Spotlight on Jessica: Knitting hats for newborns

October 31, 2022

While working as a student midwife, Jessica came across Bliss, a charity that supports parents and babies in neonatal care. After becoming a Dot Dot Dot property guardian, she started volunteering with the organisation. Jessica now knits hats and delivers them to local hospitals for premature newborns to wear.

We chatted with Jessica about what drove her to volunteer with Bliss when she became a Dot Dot Dot guardian.

 Staying connected to past passions 

While training to become a midwife,  Jessica often helped to deliver premature babies. This was when she first became aware of Bliss, which stocked baby clothes at the hospital where she worked. But it was only when she started looking at volunteering opportunities as a property guardian that she started volunteering for the organisation.

“When I became a Dot Dot Dot guardian, I saw Bliss listed on their volunteering resources for new guardians. I was inspired. I had forgotten about the amazing work Bliss does, and I knew straight away that I wanted to volunteer for them.

I loved being a midwife, but I realised over time that the job just didn’t suit me. Volunteering for Bliss has been such an amazing way to honour midwifery and stay connected to my past work.”

 Adding a little love to a tough situation 

Premature babies often come as a surprise. Parents won’t have had the time to pack bags or baby clothes. The clothes which Jessica makes by hand will often be the first outfit these babies wear.

“Delivering a baby prematurely can often be extremely stressful and upsetting. The hats I knit don’t take away that stress, but I hope they do add a little bit of love to a tough situation. They bring home comforts to a starkly medical setting.

I pick up knitting patterns from a local shop, and I get knitting. Once I have made a few hats, I pack them up and deliver the bundle to the hospital. I’ve only just started this journey. But I am hoping to start knitting socks, and then jumpers in the near future.”

 Making the time to give back

Jessica is busy retraining as a software engineer, but she’s found a unique set up which allows her to volunteer and focus on her career.

“I get to knit the hats at home so it’s really easy to fit in my volunteer work around my work schedule. One of the best things about Dot Dot Dot is that they hold you accountable. I used to volunteer, but I stopped when life got too busy. As a property guardian, I’m now making the time to give back to my community. I love that I am able to still support the women I used to work with as a midwife.”

Why being property guardian is right for Jessica 

Jessica lives with her partner in one of our west London flats and both of them are currently changing career paths. So they were looking for an inexpensive living solution when they heard about property guardianship through a friend.

“Being property guardians with Dot Dot Dot has helped our situation enormously. There’s no other way we could afford our own place while we’re both retraining. Property guardianship has given us the freedom to focus on the careers we want.

The flexibility that comes with being a guardian means that we can move out whenever we’re ready – we only need to give Dot Dot Dot 28 days’ notice. It’s also a huge bonus that we can decorate the flat how we want.

One of my favourite things about being a guardian is the sense of community.  We all know each other. Everyone is really sweet, and we all share a passion for volunteering. It’s nice coming home and saying hi to your neighbours.”

How we work with LB Brent to turn empty flats into inexpensive homes in Queen’s Park

March 22, 2022

The regeneration of South Kilburn in Queen’s Park is a 15-year project aiming to deliver over 2,400 new homes as part of a sustainable and mixed neighbourhood. Flats are vacated in phases to prepare blocks for demolition. However, leaving them empty can risk them becoming the target of anti-social behaviour or can mean maintenance issues that could affect existing residents aren’t spotted.

Life for local residents can become worse just when timelines are most critical and when housing teams are most stretched. For Dot Dot Dot, this can be an opportunity to add most value. With a depth of experience in regeneration projects, and a commitment to delivering positive social impact, we work with housing teams to manage voids in a way that maintains flexibility and positivity in the decant process.

