Supporting regeneration in Oxford, the city of dreaming spires

May 24, 2022

In July 2019, we agreed with A2Dominion, a housing association with a social purpose, to secure vacant flats on an estate in Oxford during a regeneration project. While A2Dominion were looking for property security, they also needed a strategic partner that would be sensitive and thoughtful when housing guardians, so as not to disrupt or cause difficulties for remaining residents still living on the estate. They also needed to be confident that the security provider would be a reliable steward of their assets and maintain open communication.

Our extensive experience of working within regeneration schemes and our ability to tailor our approach as required meant that we were well-prepared to be the strategic partner that A2Dominion needed.

Providing community-minded guardians to A2Dominion 

Dot Dot Dot’s stringent vetting process ensured that the guardians selected for Gibbs Crescent in Oxford, understood the importance of creating a good relationship with remaining estate residents. In fact, the idea of community and neighbourliness is built into our business model. All of our property guardians are required to volunteer for 16 hours a month for good causes. Guardians who volunteer demonstrate responsibility and commitment and ultimately, make good neighbours.

The (guardians) have made us aware of some anti-social behaviour on the estate and have helped to maintain a number of the small private gardens in the empty properties, even working alongside some of the remaining residents to grow their own vegetables.” 

A2 Dominion

In total, we secured 22 empty units and created inexpensive housing for 32 property guardians who volunteered to support remaining residents and good causes within the Oxford community.

Amplifying social impact across Oxford 

Our guardians volunteered at Gibbs Crescent itself, and with charities in Oxford. We also connected with an A2Dominion partner aligned with our own values, to provide more focused social value – Aspire Oxford. The charity and social enterprise aims to empower people facing homelessness, poverty and disadvantage, to find employment and housing.

Through their Employment Skills Training Programme, Dot Dot Dot employed their tradespeople regularly for property repairs and maintenance. These work opportunities, together with support from Aspire, enabled them to attain secure employment and housing in the long term.

Throughout the two and a half years that we housed property guardians in Oxford, our guardians collectively volunteered for over 8,211 hours for good causes, many of which were local to Oxford. This equates to £101,400* worth of social value. Former Dot Dot Dot guardian, Mori, volunteered with Oxford Community Action:

“Volunteering has provided me with a way to connect more with the people around me, and with people who wouldn’t normally be in my social sphere. A lot of people at Oxford Community Action come from immigrant, working class, BAME backgrounds which, as a middle-class, white student, are different to the people I met at university. It’s allowed me to bridge these gaps and form meaningful connections.”

Demonstrating flexibility throughout the pandemic

The emergence of Covid-19 in March 2020, which brought about new working from home practices and periods of self-isolation for staff, meant that redevelopment timelines for Gibbs Crescent were pushed back. Due to those adjustments, there were extra empty properties that needed to be secured with guardians.

To support A2Dominion we adapted our onboarding and property management process to ensure that we could quickly take on another phase of flats on the estate. In 2020, we started to house guardians in an extra five flats, bringing the total to 17. 

Our experience with the guardians has been very positive. Once the void properties have been accepted there is very little involvement from our side. Having the guardians in the void properties has given us the peace of mind we needed whilst preparing to redevelop the estate.”

A2 Dominion

A successful handback

When vacant possession was required, we were able to move all of our guardians out of Gibbs Crescent within 30 days. As part of a phased handback, we returned the first batch of properties in January 2022, and the second in March 2022, ensuring they were back with A2Dominion ahead of the next stage of their development.

The success of this contract is testament to our model and approach, and desire to deliver property guardianship with purpose.

Discover more about how we can sensitively support your regeneration scheme with thoughtful and community-focused property guardians who will volunteer for good causes.  

* The social value of volunteering presented uses the Living Wage at £12.35p/h, plus 30% for employee costs  (including National Insurance and pension contributions).

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.

Then and now: our partnership with Red Kite Community Housing

December 16, 2021

We have built a relationship with Red Kite Community Housing, a not-for-profit, tenant-led housing association, since 2015. Since then, we have housed over 300 guardians in properties that would otherwise be empty, and we continue to work together to secure properties across High Wycombe.

