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.

On the ground: Guardianship that meets your needs

December 18, 2020

From our Director of Services, Mark Ackroyd

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

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

 

Matching contract responsibilities to client needs

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

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

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

 

Example 1: Like a lease, but not a lease

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

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

 

Example 2: Shared management 

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

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

 

Example 3: Turnkey property management

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

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

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

 

Picking the right approach

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

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

 

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

Spotlight on: Tom – what it’s like to volunteer for Samaritans

December 18, 2020

Writer for The Economist by day and volunteer with Samaritans by night, east Londoner, Tom, has been a Dot Dot Dot guardian for three years. Writing from his 2-bed flat, Tom describes the reality of his eye-opening role as a listening volunteer, and how being part of an army of like-minded people looking to make a positive difference is an extremely rewarding venture.

It’s 10.30pm on a Monday and I’m one of hundreds of Samaritans volunteers on duty tonight. I cycle from Poplar along the Thames path and under the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to my local branch in Lewisham. The river is peaceful and the path quiet. It’ll be silent when I return just after 3.

Becoming a listening volunteer begins with an information evening and a short selection process. Training normally involves several sessions which mix theory and role-play. These are usually in person but have been virtual during the pandemic. New volunteers are then assigned a mentor and you work together to develop your practice until you’re ready to take calls independently. However, you’re never “flying solo” – there’s always at least two on duty in a branch at any one time plus a leader on call. Training is stimulating and eye-opening. I was part of collaborative and close-knit group and many of us have stayed in contact. “This is not work experience” we are told early on. And it’s a really important point. Volunteers are discouraged from seeing training at Samaritans as just a stepping stone to a career in counselling. To train as a listening volunteer is to share the mission of the organisation and commit to regular duties in the long-term.

Contrary to perception, and despite being founded by a vicar, Samaritans is not a Christian organisation. The Rev Dr Chad Varah described its beginnings as “a man willing to listen, with a base and an emergency telephone.” The Daily Mirror called Chad the “telephone good Samaritan” and the name stuck. Now, over 20,000 volunteers in over 200 branches provide emotional support over the telephone, via email and by letter. There’s currently a pilot project trialling instant messaging too.

When people find out I volunteer at Samaritans, they usually have lots of questions. Our strict confidentiality policy – everything said in a contact remains within Samaritans – means volunteers do not share what’s been said in a call, even with those closest to them. There’s lots of support within the organisation. Common questions asked, that can be answered, include how often do you do it (I volunteer once a week) and do you always do nights (no, you can generally choose your hours but you are expected to contribute to the night shifts).

Volunteering for Samaritans is extremely rewarding: after each shift you know you have helped a number of people. You sense you’ve made a difference at the most basic level – you have been there for someone. You feel part of an army of like-minded people with similar motivations. Although the charity is vast, each branch has its own ways of doing things and each is its own unique community. As a guardian, my regular duties enable me to fulfil my 16 hours and often more.

There are lots of development opportunities within Samaritans. Each branch relies on volunteers taking on additional roles: from management, to mentoring to fundraising. Volunteers are supported to develop their skills and follow their interests. Two years into my Samaritans journey, I’m now helping my first mentee begin theirs.

You can donate to help Samaritans maintain their listening service at www.samaritans.org/donate-now. Whatever you’re going through, you can call Samaritans any time, from any phone for free on 116 123. You can email Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org. For more, visit www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan.

Read more of our guardians’ volunteering stories over at our guardian spotlight

Volunteering: Once you pop, you can’t stop

December 2, 2020

From our founder, Katharine Hibbert 

“Thank you for the diligent chivvying”

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

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

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

A survey to make us smile

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

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

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

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

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

Giving a helping hand…to form a lifelong habit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How volunteering helps everyone – not just the beneficiaries

October 29, 2020

From our founder, Katharine Hibbert

Supporting volunteering has always been central to Dot Dot Dot’s work – and our focus on it is something we are never asked to justify.   No one needs an academic paper to tell them that it’s worthwhile to support people who’d like to do good for others. And it’s easy to see that volunteers keep a huge range of worthwhile organisations going, from household names like the Samaritans and the St John’s Ambulance through to small local food banks and sports clubs.