Assessing if a property can be used for guardianship

Dot Dot Dot and LB Brent worked together to establish a process whereby properties could be identified as potentially suitable for guardianship and handed over – or returned if unsuitable – in an efficient, transparent manner:

  1. Property in pipeline: LB Brent allocates a property as available for potential guardian use, and invites Dot Dot Dot for a pre-assessment site visit. LB Brent and Dot Dot Dot agree properties which appear suitable for guardian occupation, and LB Brent undertakes any necessary work to ensure that the units pass their EICR and gas safety inspections, are weathertight and have secure windows and doors.
  2. Property ready for triage: LB Brent notifies Dot Dot Dot when they’re satisfied the property is at the handover standard, and sends over gas and electricity safety certs and asbestos documentation.
  3. Key collection and triage authorisation: Both parties agree a timeline for Dot Dot Dot to put the property through triage i.e. assess its suitability for guardianship. LB Brent signs a Triage Authorisation Form and hands over keys. Dot Dot Dot inputs the property and its accompanying authorisation is into a property tracker visible to both parties.
  4. Triage: Over a maximum two-week period, Dot Dot Dot will assess the suitability of the property for guardianship e.g. the amount / cost of work needed to make it viable for occupation in line with our minimum property standards.

Either the property will be accepted by Dot Dot Dot, in which case LB Brent will give authorisation for set up to be finalised and guardians to be housed. Or, Dot Dot Dot will determine that the property can’t be used for guardian occupation, provide the reason for rejection, return the keys and a Property Handback Form to LB Brent, and designate the property on the tracker as being handed back.

Housing guardians to keep properties safe

Once authorised to house guardians, Dot Dot Dot will take on the Council Tax and utilities accounts, add safety certs to our online folder that’s shared with LB Brent, and obtain a selective licence for each property.

Prospective guardians will be vetted, with key considerations being their financial security, ability to move out if given 28 days’ notice, and their desire to volunteer.

Councillor Eleanor Southwood, Cabinet member for housing and welfare reform at LB Brent, explains: “The first temporary guardian was housed in South Kilburn in April 2021, and there are now 19 guardians across four different blocks. They will be joined by dozens more over this year as the regeneration progresses. They have already volunteered over 1,500 hours to good causes, including at local community kitchens, Covid-19 vaccination centres and the Compass network which represents the LGBT+ community within the armed forces.”

The final stage – vacant possession and handback

Using guardians means property owners are able to ask for their buildings back at any time and for any reason – all they need to do is give 32 days’ notice. In turn, Dot Dot Dot will give its guardians the 28 days’ notice required by law.

Once notice has been served, guardians will begin to activate their move on plans, and Dot Dot Dot will offer rehousing options when available and appropriate. The properties are returned to LB Brent in a clean and clear condition, and after inspecting the property, LB Brent will sign a Property Handback Schedule to confirm its return. Dot Dot Dot will close the Council Tax and utilities accounts and transfer them back to LB Brent.

This entire process can occur over a period of a few months to several years, and can flex with the timelines of the council’s regeneration plans. In choosing to work in partnership, Dot Dot Dot is able to provide its guardians with inexpensive homes in a desirable, diverse and dynamic part of the capital, and LB Brent can keep its buildings safe, support its communities and generate positive social impact through volunteering.

Spotlight on: Cate and Charlotte, International Women’s Day

March 11, 2022

This International Women’s Day, we’re throwing the spotlight on two Dot Dot Dot guardians who are doing fantastic work to both support and lead the way for women in their careers and voluntary work.

Discover how our Manchester guardian, Cate, has powerfully forged her own artistic career path in light of an autism diagnosis. And how our west London guardian, Charlotte, who is volunteering with XLP – a charity focused on supporting young people to recognise their full potential – is helping to  create positive futures for women growing up in inner-city estates.

Cate, forging her artistic career path

From our Manchester guardian, Cate 

During the pandemic I was diagnosed with autism and began to find the work I was doing problematic, especially when I had to take on new responsibilities due to Covid. I started to feel that I needed to fundamentally change what I was doing and work on something new, with an emphasis on supporting others.

