areas requires a tailored approach. With a different target audience in our smaller, town-based projects, we have to think differently when marketing our properties. Motivations for moving and priorities may differ from those looking to live in a city, people might use different channels to look for their housing, or they may not have heard of property guardianship before.

One thing that all Dot Dot Dot guardians do have in common, however, is that they are interested in giving back to their community. One tactic we employ is to build a base of interest through contacting voluntary organisations, in order to reach volunteers who are looking for housing. This also helps us to establish a network of organisations, to which we can direct our guardians’ voluntary efforts. This was important in Letchworth, where the foundation’s mission is focused on funding charitable initiatives in the area. In a survey we conducted in 2020, 67% of Letchworth Garden City respondents volunteered in the borough. 

Taking care of everything

As property owners well know, there can be a huge number of moving parts to consider when managing empty assets, particularly assets that are empty for unknown lengths of time. In Letchworth Garden City, we took on all of the facilities management for the block, allowing LGCHF to allocate their time and resources elsewhere. As we take each project on a case by case basis, we can build in different levels of management where required.

Property guardianship is not only for property owners in London – wherever they are, we give our clients the time and space to support their future plans whilst we take care of everything in the meantime.

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

Dot Dot Dot…10 years and counting

June 23, 2021

Dot Dot Dot chief executive, Peter Brown, reflects on what he’s learnt after moving from a housing association to work for a social enterprise.

So Dot Dot Dot is 10 years old…and I’ve been part of it for seven of those years. The first time I heard about Dot Dot Dot was in about 2012 when someone in my network mentioned that someone he knew had started a property guardianship social enterprise. That turned out to be Katharine, who had recently started her social enterprise and was looking for properties to house people who did great volunteering. The concept has been proven with some early successes, but more properties were needed. 

At that time, I was working for the local authority housing organisation, Tower Hamlets Homes. Like most housing providers of that size, we had a small number of properties that couldn’t be used for longterm local authority tenants. I was looking for a solution that was better than just leaving the properties empty and hoping for the best, which had been the strategy up to that point. Having people who also volunteered whilst looking after the properties met a business need, because it cut risk and costs, and gave long-term tenants great neighbours. It made my housing management colleagues feel good that properties were being put to a good use by working with an organisation that was innovative as well as trustworthy. 

Because I worked for a client before I came to work at Dot Dot Dot, I got to experience the full value of what happens when you partner with an organisation that is purposeful, exists for all the right reasons and has a clear, socially responsible approach to doing business. Perhaps it’s unusual to switch from a housing provider to supplier, but many of the values that housing organisations hold true are shared by Dot Dot Dot, The way that work is carried out has changed over the years, but the Dot Dot Dot business model, our desire for impact and the commitment we have to good results for everyone hasn’t altered.

I have always been a fan of the social enterprise model. To my mind, they occupy that space somewhere between purely commercial organisations and fully mission-driven charities, and try to take the best bits of each, aiming to create something powerful, purposeful and, crucially, sustainable. It’s been a pleasure to be part of Dot Dot Dot’s journey this far and to get to work with so many great clients, colleagues and guardians over the years.

Most of my career before I joined Dot Dot Dot was in the public sector, and for organisations much larger than Dot Dot Dot. When I contrast what it’s like to lead Dot Dot Dot with those earlier professional experiences, there’s something quite freeing about organisations like ours that are smaller and able to be nimble. At Dot Dot Dot, we are very focused on doing the right things for our clients and those we house, and increasingly we will be focusing our efforts partnering with clients who we think will enable us to do our best work. At Dot Dot Dot we are trying to do one thing – provide housing that makes it easier for people to do good – and everyone in the team wants to do this and to find ways to do it well. 

It’s also good to be able to stay connected with people working in all kinds of housing organisations – the big, the small, the specialised, as well as the more general. Through our careful choice of guardians who want to volunteer, and our diligent management approach, we have always made sure that we can add value to our clients’ work and projects. We know that we get our strongest feedback when we are working in situations where choices about what guardians are on site and how they are managed matter the most. These situations commonly are the more complicated regeneration and development programmes, and bigger buildings in the areas where property owners have a long term stake and ongoing interest. They are often settings where clients have sensitive projects and often with longer-term residents closeby.

Another reflection is that I’m more certain than ever about how vital a brilliant team is. Dot Dot Dot has a great team of people working for it – with its Board supporting the exec – and the collective value of the team’s commitment, energy and skills is immense. We couldn’t achieve what we have over the last 10 years without our people.

Over the years, the way we have done our work has of course changed – we have more staff, we have evolved and improved how we work and, as we have become bigger, we have become more professionalised and created more specialised roles. When I began at Dot Dot Dot, we could travel to all of the properties in our portfolio by bike (or bus if it was raining!), since they were all in East London. We aren’t so local anymore – we have properties throughout London and the south east, as well as the south coast, Oxford and Cambridge and Manchester – but the commitment we have to our work, our desire to create a positive impact and our sense of values has not changed at all…and hopefully won’t do in the next 10 years.

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.

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.