We caught up with Richard Mulcahy from Red Kite to talk about how working with Dot Dot Dot has enabled them to keep projects running on time and afforded them the flexibility to work around some of the challenges posed by Covid-19.

“Our big development project is in an area called Castlefield in High Wycombe, which is made up of large blocks of flats in three areas: Pettifer Way, Longland Way and Chairborough Road. Before we started working with Dot Dot Dot, we had already decanted all of our tenants, so the buildings at Pettifer Way were completely empty. We originally used Sitex as security measures for the blocks, but it was a very expensive option. We looked at our finances and it was costing us a lot of money. Not only that, but buildings with Sitex and steel sheets all over them don’t look good, and it welcomes antisocial behaviour to the area too. We had to find an alternative, and that’s how we came across Dot Dot Dot.

“From a development perspective, Covid-19 has really changed the landscape that we work in. Firstly, the costs involved in construction have gone up, for example material costs, construction costs and labour. Secondly, there were a lot of hold ups to our timelines where sites had to close down for a period of time during the worst of the pandemic. And thirdly, it means that our buildings have remained guardian-occupied for longer than we would have predicted. 

“Previously, we would’ve asked for vacant possession much earlier on in the project’s timeline, but Covid-19 has changed that. So we changed the way we work, for example we worked out a way to conduct internal asbestos surveys without moving guardians out unnecessarily. The flexibility of guardianship means we can work with Dot Dot Dot, the guardians and our contractors to carry out essential works whilst keeping guardians in-situ right up until we hand the site over to our building contractors. We have continued to work in this way and we find this works for everybody.

“The most important thing about our partnership for me is the relationship I have with the relationship coordinators at Dot Dot Dot. I’ve been really lucky because every single one of them has been superb, and I’ve been able to build great relationships with them. There was also a time when, pre-Covid, there was a social function at a pub where I got to meet some of the guardians in a social setting – they could see who I was and talk to me about any reservations or problems they might have had. Guardians are also required to carry out volunteer work in their local community, this positive contribution really appeals to us as an organisation.

“The flexibility that guardianship allows us is also so important. There are times where, at short notice, we need access to guardian flats and one of the Dot Dot Dot team needs to come up from London and let our contractors in, and that’s never been a problem. Yesterday is a good example of this – one of the team was there to grant access so our contractor could carry out gas checks for a report that was key to the project moving forwards. If he wasn’t able to do it yesterday, it would’ve had a knock-on effect. It’s imperative for us because it keeps our projects on programme. 

“It helps us stay informed on health and safety issues too. For instance, if things are left in corridors, one of our departments will report back to Dot Dot Dot and they can liaise with the guardians to ensure items are removed. It’s never been too much trouble and problems are resolved quickly. 

“All in all, it’s been a good collaboration, a good relationship, and a good service – it just seems to work for us.”

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

Then and now: our first partnership with Poplar HARCA

November 24, 2021

Our partnership with Poplar HARCA, an award-winning Housing and Regeneration Community Association, began in 2011 when Andrea Baker, HARCA’s Director of Housing and Corporate Services, met with our founder Katharine Hibbert. The rest, as Andrea says, is history. Ten years on, we continue to partner with Poplar HARCA to secure properties and support their placemaking projects in east London. 

We spoke to Andrea about how our partnership has strengthened and changed over the years, and how our guardians have provided a reassuring presence during the regeneration process.

“In 2011, Dot Dot Dot entered a funding competition run by Bromley by Bow Centre in collaboration with Investec Beyond Business.  One of the competition panel rang me up and said ‘you have got to meet Katharine [Hibbert, founder of Dot Dot Dot]. As soon as she walks in the room you’ll know why.  Let her pitch because she’s got something that will benefit Poplar HARCA’s residents.’  I set-up the meeting with Katharine, and the rest (as they say) is history!

“We are a regeneration organisation, which means we manage large scale development schemes that require blocks to be vacant by a specific date.  In the period between all our tenants moving out and bulldozers moving in, residents continue to live in the block and on the estate.  We have got the challenge not only of physically securing properties, but also ensuring a continued sense of security for the remaining residents until they move to a new home.  When there are fewer and fewer people in the properties and around the area, it’s less lively which can be quite scary.

