On the ground: How we work in regeneration schemes and gradual decants

April 16, 2021

From our Director of Services, Mark Ackroyd

In our ‘on the ground’ series, our Director of Services, Mark Ackroyd, shares details about how our service works in different contexts. In a previous post, we explored how Dot Dot Dot mobilises its service in large or complex properties. This month, we look at the way that guardianship can support projects that involve large numbers of flats or houses as they are decanted across a regeneration or refurbishment project.

Regeneration and refurbishment schemes can bring some of the most important changes that communities ever experience. For housing associations, local authorities and other partners involved in their delivery, they are all-consuming projects. And regardless of the unique characteristics of each scheme, the decant stage can be risky and challenging. As ageing estates become increasingly empty, 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 can help housing teams to manage voids in a way that maintains flexibility and positivity in the decant process.

There are some common factors that apply across most regeneration projects:

  • Typically working with previously tenanted social flats or houses
  • A long overall timeline (often years rather than months)
  • Timelines for individual properties are variable and not always clear in advance
  • Properties are mixed in size and condition
  • Guardians will be housed among existing residents
  • Properties become available to Dot Dot Dot individually or in batches on a rolling basis
  • Working with existing housing or voids teams and processes

These factors set the basic parameters for our service, but what matters more to us is how we match the details of our service to each specific project. This article explains some of the factors that allow us to do this.

Our approach has three important stages:

  • Understand the properties, the project and community
  • Build a workflow that fits around our client
  • Flex and change with the project

This month, we will look at how we go about understanding the properties, the project and the community. Next, we’ll look at what we do once those foundations are in place.

Understand the properties, the project and the community

To develop the most effective proposals for regeneration or decant projects, we like to develop a full understanding of the context.

Understanding the properties

At a basic level, it’s great to understand the likely size, location and type of properties that could become available over the course of a project. More than that, though, we like to understand the age, condition and quirks of the buildings. By combining our wide experience with each client’s deep knowledge of their own housing stock, we can develop a proposal that addresses the particular needs of each block or area.

  • Are there special risks to manage in a particular area of compliance or maintenance?
  • Are theft, vandalism or unauthorised occupation live concerns in particular areas?
  • Do utilities, services or access have any quirks, issues or special requirements?
  • Are there any major differences between properties in condition or in compliance needs?
  • Are communal and structural elements in good condition, or do we expect these to require active management during our work?

Understanding the project

The scope and size of the project, the timelines over which voids might occur that require guardianship security, and the overall schedule of the regeneration are all important.

But as with the properties, it’s important to tap into the more detailed knowledge held by those leading the project and by those handling the properties on the ground. Perhaps there are existing high-profile risks or issues to address, or perhaps there is a deadline looming to prepare for a new phase.

As well as understanding any current pressures or needs within the project, we also try to get a sense of how our service will need to evolve over time. Perhaps we will need to receive or return a very large number of properties at critical points; we might need to deal with particularly challenging properties in some phases; the project could face delays or changes that require us to scale up or down or to take on different compliance responsibilities at some point in the future.

Understanding these factors means that we can not just provide a good service now, but that we can ensure it will remain effective across long (and often uncertain) project timelines.

Understanding the community

This is a subtle but critical part of our planning process. Each community affected by a decant or by a regeneration programme is different, and guardianship can play different roles.

In some cases, guardians are an important component of ‘humanising’ the regeneration process. We might propose ways to give our guardians visibility in the community, helping existing residents to understand the role of guardians or to benefit directly from their presence or from the volunteering that they will carry out.

In other cases, it might be more important to provide a discreet and low-key presence, supporting security but taking a sensitive approach to resident relationships. 

By understanding this, we can shape every part of our service from how we present and maintain the properties, to the way that we select and induct the guardians who will live there. Our unique approach to generating positive social impact in the communities in which we work means that, where it helps the client and the community, we can just tailor our basic service. For example we can signpost our guardians to volunteer for causes which are aligned to our clients’ CSR objectives or based in the local area, and we can report on metrics that clients can then present to their key stakeholders.

The fact we put such great store on how our guardians will interact with existing residents by providing security, reassuring footfall, and, in many cases, contributions to uber-local community projects means that regeneration environments have been the scene of some of our most valuable work. 

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

What does property guardianship free you up to do?

April 16, 2021

Choosing to use property guardianship in buildings that would otherwise lie empty brings a range of benefits to property owners. Each of our clients usually focus on one or two benefits that particularly appeal to them, whether that’s confidence and managing risks better, security of buildings, or creating social value to communicate to stakeholders through Dot Dot Dot’s social impact model. Saving on costs continues to be an important benefit too. 

Our Chief Executive, Peter Brown, explores another benefit that is less obvious but nonetheless important: freeing up our clients to spend their time and attention on priorities other than managing empty properties.

Too much to do, too little time to do it?