Equipped with my experience of being diagnosed with autism and the challenges I’d faced in light of this, I left my job to begin focusing on initiating an art agency. My goal was to create a platform for fellow creatives who struggled to gain normal agency representation due to having specific working needs like myself. Through this support, many artists have been able to go on to set up their own websites and control their own publicity.

Knowing Manchester to be a real hub of creativity and so a place where my arts agency could thrive, I left London behind to embark on a new stage of my life in West Didsbury as a Dot Dot Dot guardian. Soon after, I got a bar job in a pub in nearby Burton Road where there is a hive of artisan shops and businesses with whom I could connect and engage with.

This opened up another new avenue for me. The owner of the pub I was working in decided to utilise an empty unit space next door, and so myself and a female friend worked together to bring the space back into use as a gallery. The aim was to showcase art from local talent, many of whom are women, in rotating exhibitions to help them to publicise their work. Since then, we’ve had three exhibitions and have helped to raise the profile of 24 different artists in Manchester to a global audience through social media.

It’s been a huge learning curve for me as I’ve always wanted to do an MA in art curation but was held back by the cost. However, being so heavily involved in the running of the Next Door Gallery means that I’ve been able to gain first-hand experience in curation, practically executing my own MA. I’ve liaised directly with buyers across the globe as well as learned how to properly store and ship artwork internationally – something I never would have had the chance to do in my old life in London where my energy was zapped by other commitments.

Following the success of the gallery, I’ve been able to scale back on the amount of time I spend working to allow myself more space to focus on my own freelance artwork. Transforming part of my Dot Dot Dot flat into my art studio has been a lifeline for me to be able to develop and produce my work. I’ve recently been part of an art show at the Antwerp Mansions in Manchester and am currently in talks to hold my first solo exhibition on the subject of autism and what that means on a personal level.

Charlotte, XLP

From our west London guardian, Charlotte

For six months now, I’ve been volunteering as a mentor to a 14 year old girl with a charity called XLP. They’re focused on creating positive futures for young people who are growing up in inner-city estates in London and facing challenges in their home lives, at school and in employment. I work with young people in my own career as chair of the Women Employability Resource Group with YMCA, and it’s something that I love doing – but I wanted to work with women in a different capacity when volunteering. XLP was a perfect way for me to draw upon my existing skill set in order to support and provide mentorship to young women.

My role is to empower and support the young woman I work with to begin to lead and shape her own future. We do many things together such as grabbing a coffee or going for a walk – anything that facilitates a conversation with her in order for me to provide guidance. XLP are even organising a weekend away with fellow mentors and mentees, and so I’ll be helping to push her out of her comfort zone, giving her opportunities to experience things she wouldn’t have in her everyday life otherwise.

There are challenges involved that relate to mentees socio-economic backgrounds and a lack of positive female role models in their lives, and so my role as a mentee really hinges on building trust and providing a listening ear for her. Specifically as a woman, I hope to have a positive impact in broadening her worldview and demonstrating to her that she is allowed to make space for herself. I am there to help her break a pre-existing bias, encouraging her to realise that she belongs in this society just as much as men and boys, and to empower her to take up space in her community.

For myself, I’ve learnt so much from this young woman – you couldn’t do this role without really seeing and feeling the impact it has for her. It’s a privilege and an honor to have a space in her life and share her challenges and sit with them in those times. I feel incredibly grateful that I am a trusted person in her life, and I hope I can continue to enable her to create positive goals and put her mind to achieving them.

Then and now: 10 years of property guardianship

November 19, 2021

Dot Dot Dot founder Katharine Hibbert looks back at the industry she walked into in 2011 and how it’s developed over a decade.

When I had the idea for Dot Dot Dot back in 2010, property guardianship was almost unheard of in the UK.  I spent my first years in business explaining to property owners why placing people to live in empty buildings on a temporary basis was a better security solution than traditional approaches like guards or metal hoardings.  And in those early years several guardians told me that, when they saw our adverts, at first they assumed it was a scam because the value of the homes we offered seemed too good to be true. 

