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

March 16, 2021

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

Aligned values

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

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

Supporting relationships with stakeholders

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

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

Social impact in Newham

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

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

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

Adapting to new challenges

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

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

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

Life as a Dot Dot Dot 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.

Tailoring a management plan with A2 Dominion in Oxford

February 11, 2021

Gibbs Crescent is an estate made up of studios and 1-bed flats, located by Osney Marina in west Oxford. Since July 2019, we have worked with A2 Dominion, a housing association with a social purpose, to house property guardians whilst the estate prepares for a period of regeneration. We currently house 19 guardians across 17 flats in the estate. Since our occupation in 2019, Oxford guardians like Beth have contributed 3,691 hours to good causes. 

 

A set-up plan to meet individual needs

When a client comes to us with an empty asset, their list of priorities will rarely exactly match that of the clients that have come before them. We manage a varied portfolio of properties and the clients we work with are just as varied. With that in mind, we know that taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach will not deliver the best results. We can call upon our previous experience of what has worked well in the past in a variety of projects to propose a tailored management plan that suits a new client’s specific needs.

 

What A2 Dominion needed at Gibbs Crescent

At Gibbs Crescent, it was important to A2 Dominion that we be sensitive to existing residents on the estate. In any project where there are existing residents to consider, it is vital to hand properties over to Dot Dot Dot in an appropriate way that will not disturb the residents or attract any negative attention. We initially took on 12 flats so as not to over-occupy, expanding to 17 in 2020. In this way, the introduction of guardians to Gibbs Crescent was manageable for both Dot Dot Dot and A2 Dominion, as well as not inconveniencing residents. 

A2 Dominion are particularly happy with their experience of using Dot Dot Dot guardians to secure their empty buildings, and said about their work with us: “Our experience with the guardians has been very positive. Once the void properties have been accepted there is very little involvement from our side. Having the guardians in the void properties has given us the peace of mind we needed whilst preparing to redevelop the estate. The guardians have been invaluable as they have enabled us to identify leaks, which we would have been otherwise unaware of and would have potentially caused structural damage if left undetected. They have also made us aware of some anti-social behaviour on the estate and have helped to maintain a number of the small private gardens in the empty properties, even working alongside some of the remaining residents to grow their own vegetables.”

A central part of our model for property guardianship is to only house well-vetted, responsible guardians who are interested in volunteering in their local community; this ensures that they will be sensitive to their surroundings and the other people that live there. It is also important for us to house a diverse range of guardians, and we are particularly happy to be able to house people that are local to the area. Our Oxford guardians vary greatly in age, from 21 to 62, and 14 were living locally in Oxford and two in Oxfordshire before their guardianship. 

As we offer a flexible and open-minded approach, we are able to better collaborate with our clients to allow them to spend their valuable time and resources on the things that matter to them most. In the case of Gibbs Crescent, we worked together to develop a triage process, in which responsibility was clearly divided between Dot Dot Dot and A2 Dominion. In many cases, projects are time sensitive because empty properties can pose a security risk. We are committed to fast service delivery in Oxford, aiming to turnaround the triage process within two weeks. You can see the flow of the triage process below. 

 

 

A flexible approach to property management

As our Head of Services, Mark Ackroyd, explores in his ‘On the ground’ blog, understanding at the outset how property management will operate across the lifetime of a guardian contract is critical to delivering maximum benefits for property owners. That’s why we offer a flexible approach, which can be modified and calibrated to our clients’ changing needs.

As the property industry was hit by the emergence of Covid-19 in 2020, many in the sector had to adjust to a new normal and in some instances redevelopment plans were put on hold. It is at times like these that meanwhile residential use is so vital – to avoid the plight of empty buildings which can so often be empty for longer than intended due to factors out of the client’s control. As was the case with many of our clients’ plans, redevelopment timelines at Gibbs Crescent were pushed back to keep everyone working as safely as possible. We were able to offer a solution by taking on another phase of flats on the estate, growing from the 12 properties we managed in 2019 to 17 properties in 2020. 

Because we build flexibility into our approach, we can modify our practices instead of having to overhaul them completely, and we are resilient when met with obstacles such as the Covid-19 crisis. Our agile model allows us not only to meet our clients’ needs, but also to adapt to new challenges when they arise. 

If you’d like to find out more about our agile approach to property management, you can sign up to our newsletter here or get in touch with us at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com.

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

January 29, 2021

From east London Dot Dot Dot guardian, Tom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 22, 2021

From our founder, Katharine Hibbert 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The law has spoken – property guardianship and business rates

January 15, 2021

From our founder, Katharine Hibbert

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

What happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What didn’t happen?