But the indirect benefits to society as a whole of volunteering, neighbourliness and civic engagement go way beyond the benefits to individuals in need who receive help from volunteers, or to the volunteers themselves who get satisfaction from doing it.  People living in societies with more volunteering, more social connections and higher trust tend to be happier and wealthier, so participation deserves to be measured, celebrated and promoted for these reasons too.

Most current discussion of the benefit of living in a community where people are engaged – either by volunteering formally, getting involved in neighbourhood groups or helping others informally – traces back to Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone, published in 2000.  In it, he argued that social capital is essential to a well-functioning democracy, and defined it as “connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them”. 

He also drew a clear link between the frequency with which people get involved in third-sector activities and organisations, and higher levels of trust and social capital.  As he put it, ‘‘civic engagement and trust are mutually reinforcing’’ and ‘‘the causal arrows among civic involvement…and social trust are as tangled as well-tossed spaghetti’’. 

While it usually takes a certain amount of trust and positivity to start volunteering or to get involved with a club or society in the first place, Putnam’s point is that doing so creates a virtuous spiral – the more you participate, the more positive you feel about others because you have more good experiences and you benefit from more reciprocity.  And this in turn makes you more likely to believe that most people are basically trustworthy, which encourages you to participate more.

This is good for individuals. Sociological research repeatedly shows that higher social trust is correlated with higher levels of happiness, life satisfaction and subjective wellbeing, and we frequently hear from our guardians that their volunteering is positive for them as well as helpful to the causes they give their time to.  

But it’s also good for society as a whole.  Work by Marta Portela and others in the journal, Social Indicators Research, shows that the higher the level of social capital a country has on average, the more likely individuals in that country are to be happy and satisfied with their lives.  And these benefits occur even for those who don’t participate regularly – if you live around others who get involved and have a good opinion of their fellow citizens, your life is probably better too. 

It also makes us all richer.  A country’s average levels of social trust predicts its economic growth more accurately than its average skill levels, according to Dr David Halpern, the Chief Executive of the Government’s Behavioural Insights Team.  As he puts it, “Low trust implies a society where you have to keep an eye over your shoulder; where deals need lawyers instead of hand-shakes; where you don’t see the point of paying your tax or recycling your rubbish (since you doubt your neighbour will do so); and where you employ your cousin or your brother-in-law to work for you rather than a stranger who would probably be much better at the job.”  All of that makes life less enjoyable – but it also makes it more expensive and holds back innovation and entrepreneurship, making countries who lack social trust poorer too.

So even though most people who get involved in formal or informal volunteering do it because they want to help a specific cause and because they enjoy it, by doing so they are also making everyone a bit more likely to be happy and wealthy.  We support volunteering because of its positive impacts on good causes and on the volunteers themselves, but by doing so we hope we are also making a small contribution to building a more positive, happier and richer society as a whole.

You can find out more about our commitment to supporting the volunteering efforts of our guardians here, and read more of our guardian stories here.

The people behind the regeneration process

October 15, 2020

From our Chief Executive, Peter Brown

Many of our clients are working hard at estate regeneration and development programmes. Typically, this involves replacing estates built in the 1960s and 1970s. Although the end goal is worth the endeavour – warmer homes, neighbourhoods that are designed to work and always a net increase in homes – these schemes are complex and require long-term endurance and a patient outlook.

The existing residents who call these estates home need supporting through that process of change, as well as clarity about the forthcoming changes. Even if residents are won over on the case for change (and not all will be in favour), they still have to face the upheaval of the regeneration itself. That can mean extended periods of demolition, building sites close by and the stress of rehousing programmes. It’s a lot to ask, and likely to be disruptive even if managed with all care and compassion.

This is why we view regeneration as a process, and keep the challenges our clients will face and the people they house at the forefront of our minds.

Supporting estate regeneration has always been an area that Dot Dot Dot has specialised in. Our earliest projects were in estate regeneration and were successful because we brought engaged, caring, individual guardians who slotted into the empty homes as they arose, and who could be cheerful, supportive neighbours to the council and housing association residents awaiting rehousing. This was how our “property guardianship with purpose” began and, to this day, our clients choose us because we bring property guardians who, by virtue of their volunteering, make great temporary occupants.