Fast forward to today, and the concept is much more familiar.   Many experienced property managers automatically consider guardianship in the menu of options for buildings that are due for regeneration or sale.  And most of those who come to us for housing know about guardianship from media coverage or have friends who are already guardians.   This means that our focus at Dot Dot Dot can move from explaining the basic business model to talking about what makes our approach, as one of Britain’s leading property guardian companies and the only social enterprise in the sector, different and special.  

As we celebrate the tenth anniversary of looking after our first property, here are my reflections on a decade in the industry.

2011 was the perfect moment to launch a property guardianship social enterprise…

As Dot Dot Dot’s founder, I was fortunate to be in the right place with the right idea at the right time.  My work as a journalist had allowed me to specialise in empty homes and the housing crisis, a topic I had been drawn to because – like many millennials – I found myself locked out of home ownership and stuck in expensive, poor-quality rented homes.  I had written a book and worked on a Channel Four programme on the topic, but I had reached the point where I wanted to do something practical to fix the issue, rather than just talk about how bad the problem was.

At the same time, I saw that the property guardian concept was arriving in the UK from the Netherlands.  There were two Dutch companies operating here, each managing a small number of properties, mostly in Central London.  I could see that the idea was bound to catch on – it was (and still is) the only way to achieve all three priorities of flexible, reliable, cost-effective security, where other options can only manage two of the three at best.  And because it allowed property guardian companies to offer homes in prime locations at a fraction of the market rent, it couldn’t fail to be a hit with people looking for a place to live. 

But what I also saw was that the property guardian companies in the market were looking at it only through the lens of security.  The people placed to live in buildings were there as warm bodies to achieve the goal of keeping the building safe, and not as stakeholders to be considered beyond that.  What struck me was that, even if you only cared about property security, who you house in the buildings you are looking after matters.  If you can identify considerate, responsible people who want to be good neighbours, they will naturally take better care of their homes.  And if you add in positive, thoughtful management, the outcomes will be better all round. 

This created the chance to build Dot Dot Dot.  By focusing on housing people who want to volunteer, we are able to support good causes. And we are also able to offer a better security service by attracting and recruiting lovely people who want to take good care of their homes and to be a positive presence in their local communities.  This insight was what allowed us to get started, and continues to be what creates our success today.

…But the lack of government action to ameliorate the housing crisis means that the need for our business model is even greater in 2021.

All the issues which motivated me to launch Dot Dot Dot at the beginning have only become more acute today.  House prices and rental costs have continued to spiral, meaning that it is even more difficult for people to cover their living costs, especially if they want to use some of their time for causes that matter for their own sake, rather than purely to earn money.  This is bad for individuals, but it’s also terrible for society as a whole as it limits the skills, talent and energy available to communities.  While we’re very proud to house hundreds of people across the country, supporting thousands of hours of volunteering a month, property guardianship can never be a complete solution to the housing crisis – the lack of government action over the past decade to improve the situation for people living in privately rented homes is deeply disappointing.

Safety and compliance standards needed to rise in 2011…

Back in 2011, property guardianship was the wild west.  Property owners and would-be property guardians had a very limited understanding of their rights and property guardian companies’ obligations, creating a risk of exploitation by unscrupulous providers. 

Since the beginning, Dot Dot Dot’s strategy has been to communicate a clear understanding of the legal situation to all our stakeholders, and to comply with or exceed those legal standards at all times.  This has enabled us to develop our reputation for quality, reliability and straightforwardness, and we have also used this approach to force others to raise their standards. 

In 2017 we commissioned a leading solicitor and an expert QC to produce a white paper setting out the legal context for our work, together with six other property guardian companies.  We contributed to a 2018 London Assembly report on the sector, welcoming the politicians’ calls to ensure that rules are obeyed consistently to ensure a “level playing-field” among property guardian companies.  And we have consistently tried to keep our stakeholders informed about legal standards and best practice through all possible channels – including this blog.

…But they still have a way to go today.