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

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

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

Dot Dot Dot’s response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

On the ground: Bringing guardianship to larger properties

January 15, 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 first article we looked at the ways in which Dot Dot Dot can tailor guardianship contracts to meet the specific needs of individual clients. This month, we explore how we handle the first stages of a guardianship contract, with a focus on large or more complex buildings.

Guardianship can be a very effective solution for larger properties. Examples of properties where Dot Dot Dot has provided guardianship include landmark office blocks, former schools, colleges and care homes. Currently, our largest project is a former hostel housing up to 90 guardians at Booth House in Whitechapel. 

These properties can require long timelines for development. In the interim, they can prove difficult to secure and suffer quickly from dilapidation. Guardianship can offer a cost-effective way to tackle those problems, but many property owners are concerned about how this would be delivered given the complexities of larger buildings.

Our first ‘On the ground’ piece explained how we use each client’s individual priorities to guide our approach. Using that knowledge, our approach to larger properties has three phases: 

  • Devise a safe and suitable plan of occupation
  • Find the quickest and most-cost effective path to occupation
  • Deliver value to the client at each stage

1. Devise a safe and suitable plan of occupation

This phase can begin even before a client has decided to use guardianship, and is unlocked through a Dot Dot Dot site visit. Our aim is to establish whether we can meet the client’s needs for the property via guardianship, and if so, how that could be structured in the property. One of the aims of an initial visit is also to establish quickly where guardianship will not be suitable so that clients can quickly move on to other solutions.

Using a combination of our own expertise and, where relevant, external experts, we will devise an approach that allows safe residential occupation. Our approach is strongly focused around achieving a safe basic standard for the property. Fire safety and provision of core facilities are major areas for consideration, and we look across the range of hazards set out in the HHSRS. These will be familiar to most property managers (e.g. electrical and gas safety, water management, safety of windows/doors/access, asbestos management).

What may be different, though, is that we do not need to conform to conventional specifications for refurbishment, and can instead be imaginative in finding ways to adapt the space and its facilities. What can we borrow, move, switch off or repurpose? Are there areas that can simply be isolated or decommissioned? What are the critical areas to protect? What can we modify and what needs to be preserved? With advance knowledge about how we work with our guardians, we can also be more specific in our risk assessments and plans.

2. Find the quickest and most-cost effective path to occupation

For large or complex properties, the first step is normally to obtain reports, surveys and quotes based on the risks and issues that we have identified. This can typically be done in a few days, and in many cases will run alongside active works.The fire risk assessment (FRA) is a key report in fixing our occupation plan and schedule of works, but there can be a range of more detailed in-house and independent assessments. The scope of these checks will depend on the property and on any existing knowledge or documents shared by the client.

In a typical project, the scope of work is surprisingly limited: service the core systems (e.g. gas, electrical and fire safety); complete minor adaptations (e.g. a shower installation); and undertake small remedials (e.g. lock changes, door adjustments). Cleaning or clearance may also be needed. For these projects, we may have agreed a full commercial proposal up-front with the client and will carry out reports and works in parallel, closely managing the schedule to move to occupation in one to three weeks.

For larger projects or properties in need of more work, we may break the mobilisation phase into three stages. This approach allows Dot Dot Dot and the client to manage costs and risks in a more structured way.

  1. A detailed package of reports, risk assessments and quotes
  2. Works toward initial occupation
  3. Final works to achieve full occupation

In more complex projects, typical works include electrical and gas improvements, alteration or replacement of fire systems, changes to partitions or firestopping, installation of basic kitchens, or remedials to larger structures like roofs.

Where this kind of work is required, we work hard to avoid delays which can equate to cost for our clients. Our presence on site may already be enough to mitigate security and management costs in some cases, and our team works quickly. Using a combination of existing contractor relationships and flexible local procurement allows us to work to tight timelines. We also have a heavy on-site presence, actively working with contractors to make quick decisions and solve problems before they cause delays.

This stage is also not a ‘standstill’ on other aspects of our work. With our core operational team involved in setup, and our marketing team engaged early to recruit great guardians, we ensure a tight transition from ‘work in progress’ to ‘guardians in occupation’. 

3. Value at every stage

As projects become more complex, the timelines are inevitably longer. In some cases, early reports and assessments could even rule out the eventual feasibility of guardianship. That’s why, in complex projects, we aim to deliver value to our clients at every stage.

The early work to assess the property will yield a package of reports, risk assessments and quotes that can assist in any future planning. This is particularly useful where property owners lack documentation, or where a property has deteriorated significantly. 