The make up of the communities housed in these regeneration contexts is undergoing change too. Once an estate is earmarked for regeneration (or “decant”, an industry phrase that makes residents sound more like pieces of a jigsaw and less like humans with needs and hopes) then it will often also be used for “temporary accommodation”. This is another piece of industry jargon which describes housing people that are owed a statutory duty by local authorities under homelessness legislation. So once an estate has regeneration status, voids get used to accommodate a household which needs housing while awaiting settled rehousing elsewhere.

Those responsible for the regeneration programme will want to balance two things above all. First, the meanwhile phase i.e. making sure that life on the estate remains positive and safe ahead of the changes, that anti-social behaviour is minimised and an emptying estate doesn’t attract criminality. Secondly, the end phase – achieving vacant possession to schedule and handing over the site to the contractor.

Our expert advice is to consider using guardians as part of this meanwhile strategy because mixing the nature of temporary residents on an estate has benefits in terms of creating diverse and supportive communities. Having property guardians coexisting alongside tenants, leaseholders and temporary accommodation households is positive for several reasons:

  • Property guardians need flats that are safe and which meet minimum standards but they can be in any decorative condition. So flats that would be too expensive to refurbish to a temporary accommodation standard can be used for property guardianship. We can provide water heaters and temporary kitchens if those parts of the asset have deteriorated or are absent.
  • A property can be readied for property guardians within days, meaning that someone good and reliable managed by Dot Dot Dot can be quickly be living on the estate. This brings footfall, care and attention and is much better than mothballing a property.
  • Property guardians are a flexible service in terms of timing and minimum periods. When a property is available but the timeframe might not suit a temporary accommodation agreement, property guardians can move in and add value for the months that the property remains available. Equally, once in place property guardians can stay until the whole development phase is ready for handover, at which point we can serve notice on our guardians and achieve reliable vacant possession.
  • Property guardians cover the costs council tax and avoid the need for expensive void property security such as steel screens and alarms.
  • Dot Dot Dot property guardians are specifically chosen for their neighbourliness and friendliness and an interest in community through their volunteering. They will be a positive addition to their neighbours’ lives rather than be a source of stress or concern.
  • Dot Dot Dot property guardians are a diverse group of people, but what unites them is their willingness to live in these sort of temporary situations and make the most of those opportunities. They understand that when it’s time to leave, it’s time to move on and find their next property guardian home.
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 providing great housing to property guardians and raising standards in our industry here.

World Mental Health Day 2020 – Staying well while staying in

October 13, 2020

Saturday marked World Mental Health Day 2020, and as we all continue to do our best to adjust to the changes happening around us, it’s never been more important to take care of our mental health. Autumn is here and with COVID-19 guidance likely to change for many of us soon, being able to stay well even if you need to stay in is vital. For Mental Health Awareness Day this year, Mind‘s campaign has centred around doing one thing today to support your mental wellbeing, and here at Dot Dot Dot we’ve put together some ideas of what that one thing could be for you:

 

Structure your day

Working from home has become the norm for many, and often this can mean sitting in one room, or one spot for the whole day. Old routines have disappeared overnight, and work and personal time can all roll into one. Splitting up the day and setting a new routine for yourself can be a really powerful way to motivate yourself and hold yourself accountable for the day’s tasks.

Anything from simply blocking time in your calendar, to writing lists, to using an app, can help. The app Forest gives you a virtual tree to nurture while you stay productive and away from your phone. You can set a time (such as 50 minutes to make time for 10 minute breaks in between), in which your tree will begin to grow. If you unlock your phone screen you will kill the tree, so it will make you think twice about checking social media! The app is a great way to stay present and focused and is a nice way to break up time.

Make time for breaks, and get outside if you can

When working from home, many of us take fewer, or shorter breaks, and this can all lead to feelings of overwhelm and of being cut off from the outside world. Breaks are incredibly important for keeping up energy and concentration levels throughout the day, and exercise is essential for maintaining good mental wellbeing. Just a short walk can be enough! Even with the colder weather setting in, find a time to take a daily walk each day if you can and factor this into your routine.