On the ground: inspections and monitoring

March 18, 2021

In our ‘on the ground’ series, our Director of Services, Mark Ackroyd, explores some of the details of how our service works. In our last instalment, we looked at how Dot Dot Dot mobilises in large or complex properties. This month, we look at how we use inspections to monitor properties over the life of a contract.

 

Why inspections matter

When managing voids, an ‘inspection’ is often focused on condition. An ‘inspection’ might be completed in minutes by an operative who is covering a large patch. If you manage residential properties, you might use more intensive inspections that support your compliance regime. In some cases, they might also be part of your system for resident and community liaison.

That last model is more similar to the approach taken by Dot Dot Dot. Although we are managing our clients’ ‘voids’, those properties are also the housing stock that we provide to guardians, and we monitor properties with both of those things in mind.

For Dot Dot Dot, inspections achieve several goals:

  • Regular direct contact with our guardians in their own homes
  • Confirmation of guardian occupation and compliance
  • Actively using our right to enter properties
  • Monitoring property condition or changes
  • Ensuring safety and compliance.

Because inspections are so key to our operation, we rely on our in-house field team for this work. This team works with our properties and guardians at every step, from initial mobilisation to final vacant possession. We use customised software that allows our team to log inspections directly in the field, providing immediate and auditable inspection information back to head office.

 

How we inspect

Our normal approach is to use three types of inspections to monitor our properties:

Monthly space inspections

We use the word ‘space’ to refer to the part of a property that is allocated to one guardian, whether a room or a larger part of a property. Our unannounced monthly inspections involve checking each space for basic condition and safety, including checks of fire and CO alarms. The main focus is to check that each space is being properly and safely occupied by the correct guardian. 

In most cases, inspections are a chance for a positive interaction with our guardians. Our in-house field team means that guardians can have a conversation with a direct and informed member of our team. Inspections also allow us to identify any issues arising from occupation, and we can quickly escalate any concerns:

  • Is there evidence of additional occupants or unaccompanied guests?
  • Has the property been left unoccupied without our knowledge and permission?
  • Are children staying at the property?
  • Might smoking or drug use be happening at the property?
  • Is the guardian keeping the property secure?

 

Monthly property checks

Alongside our space inspections, Dot Dot Dot also carries out a larger monthly set of checks at every property. These checks will be familiar to most residential property managers, and include critical condition and safety checks:

  • Are exit routes clear and safe?
  • Are communal facilities (kitchens, bathrooms, refuse areas) sanitary and in good condition?
  • Are doorways and perimeters secure?
  • Are communal safety systems functioning correctly?
  • Are there evidence of disrepair, vandalism or ASB?

Depending on the property, checks of safety systems could vary from a simple check that shared stairwells are clear, to a full battery of on-site checks covering fire systems, water monitoring, CCTV or other systems. 

In some properties, trained guardians will have specific duties to provide additional monitoring. This could include tasks such as carrying out call-point tests or flushing unused plumbing outlets. Our monthly checks will include checking the guardian logs and escalating any gaps or discrepancies.

These checks are standard across all of our projects, regardless of the formal division of duties between Dot Dot Dot and our clients. This gives us peace of mind that our guardians are in safe homes, and gives our clients the assurance that their properties are being monitored with the diligence required in a residential setting, even if their own records say ‘void’.

 

Quarterly in-depth checks

Every three months, each property is subject to a deep-dive inspection.  This lengthy and detailed inspection includes a rigorous check of compliance, condition, occupation and upkeep.

Taking several hours for our larger properties, these inspections take our staff into every space of a property so that no part of a building is ‘unseen’. We check for changes in property condition, and examine the overall upkeep and hygiene of the property in detail, looking both at guardian activity (such as upkeep of communal areas) and at broader issues such as maintenance needs in gardens or other external areas. We also carry out much more detailed checks of compliance issues, with particular attention to doors, exits, stairways and other structural and safety elements that can deteriorate over time without being easily identified by guardians who live there every day.

Our field software means that our team is guided through each check in detail, and can capture notes and photographs of defects directly into their reports.

These quarterly checks include customised elements where needed, so that we pay special attention to the things that need particular attention for each property. Examples could include accessing client-managed outbuildings, checking ducts or roof spaces, assessing the impact of local ASB, or confirming that contained/managed asbestos remains undisturbed and safe.  

 

Taking a complete view

The three types of inspection described above apply to every area where Dot Dot Dot works. In more complex buildings, they might also be accompanied with other forms of monitoring that the property requires. These can vary from weekly flushing regimes to daily site inspections.

This range of inspections allow us to have a detailed view of each property and of how it is being occupied by our guardians.  It allows us to keep our guardians safe, but also to ensure that our guardians are observing our guidelines. Our team’s visits allow us to develop a good understanding of each project, which can be important in old or unusual properties that might not be a priority for our clients.

As well as monitoring our own performance, our inspections allow us to inform clients of emerging defects or risks, and even to offer insight into issues affecting other local residents that have been hidden from view. The combination of committed guardians, dedicated staff and structured inspections allows us to have a complete view of even the most obscure property.

If you want to find out more about how we work, you can sign up to Meanwhile Thoughts, our monthly newsletter for property owners.

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