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.

Helping clients weather a perfect storm

February 23, 2022

With rising costs and reduced resources, it can be hard for property owners to invest any time in considering the best option for their empty buildings. Yet just a little bit of work up front will reap great financial and social benefits once properties are under our management, explains Dot Dot Dot CEO, Mark Ackroyd.

I started this week contemplating Storm Eunice’s handiwork – it had peeled off a section of the roof outside our office. Luckily we are used to dealing with properties in ‘unusual’ condition – a hole in the roof was not enough to throw us off our stride.

The same is true for our clients, many of whom started the week responding to storm damage across the UK. Storm Eunice produced unprecedented weather, but somehow dealing with this exceptional challenge felt like  ‘business as usual’. Reflecting on why this might be, I realised that I have never known our clients to be more stretched than they are now – a record-beating storm feels like just another day in the office. And, indeed, many of our clients probably feel like they’re facing a perfect storm of major cuts to their budgets whilst trying to house more people with increasingly complex needs.

Handing over the hassle to us

The priorities for the housing and property sectors are certainly stacking up. ‘Living with Covid’ means making progress on stalled regeneration projects, even when costs have rocketed. It means coping with financially stressed local residents, and with the social aftermath of the pandemic. With housing in the headlines, issues like fire safety, property standards and residents’ rights also need sustained thought and action. This comes after years of cuts have left many organisations with fewer staff and tightly restricted budgets. It’s no wonder that our clients are busy and getting busier.

At Dot Dot Dot, we can’t control the weather. But we can lighten the day-to-day burden faced by our clients when dealing with empty properties. At best, those properties are sitting empty and building up council tax and utilities costs. At worst, they are attracting ASB, making residents’ lives miserable and causing expenditure on hard security (which often doesn’t work).

There can be a perception that engaging a guardianship provider will be a hassle – which is exactly what stretched teams don’t want. But, in practice, it means a few hours on the ground showing our team the site, and leaving us to propose how we’ll process any properties that are provided. We then review the proposal and agree how practical responsibilities should be divided. That’s all it takes to get us started, and we can accept properties at a scale and speed that works for our client.

As long as we have a good line of communication with a client contact who can update us on timelines and make decisions on the ground, we’re able to take on the vast majority of voids management issues. Our guardians will keep them safe, they’ll report ASB, and they’ll report repairs to us so they can be dealt with quickly. They’ll also be conscientious neighbours, which makes life easier for clients who want to provide a pleasant environment even during difficult transitions. Our team will be on the ground regularly, and can take on a wide range of professional management tasks to complement or extend the work of client teams. Those could range from small repairs to wholescale block management.

Short term investment for long term gain

When you’re in the midst of a storm, it can be difficult to see more than a few metres ahead. When your whole team is working hard and under increasing pressure, taking a little bit of time and thought to consider the benefits of a new approach can easily fall to the bottom of the to-do list. 

But, time after time, we’ve proved that working with us is worth it. With millions of pounds worth of properties sitting empty, the cost savings alone can be substantial. Just as important is the practical value of having a reliable and flexible partner on hand to share the load of managing those properties. If it’s the financial savings or the social impact that draw people to Dot Dot Dot, it’s often the support that we provide behind the scenes that keeps clients working with us year after year.

I hope you stayed dry in the recent storms. Give us a call if we can help you to weather the next one. Now, where did I put that umbrella?

You can read more about how we can support our clients by signing up to Meanwhile Thoughts, our monthly newsletter for property owners.

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.

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

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.

The 24Housing Awards – A Dot Dot Dot Review

October 11, 2016

Last week Dot Dot Dot went down to the 24Housing Awards in Coventry. We were nominated for innovation of the year. Here’s what happened!

Upon arriving, we were lucky enough to meet Chris Smith, the editor of 24Housing. Chris was a very charming chap who was swiftly whisked away from us by others keen to chat, so we continued to mingle. We really enjoyed seeing our clients and partners in more of an informal setting and to see them get the recognition they deserve.

Awards for Community Achievement in Housing

The 24Housing awards are to celebrate community achievements in housing. It was great to hear some amazing stories and meet some inspiring people from across the country. It was especially nice to talk to housing associations that had brought along tenants. These tenants had either won awards or been working with housing providers towards bigger things.

We were lucky enough to be sitting next to a nominee for ‘Best Green Scheme’. This was a woman who works for Newport City Homes but is also a tenant. They cheered every time Wales was mentioned! She helped the housing association to create a woodchip fuel system farmed from sustainable forest which provided energy to an estate. It was brilliantly innovative and it was nice to see tenants involved in a partnership like this. A good learning for all!

We were also sitting on a table with Wayne Campbell, nominated for housing professional of the year with Sixtown Housing. On boxing day he was having lunch with his family when he heard about flooding in the area. He went out and spent the rest of his Christmas holidays helping people struggling with floodwater. A lovely guy!

Our Award Nomination

Dot Dot Dot were up for innovation of the year for our approach to regeneration and empty buildings. Whilst we were sad not to win, we were delighted to see that Poplar HARCA were recognised for their drive of turning empty spaces into community assets. This was done through OpenPoplar.com. This is a site that allows local people to browse empty spaces and think of innovative ways to use them. It’s a great way to encourage entrepreneurs, small business space and community development generally.  So well done to them!

All in all it was a lovely occasion which afforded us the opportunity to hear many inspiring stories and meet an array of amazing people. We look forward to attending similar events in the future and building upon the relationships we created.

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