Take notice of your mental wellbeing

Creating time each day to check-in with yourself and how you are doing is a small but vital thing you can do to create space for yourself and notice if there is anything you need. Make some time to sit for a few minutes and be present with how you are feeling, you could also do this on your daily walk.

If you are feeling some anxiety, AnxietyUK suggests practising the APPLE technique:

Acknowledge: Notice and acknowledge the uncertainty as it comes to mind.
Pause: Don’t react as you normally do. Don’t react at all. Pause and breathe.
Pull back: Tell yourself this is just the worry talking, and this apparent need for certainty is not helpful and not necessary. It is only a thought or feeling. Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are not statements or facts.
Let go: Let go of the thought or feeling. It will pass. You don’t have to respond to them. You might imagine them floating away in a bubble or cloud.
Explore: Explore the present moment, because right now, in this moment, all is well. Notice your breathing and the sensations of your breathing. Notice the ground beneath you. Look around and notice what you see, what you hear, what you can touch, what you can smell. Right now. Then shift your focus of attention to something else – on what you need to do, on what you were doing before you noticed the worry, or do something else – mindfully with your full attention.

A little goes a long way

There are also some very small things you can do anytime, any day, that can have a really positive impact on your daily life and wellbeing. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Buy a new plant, or some flowers to brighten up your home or your workspace.
  • Try out a new recipe.
  • Learn something new – sign up to an online course, read some non-fiction or watch a documentary.
  • Take a walk somewhere you haven’t been before.
  • Reach out to a friend you haven’t checked in with in a while.

Connect with those around you, and with your community

Feeling connected to others is a really important part of maintaining wellbeing, and the ways that we do that have changed dramatically over the last few months but have become more important than ever. There are plenty of ways you can keep connected or reach out to build new relationships.

Make sure you have at least one check-in with a colleague or friend each day, even if it’s just to ask how they are, or how their week is going; you never know how much they might need it too. Building relationships with those in your community can be a great way to feel more connected. Is there a local cause you’d like to contribute your time to, or perhaps you could join your area’s Mutual Aid group? There’s also plenty of causes you can volunteer time to remotely.

 

We are always so inspired by the volunteering that our guardians do, and know that for many this is an important way of improving their own mental wellbeing. We will be discussing more about the benefits of volunteering in an upcoming blog in November, and you can find out more about our guardians and their volunteering stories over on our Instagram page.

If working from home is getting you down, why not get involved in volunteering in your local area? Check out our guide for how and where to volunteer during the Covid-19 crisis.

Spotlight on: Elizabeth – Women in Localization

August 20, 2020

As Women in Localization UK Sponsorship Manager & Global Sponsorship Liaison, Dot Dot Dot guardian Elizabeth tells of how this volunteering role enables her to take action on a global scale, working to bridge the gap for students to enter the localisation industry, whilst inspiring the next generation to pursue a career they’re passionate about.

“Women in Localization’s mission is to foster a global community for advancement of women and the localisation industry, through networking, education, career advancement, mentoring and recognition of accomplishments. The non-profit organisation has 24 chapters worldwide and grows each year. Local chapters typically hold quarterly events which develop technical and soft skills, as well as networking.

In summer 2018, I was invited by the Women in Localization UK chapter as a guest speaker on the topic of remote working. I shared the stage with a panel of industry experts, exploring insights, educating and supporting the localisation community. I felt honoured to be included in such an event – being asked to speak so early into my career (1 year to date).

I participated in subsequent events and joined the core team in Autumn 2018; my role focused on sponsorship – responsible for coordinating event sponsors. Topics have included Machine translation, Quality Management, including overcoming impostor syndrome, career development and mentoring. The UK chapter has been involved in academic events, bridging the gap for students to get into the industry. I found it incredibly difficult as a Graduate progressing from unpaid internships to a full time job. It’s truly rewarding to inspire the next generation to pursue a career that they’re passionate about. We run a mentorship scheme which volunteers are encouraged to join – providing further support to the community.

A year later, I was invited to join the Global Programs, as Sponsorship Liaison, bridging the gap between the local and global teams. I’ve found a grass-roots perspective helpful while being able to take action across a global level, and several other volunteers are in a similar position, which focuses our group on the pulse of the industry. 