“Fundamentally, the challenges of 2011 haven’t changed. We still hear concerns from our residents about safety, but these are exacerbated by media reports, especially if something awful has happened in the area. Residents feel less secure, and want reassurance. 

“During Covid-19, because most of our staff worked from home, there was a risk we became more remote from our residents’ experience. It was incredibly reassuring to have that on-the-ground intelligence from guardians living locally. If something was going on that they were worried about, we knew they would tell us about it. 

“The biggest difference that Dot Dot Dot offers is that guardians are part of, and engage with, the local community. They don’t just live in the property – they’re out and about, chatting with neighbours, they live in the property rather than just occupying it.

“Trust has been the most important thing about our relationship with Dot Dot Dot. I have never had cause to doubt that Dot Dot Dot shares our values.  The intent and purpose of the organisation has always been strong. The guardians who live in our properties are a group of people who don’t have any expectations in terms of long-term security of tenure, so they absolutely know what’s going to happen when. But despite that, they make it home. They put down, albeit temporary, roots, and genuinely engage with neighbours. That’s really important to us. Whatever the fairydust is that Dot Dot Dot sprinkle on the guardians – it works. 

“The trust has strengthened over time. We’ve tried new things, Dot Dot Dot have tried new things – some have worked, some haven’t.  But that has helped cement the trust because, when things haven’t worked, we talk to each other. They are a valued partner, not just a contractor.  Long may our relationship last.”

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

Photo credit: Mark Muldoon

Property guardianship and beyond: working with Croydon Council

November 22, 2021

We started working with Croydon Council in 2017, when we took on a former school-turned-NHS building in west Croydon. Over the course of our four year relationship, we partnered with the council to place 28 guardians across both commercial and residential buildings in Croydon and Coulsdon.

Commercial buildings like these can often change and shift their purpose over time, and although our job is to manage the interim, we also play a key part in our clients being able to move their new plans along. We take a look at how a renewed sense of purpose during a property’s transition phase can lay the groundwork for its new use.

Addressing Croydon Council’s meanwhile needs

Managing an empty, disused asset, especially as a local authority, can become a significant financial burden. This was certainly the case at Tamworth Road, a former school that was taken over by the NHS for mental health services. Cost mitigation was an important consideration when we met with Croydon Council in May 2017, who were looking to reduce expenditure on hard security and void management. Once we had brought the building up to the necessary standard, we placed two trusted guardians into the building early on to remove the need for 24-hour security. We also installed signage at the front of the building to ensure it was clear that the building was occupied and managed by Dot Dot Dot. The council were aware that the building was at risk of antisocial behaviour, so it was important to provide a visible deterrent to avoid future issues.

Similarly, in 2018, Croydon Council had concerns over antisocial behaviour and fly-tipping around a former school in Coulsdon Town. We built on our established relationship, and, in July of the same year, we began to house guardians in the building. Each of our guardians was aware of their responsibilities and was assigned a Relationship Coordinator from the start, which allowed us to pick up on any on-the-ground issues early. Due to its location and size, the site was easily identifiable as empty and was a target for ASB and criminal activity. We worked closely with the council’s assets team to create a management plan that included the need for our guardians to maintain the exterior of the property and ensure it was clearly occupied and lived-in. Our guardian community came together to transform the exterior of the property, from overgrown and dilapidated to neat and cared-for, 

Building a meanwhile community

Beyond property security, Croydon Council were aware of the need to reutilise their assets while they sat empty. They were aligned with our values and understood the potential of their empty and underused assets as an opportunity for social value, not only through creating temporary, inexpensive housing and supporting volunteering, but through creating spaces for like-minded property guardians to come together. 

In 2017, we hosted the Housing Committee of the London Assembly at one of our Croydon properties as part of their research into the property guardianship sector. We welcomed Assembly members Sian Berry, Andrew Boff and Tom Copley to the former NHS building to demonstrate how property guardianship at a commercial property can work. 