Even if a project does not proceed, initial works can ease the ongoing management of the property, since these will often focus on core ‘hygiene factors’. Examples of the early-stage improvements that yield immediate benefits could include:

  • Clean and clear
  • Environmental hazards identified or made safe
  • Utilities supplies identified and rationalised
  • Water system drained or controlled
  • Basic access/security issues resolved

As noted above, we put a strong focus on reaching the point of initial occupation. This will typically begin to unlock core security, social impact and cost savings benefits. Our plans may include reaching a basic level of occupation, but then continuing with additional works that will increase occupation and therefore improve cost mitigation or other benefits.

Of course, Dot Dot Dot’s goal is always to move rapidly to an effective guardianship solution. But we are mindful of the risks and schedules that impact property owners, and work to ensure that we can unlock value regardless of how a project may change course over time.

The steps described here will be familiar to many people who are involved in property management. What may be different is that, for Dot Dot Dot, property works are not an end in themselves, but are part of our delivery of a flexible and urgent service. Our diverse experience across hundreds of properties and dozens of clients helps us to cut through complexity and respond to the needs of the project and of the client. 

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

Working with Peabody for the future of Thamesmead

January 13, 2021

Built in the 1960s and deemed ‘the town of tomorrow’, Thamesmead’s distinctive brutalist architecture has been the backdrop to several culturally significant works of film and TV throughout the last 60 years, from A Clockwork Orange to Harry Potter. More recently, with the help of Peabody’s community investment, it has become a hub for culture and the arts and is home to Thamesmead festival and myriad community projects.

Since 2015, Dot Dot Dot have collaborated with Peabody to house property guardians in 120 properties in Thamesmead over the course of the housing association’s 10-year regeneration of the area. Over the last five years, we have housed almost 300 guardians in buildings that would otherwise be empty, and those guardians have contributed over 45,000 hours to worthwhile causes.

We take pride in our ability to be sensitive and responsive to our clients’ specific needs. We have the resources to conduct market research for our clients to gather both qualitative and quantitative data from our guardians. This valuable service gives our clients insight into who we house, where they volunteer their time and their contributions to their local economy and community.

After some discussions in the autumn about how to bring more value to the partnership, we conducted a survey to give Peabody a greater insight into the economic and social contribution of our guardians. 

Bringing economic regeneration to Thamesmead

Peabody are particularly interested in boosting Thamesmead’s local economy, not only for the inhabitants of post-regeneration Thamesmead but also for its current residents. Property guardianship can be an effective way to bring footfall and boost economic development in an area. 

We conducted phone interviews alongside the online survey to gather both qualitative and quantitative data from the 38 guardians (75% of resident guardians) that took part . A third of our guardians in Thamesmead run their own businesses, and, of those, 77% were based in Thamesmead. These businesses covered a multitude of areas, including dance teaching, project management, hairdressing, beauty, handywork, painting/decorating, media services, art production, young people and education, and poetry. Not only is it testament to how guardians can boost their local economy, but also to the sheer diversity of skill sets amongst the people we house.

Creating and sustaining a sense of community in Thamesmead

We have endeavoured throughout our partnership with Peabody to explore how we can best benefit the Thamesmead community. As we ask each of our guardians to volunteer 16 hours a month to a good cause of their choice, we have an invaluable resource that can be directed to local community projects and voluntary efforts. For example, Peabody are particularly aware of the need to help Thamesmead’s most vulnerable residents with grocery and prescription collections during the Covid-19 crisis, and asked us whether our guardians could support their efforts locally. The survey provided a good opportunity to ask guardians if they were interested in local Covid-19 volunteering and Mutual Aid groups, and we were able to direct the relevant people back to Peabody.

Due to a shared interest in social value, Dot Dot Dot and Peabody have a strong alignment of values. We also used the survey as a chance to gauge attitudes towards Thamesmead, and placed particular emphasis on whether guardians would stay in the area after their guardianship ended. Of those asked, 87% said they liked living in Thamesmead and 79% said they would consider living in Thamesmead after their guardianship had ended, making them potential future residents of the newly-renovated estate. In combining property guardianship with social value, we have helped Peabody to create and sustain a sense of community in Thamesmead which will last beyond our meanwhile partnership with them.

Through our sustainable approach to this long-term meanwhile project, Dot Dot Dot has contributed not only to Peabody’s meanwhile objectives for economic and community development in the area, but to their future vision too. To find out more about the history and future of Thamesmead, you can visit: https://www.thamesmeadnow.org.uk. 

 

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

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.

« Previous PageNext Page »

What are you looking for today?

Marketing Permissions

Dot Dot Dot Property Ltd will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing by email. Please confirm you are happy to hear from us by:

Email
You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at hello@dotdotdotproperty.com. We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By checking the box, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

GDPR
We use MailChimp as our marketing automation platform. By clicking below to submit this form, you acknowledge that the information you provide will be transferred to MailChimp for processing in accordance with their Privacy Policy and Terms.