During the lockdown, Women in Localization has adapted – all events have moved online, with several each month from different chapters around the world. Recently the UK chapter had a virtual pub-quiz to bring some joy during these difficult times.

In my volunteering experience, I’ve made some lifelong friends, with selfless values and compassion, for which I’m incredibly grateful. The UK chapter has a diverse group of skilled, amazing volunteers that are simply brilliant. Always doing what they can to help others.

Anyone considering volunteering, or even undecided, should certainly give it a try. It has certainly changed my life for the better.”

To find out more about Women in Localization, search #WLUK and #WomeninL10n on Twitter, and follow the links below:

Women in Localization – UK Chapter

Women in Localization – Global

This story is part of our Summer Series collection. If you have your own story to tell or a project you’d like to shout about then please contact us at volunteeringstories@dotdotdotproperty.com. Read more volunteering stories from our guardians on our website, and stay up-to-date with the latest news from our Summer Series on Instagram.

How being a property guardian with Dot Dot Dot is different

June 16, 2020

Expensive rent and bad property management are just two examples of how the housing sector is failing many members of our society. At Dot Dot Dot we keep compassion at our core, setting ourselves apart from others in our industry through our continued focus and care in helping our guardians to build safer and stronger communities.

This purposeful approach means that we pay considerable attention to supporting our guardians to thrive. By providing them with good-quality, affordable homes, we enable them to use their extra time to volunteer for a cause that they care about and that will instil positive change within both their communities and themselves.

Read on to learn more about how being a property guardian with Dot Dot Dot is different.

We make it easier for you to focus on the causes that really matter to you

Since we began in 2011, we have turned hundreds of empty properties into homes for community-minded people who volunteer for 16 hours a month, enabling the buildings to become hubs of social value. Our vision is simple: we give homes to people who will breathe life into empty buildings, and who are invested in making a positive impact on their neighbours and communities. With lower monthly living costs, our guardians have more time and freedom to focus on a cause close to their heart without the pressure of needing to be elsewhere to earn money.

Volunteering outside of work is a chance to dedicate time to the things you love doing – whether that’s helping to plant a community garden, turning your own project into volunteering, or learning more skills. Your experience will be all the richer if you feel excited and motivated by the field – this is why you have the opportunity to use your voice and choose an organisation that fuels your passion.

You’ll have the opportunity to meet like-minded people and extend your network

We know that friendships come in all shapes and sizes. We also know that everyone has a skill to offer that is useful. At Dot Dot Dot, we will help you to organically grow resilient communities that allow everyone to use their strengths for the benefit of their fellow guardians and their neighbourhood. Our guardians are made up of designers, students, teachers, cleaners, magazine editors, librarians, support workers, engineers, zookeepers, midwives, DJ’s and dancers. No matter what their reason for loving the experience of guardianship – whether it opens up a new way of living for them, or it makes their existing lifestyle easier and more affordable – all our property guardians share a common trait: they are committed to volunteering for a cause that is bigger than themselves.

Being part of a community based on something more than just geographical location is to share a common belief in the world; volunteering will enable you to connect with others who also give value to your belief in the importance of giving time to projects you care about. By regularly giving your time to a good cause, you will have the chance to develop strong bonds with others in your own community, increasing your sense of belonging and connections to those around you.

Your volunteering will stay with you for the rest of your life

Whilst we don’t offer ‘forever homes’, we do offer homes that have a ‘forever impact’ on you and the people around you. The benefits of volunteering on you as an individual as well as those you engage with are tangible and far-reaching. You are giving yourself and others the tools and skills needed to create a real and sustainable future by keeping connections and friendships alive.

Volunteering also has long-term positive effects on both your mental and physical health. The National Centre of Volunteering conducted a study on the benefits of volunteering on mental health and found that 80% of participants reported a positive effect on their mental health and wellbeing through providing a sense of purpose and meaning, along with improved confidence and self-esteem.

To find out more about how to become a Dot Dot Dot property guardian, check out our guardian website page or complete an application form today. You can also head over to our Instagram to follow our Summer Series, where we’ll be telling our guardians’ volunteering stories every week. 

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