At the event, Robert Lines, Estates Surveyor for Croydon Council, explained why Dot Dot Dot was the best option for the building’s interim use: “London Borough of Croydon has an extremely positive relationship with Dot Dot Dot and we are particularly impressed with their careful selection of property guardians who share in Dot Dot Dot’s social values and ethos. This has had a beneficial impact for the local community as well as ensuring the property is in safe hands, and we are very pleased to have the building managed and cared for by them.” Tamworth Road guardian, Kit, explained how she was specifically drawn to Dot Dot Dot because of the focus on social impact. She had previously ruled out being a property guardian due to the idea of living in a big building with a group of strangers, but found that “once I knew that everyone was up for 16 hours of volunteering a month, I felt pretty confident they’d be great, considerate housemates, and they are.”

During the time we have housed guardians in Croydon and Coulsdon, our guardians have volunteered over 3,995 hours for good, often local, causes, which equated to approximately £43,000 worth of social value. Coulsdon guardian Julius, for example, volunteered with Croydon Voluntary Action, who “work to coordinate and improve the knowledge of voluntary sector organisations around Croydon and have especially organised a lot during this pandemic, such as networks for soup kitchens and food banks to deliver food and training for volunteer sector organisations.”

Beyond the partnership

Since we successfully handed back the former NHS building to Croydon Council in November 2018, the site has become home to a nursery, a weekly church group and a small care business. 

In Coulsdon, we handed the former school back in October 2021 to enable the council to pursue its plans to develop the site into a new health and wellbeing community centre. The One Croydon Alliance, a partnership between Croydon Council, Age UK and the NHS, will use the site to provide additional GP services to the area as well as talking therapy, children’s services and housing and benefits advice.

Despite there no longer being need for property guardianship in the former Coulsdon school, the project’s end did not signal the end of our Coulsdon community. Eight of the original ten guardians that were housed in Coulsdon have moved to our building in Bickley in Kent, preserving their guardian community and bringing new life to a new property. They have already established a film night, and we look forward to hearing about what they get up to in the future. 

We have learnt from experience that commercial buildings can have rich and varied purposes throughout their lifetimes; we’ve worked in former schools, offices, family centres and even a former castle. It is through building purpose into all that we do – through providing inexpensive housing for our guardian communities and supporting them to volunteer for good causes – that we can contribute to a building’s next stage of life and, in the case of our Coulsdon guardians, foster communities that exist far beyond it.

Discover more ways we can support your meanwhile needs by signing up for Meanwhile Thoughts, our monthly newsletter for property owners.

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. 

What “doing our best work” means in practice

July 22, 2021

One of our key goals at Dot Dot Dot is to “do our best work”. That mantra is meaningful to us because it expresses several different important concepts at once, explains our CEO, Peter Brown.

These concepts link our identity as a social enterprise to our choices about how we go about doing the work that we do.  I’m clear that everything we do at Dot Dot Dot must contribute to our mission of providing housing that makes it easier for people to do good, and understanding the conditions that need to be in place to achieve that is vital.

Our tenth birthday has provided a welcome opportunity to reflect on all of the projects we have set up, the areas where we have worked, the people we have housed and the hundreds of thousands of hours of volunteering that our model has supported. We have been thinking about what worked well and of course about the times when we could have found better ways of doing things. 

How best work translates into great results

Dot Dot Dot’s mission hasn’t changed and the company values that we are well known for aren’t changing either. But by exploring the concept of ‘best’, all of our staff can form a view of how they can combine their skill, energy and professional commitment to deliver exceptional results.

Results here can be seen through the lens of social impact, or through creating consistent housing that’s both safe and well-managed, or when considering the financial performance of our operations. It’s also the case that the positive results of our work can be felt in several directions too, because our social enterprise business model has benefits to several groups all at once: the people we house benefit personally and financially, the communities where we have buildings benefit from great neighbours who are community-minded, charities and good causes benefit from our guardians’ volunteering, and of course our clients benefit too.

For me, the phrase “doing our best work” also fits with a more focused way of thinking about and describing the value that we create. So for our marketing and services teams, it’s about making sure we recruit and house guardians that are diligent, conscientious and who make socially responsible occupants. There are plenty of housing choices and options out there, and we choose to house people who understand our approach and who will benefit from our good-value accommodation. It’s our guardians who look after our clients’ buildings, who will vacate the buildings when we need them to, and who will contribute to communities through their volunteering, so our choices about who to house is crucially important. We know that people who are committed to supporting charitable causes are more likely to be conscientious about looking after our clients’ buildings, to be good neighbours to our clients’ existing residents, and to have the support network and resilience necessary to leave their homes with 28 days’ notice.