Whilst guardians today are rarely given notice periods shorter than their legal entitlement or subjected to illegal evictions, it is still not unheard of for people to be placed to live in buildings which are not safe to inhabit.  Property guardians are entitled to the same health and safety standards as tenants in the private rented sector – for example, buildings must be equally fire safe and must meet the same standards for gas and electrical safety testing.  However, some operators still cut corners.  This is bad because of the risk to guardians and because it’s against the law, but also because it harms the reputation of our industry.  This may deter property owners and would-be guardians from considering reputable operators, which cuts them off from the benefits the model can provide.

Our hopes for the next decade: property guardianship becoming boring

It was exciting to be involved in a new industry at the beginning, and we are proud to have done our bit to shape the sector by pushing up standards and emphasising the importance of recruiting great guardians and managing them well.  Over the past ten years, property guardianship has become a much more familiar part of the landscape, but it is still not as common as it should be – far too many properties still sit empty, representing a cost to property owners, a blight on neighbourhoods and a missed opportunity to create housing. 

In the years to come, we hope that we will see the market becoming even more mature, so that stakeholders aren’t choosing between using property guardians and leaving buildings empty, but are instead able to choose between a range of property guardian providers who all meet basic quality standards but offer different approaches to the model.  Some will be drawn to our purposeful, community-focused approach, whilst other customers will no doubt prefer a more basic version, just as some people choose fair trade coffee and others don’t.  

There is potential for our sector to provide good homes to tens of thousands of people, not just the thousands currently living as guardians.  We look forward to contributing to that growth – and to providing our own purposeful spin on the model.

 If you’d like to find out more about how we do property guardianship, you can watch our animation. 

How guardianship can complement Temporary Accommodation

October 26, 2021

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

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

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

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

The increasing pressure to provide Temporary Accommodation

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

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

Helping create resilient communities

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

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

Guardianship can work where Temporary Accommodation can’t

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

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

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

Finding a sense of community in north west London: Farah and The Granville

October 21, 2021

Queen’s Park guardian, Farah, found a renewed sense of community in her hometown of north west London when she started volunteering for The Granville last year. The centre delivers food parcels to the local community and provides a multi-purpose space for people to come together.

“I had gotten really into gardening during lockdown and was looking to continue when I came across The Granville in May 2021. I started with Granville Community Garden and found out they were also running a foodbank. It runs twice a week, and I thought it was great to be involved as the pandemic made me realise the level of food poverty in the area. It’s also an opportunity to get to know local people.

My main role is helping with food parcels. Lots of the food is donated from local companies that have surplus and they donate in huge quantities. The volunteers go through the donations and divide it up. We make 100-150 parcels per shift and they all go to the local community. I also deliver to those who can’t come to The Granville. It’s nice to walk around the area and get to know it (and it’s good exercise!)

The gardening is connected, it’s been quieter at the moment but I’ve been maintaining the space throughout the summer and we will get started again soon. It’s grown by the community, for the community, and anyone can access it. There’s also an allotment.

It’s been a good way to get to know local people in a way I would not have normally. There’s a real sense of community spirit – everyone helping each other out. It’s taught me a lot and it’s the highlight of my week! 

One of the challenges is seeing face to face the poverty in the area and how many people rely on the foodbank. It’s made me realise also about my own food waste and use.

My favourite moment has been engaging with people when I deliver the food parcels. Often it’s the kids who open the door and it’s a sweet encounter, and they’re really funny and honest.

It’s been lovely having access to inexpensive housing. It has taken a lot of pressure off me, and I can do things like invest in my local community and feel more part of it. I knew the area as I grew up in north west London but now I am really part of it.”

To discover how you can get involved with The Granville,  visit their website.

You can also keep up with our #10Years celebration where we’re highlighting guardians from the past ten years  and the voluntary organisations our guardians give their time to. 

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:

Stephanie O’Callaghan – Dot Dot Dot

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.

Stephanie O’Callaghan – Dot Dot Dot

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.

 

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. 

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.

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