We are all busy people, usually with more things on our to-do lists that we’d ideally like. For some of our clients, austerity and cutbacks have also added to pressures on their organisations. And of course, the difficulties and uncertainties of managing assets through Covid-19 have brought a new dimension to work and challenged our focus. Being able to hand over empty buildings and knowing that those assets will be taken care of, and used to house good people on a meanwhile basis and for as long as it’s required, can be a liberating feeling if there’s a high quality service and a trusted relationship in place.

All of the Dot Dot Dot team work hard at creating and sustaining great working relationships and partnerships. We want to enable our clients to specialise in their work whilst we specialise in ours, and find ways to complement and support our clients’ goals.

Bringing in experts so you can focus on other priorities

For example, one of our clients was a national environmental charity which had a surplus office building. The charity was restructuring its operations and wanted a period of time to evaluate its future property needs. It chose to use Dot Dot Dot to manage the building, where we installed 14 guardians for around 18 months. During that time, the charity was able to focus on developing its strategy, rather than diverting resources and costs to managing the building itself. It eventually chose to sell the building, and we moved guardians out to enable them to do so.

Often it’s the case that housing associations and local authorities don’t have a team or individual with specific  responsibility for empty property. When properties are scheduled for demolition or wholesale refurbishment, responsibility for them can fall between different teams. In these scenarios Dot Dot Dot can act as the internal team they wish they had, by providing specialist expertise and experience that can be brought in to manage empty assets.

Several of our long-standing housing association clients have given us feedback that working with a Dot Dot Dot means that they can focus on other complex aspects of regeneration: managing the project and the development, resident engagement and consultation, liaising with residents and negotiating leaseholder buy-backs. They have commented that having Dot Dot Dot involved in the properties that are empty and awaiting redevelopment means that their housing and regeneration teams are freed up to focus on these activities, confident that properties allocated to Dot Dot Dot are being well managed and will be handed back when theie project requires vacant possession. 

If you’re finding that empty property is a distraction and you’d like to find out how we could free up some of your time, please get in touch at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com.

 

Supporting long-term placemaking with Poplar HARCA in east London

April 15, 2021

Poplar HARCA is an award-winning Housing and Regeneration Community Association leading a long-term regeneration and placemaking project in east London. Since our foundation in 2011, we have built a long-standing partnership with Poplar HARCA to house guardians in empty properties awaiting redevelopment. We have housed over 350 guardians in a total of 111 guardianship properties in the nine years that we have worked together, and those guardians have contributed 32,663 voluntary hours to worthwhile causes.

Responding to Poplar HARCA’s needs

As part of our bespoke service, we wanted to better understand Poplar HARCA’s placemaking needs and how we could contribute to their vision ‘to create a place where people, communities and businesses can grow and thrive’. In order to do this, we commissioned a survey of our Poplar guardians and relayed their responses to the client, to help inform multiple placemaking projects and gain insight into guardian attitudes towards living in Poplar. We also wanted to steer guardian volunteering towards Poplar HARCA’s community regeneration aims, and three quarters of guardians were interested to find out more about their online Covid-19 volunteering opportunities. 

Keeping it local

We currently house 35 guardians in Poplar across 21 guardianship properties. 89% of guardians responded to the survey, which was conducted online and on the phone. Of those we surveyed, nine were already living in east London before their guardianship, and two were living in Poplar itself. We’re proud to be able to house local people in safe, affordable homes and give them the opportunity to give back to their local community. 

A third of participants volunteered in Poplar itself, and 55% of Poplar guardians (from our guardian-wide survey conducted in 2020) volunteered locally in their borough. Guardians have taken part in a wide range of volunteering, such as dance classes at Poplar HARCA’s Brownfield Community Cabin, the Chrisp Street Maker’s Exchange, hosting befriending sessions over Zoom, tackling isolation in the older local population and delivering food parcels.

New business

Property guardianship can be a great way of bringing new people to an area and boosting economic activity. Two thirds of those surveyed were new to Poplar, and 98% of all participants like living there. 29% of Poplar guardians run their own businesses or are self-employed, running businesses such as music production, a youth charity, construction, documentary filmmaking, singing and mental health support for LGBTQ+ people. This was significant to Poplar HARCA not only because it gives insight into the economic contribution of our guardians, but it also gave them an opportunity to gauge interest in a new Poplar Business Directory. The directory was set up by Poplar HARCA and lists small businesses in Poplar, to support local residents and businesses and boost economic growth in the community. Of those with their own businesses, six wanted to find out more about the directory and one guardian was already included in it.  

Together with Poplar HARCA we also wanted to explore interest in continuing to live in Poplar after guardianship. We found 48% of guardians would consider living in Poplar long term, and 61% indicated that long term they were interested in buying a home or settling down. 

Through our tailored approach to property guardianship, we have been able to support Poplar HARCA to achieve both their short and long term placemaking aims, working together to help the Poplar community thrive and bring social value to the area.

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

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