Finding the clients who allow us to do our best work

For our business development team, it’s about finding buildings where we can apply our efficient and effective management model to make appealing temporary homes that meet our safety standards, all while delivering projects which are financially viable for all involved. We seek clients who understand the inextricable link between our model and the quality of service we can provide as a result, and who may also be excited about our social impact creation in the communities where their buildings are based. Our model has always been distinctive, and, as we embark on our second decade of existence, we continue to demonstrate how the fact we exist to create a positive social impact actually allows us to deliver a better service to clients and communities.

If you’d like a conversation about how we look after your empty buildings and how our distinctive approach to property guardianship can help you, get in touch at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com

Never knowingly underhoused

July 20, 2021

From Dot Dot Dot founder, Katharine Hibbert

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

New entrants into rentals market

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

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

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

The growth of “Built to Rent”

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

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

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

Pushing up standards

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

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

 

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

June 25, 2021

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

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

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

Not just for Londoners

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

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

Setting up outside of the city

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

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

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

Taking care of everything

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

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

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

On the ground: Regeneration schemes and gradual decants – build and flex

May 20, 2021

Last month our Director of Services, Mark Ackroyd, explained how we put in place the right support for regeneration schemes and other long, gradual decant programmes. In that first piece, he explained how we like to understand the properties, project and community to deliver a tailored service.  In this follow-up, he explains how tailored workflows and a flexible long-term approach can help our clients to achieve their goals.

Build a workflow that fits around the client

Our careful up-front research gives us a strong chance to hit the ground running in a regeneration or decant project. As well as giving us useful knowledge and a tailored model, we have already engaged in great conversations with our new clients, which helps us to establish working relationships quickly when the work starts.

Part of this preparation is about the detailed work of designing procedures and workflows that fit around our client’s existing operations and teams. This is key to the success of regeneration or decant projects. We need to be able to receive, manage and return properties to the client in a way that fits with their resources and needs.

At an operational level, this means understanding how the client wants to prepare and handle properties before handing them over to us. This usually involves agreeing a clear specification for the client’s voids or maintenance teams to follow. This will cover familiar areas such as:

  • Gas and electrical compliance
  • Clearance
  • Key cutting and locks
  • Fire safety systems

Flex and change with the project

Regeneration and decant programmes can change and evolve significantly over time. Our detailed planning is not just about what a client needs now, but also about what could change in the future, and our experience helps us to understand how our service may need to adapt.

We are typically prepared for the changes in size, pace and structure that could affect us, but we are also used to responding flexibly to unforeseen issues. By working collaboratively with our clients, we constantly review the outlook and risks for each project, and we are ready to adjust plans rapidly if needed.

This could mean tweaking a compliance policy to address an area of risk, or overhauling our entire contract to take on a new range of responsibilities. We often have insights and ideas from previous work that will help us and our clients to navigate changes. Although the details of every project will vary, there are common challenges that we are used to addressing:

  • Delays that mean old buildings are kept in use for longer
  • Changes in financial or political priorities meaning that the speed or scale of our work changes quickly or that previous decisions about properties need to be reversed
  • Changes to other suppliers that affect teams, workflows and responsibilities
  • Policy or legislative changes requiring us to evolve alongside our clients
  • Issues or crises in the local area that require us to change the focus of our social impact, resident liaison or other work

These are just a few examples of the issues that we have tackled with clients in the past. Because we can draw on insights from multiple projects and organisations, we can be a useful source of stability and knowledge for teams facing new phases or transitions in their major programmes.  An important part of our approach is that we structure our service to be effective throughout the lifetime of a project, with in-built flexibility and resilience, and a commitment to long-term outcomes.

Working sensitively to support regeneration programmes or the decant of multiple properties has always been a core part of Dot Dot Dot’s work. This experience informs every part of our operations, and we take pride in supporting clients in a tailored way through their most challenging and important programmes.

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

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