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).

Amplifying her volunteering efforts with Dot Dot Dot guardianship: Karin and the Open HR Forum – Students

May 6, 2022

With the added support of Dot Dot Dot guardianship, west London guardian, Karin, has been able to amplify her volunteering efforts to enable students to access mentoring from real world working professionals. Karin’s initiative, the Open HR Forum – Students, operates on an international scale to create opportunities for HR students to become leaders in their field.

Developing a passion for communication skills

“One of my first voluntary roles was supporting students and teachers in Slovakian primary schools to develop their interpersonal skills. Since then I’ve been passionate about improving communications between students and working professionals in order to bridge the gap between learning and practical experience in the workplace.

At the start of the pandemic in 2020, I began a course in human resources with the Open HR Forum, to support my continued learning and development around communications in my home country of Slovakia.

I soon noticed a marked gap in the potential to access career consulting and work experience in Slovakia compared with the UK – the only options were for vast sums of money that were unaffordable for most of the students that I knew, including myself.”

Initiating a platform for students to gain real-world experience 

“I identified the need to establish a sub branch of the Open HR Forum specifically for students to gain practical experience and career consultancy. My main aim was to facilitate opportunities for people to be leaders in their field, something that was driven by students, for students, to dictate their own learning and development.

The initiative I’ve created helps to bring HR students together on an international scale, offering them mentoring and support from large professional organisations for free. Each student is paired with a working professional ‘buddy’ who is able to guide them towards applying their theoretical knowledge to practical scenarios.

They can also receive free advice form HR professionals during webinar sessions which has been really successful in helping to feed international knowledge back into the Slovakian education system.”

Utilising guardianship to re-divert time and energy towards volunteering

“Paying lower monthly living costs as a Dot Dot Dot guardian compared with the private rental sector means that I can afford to spend more of my spare time volunteering.

Dot Dot Dot recognising the value of volunteering is really powerful and was one of the deciding factors for me when I became a guardian in 2021. For me, volunteering comes naturally and is something that I’ve always felt comfortable doing – I’ve always cared about giving something back to my community, but being a guardian allows me to amplify my contributions and the amount of time I  dedicate to my initiative.

Guardianship is not for everyone, but there are many advantages to becoming one. I currently live in a large 4-bed townhouse in Hammersmith, west London, and share the property with a teacher, a human rights lawyer and a scientist. I absolutely love my guardian housemates and am so glad to have had the opportunity to meet them – we all have busy work and social lives, however we still find time to meet and relax as a household.

My relationship coordinator, Dominique, has also been fantastic. We feel supported by Dot Dot Dot and their emphasis on being there for the people as well as the property.”

A guide to Kent’s county town, Maidstone

April 8, 2022

As one of Kent’s most enduring and historically significant towns, Maidstone is ever-evolving to balance new and diverse industries with its historic charm and characterful corners. Peacefully located on the banks of the river Medway, this county town is well worth exploring for its hubs of entertainment, long list of much loved bars and restaurants and leafy aesthetic. We recently visited the area for ourselves – and here are our best bits.

Activities and attractions

The river Medway runs through the heart of Maidstone, and so the town offers a surprising amount of water sports during the warmer months. You can hire out canoes and kayaks to explore the river and even travel out into the pastoral Kent countryside on a day trip.

Cycling is also a popular pastime, and there are plenty of quiet and traffic-free routes to take to discover the county town. You could also head to Go Ape to explore the forest canopies in the surrounding rural beauty spots via zip lines and high ropes.

The Maidstone Museum and Art Gallery, residing within an Elizabethan manor house, hosts the most diverse mix of collections in Kent, and has won acclaim for its ethnographic and ancient artefacts. You’ll find  Anglo-saxon treasures, a chair that once belonged to Napoleon and even a 2,700 year old Egyptian Mummy.

The fossilised bones of ‘Iggy’ the Iguanadon (which can be found on the town’s coat of arms!) were discovered in 1834 during an excavation on Queen’s Road. As a historical find of international significance, they are now housed in the Natural History Museum in London, but a visit to Maidstone Museum will allow you to see a full cast of the bones.

Offering one of the most energetic and varied programmes of art performances in the south east, The Hazlitt Theatre offers drama, comedy and musical entertainment and local community theatre groups.

Where to shop and dine out 

Maidstone offers an eclectic mix of shopping and dining experiences. Amongst the recently refurbished Fremlin Walk, you can find a flagship House of Fraser, H&M, Flying Tiger and Waterstones, to name a few. On the other side of town you’ll find independent shopping experiences in and around the streets of The Royal Star Arcade and Market Buildings, with clothing and homeware boutique, Lottie’s Loft, being a particular highlight.

Restaurants and cafes are in abundance, with the highest concentration of eateries located around Earl Street. Check out the highly recommended Frederik Cafe Bistro, La Villetta, Mu Mu’s and Embankment Floating Restaurant on the River Medway.

In the historic villages in and around Maidstone, top pubs include The Fish on the Green in Bearsted, The Potting Shed in Langley and the Curious Eatery in Boughton Monchelsea.

Mote Park

Mote Park boasts an impressive 30 acre lake offering water sports, a pitch and putt course and a cafe hub. It’s also host to a variety of festivals and events throughout the summer and autumn.

Highlights include Ramblin Man Fair in July, one of the country’s biggest rock music festivals. For three years on the go, Ramblin Man Fair encompasses rock, blues and country, has its own beer festival, and there are options for glamping and camping nearby!

October welcomes the beer and folk music festival, Oktoberfest. Expect Europe’s biggest beer tent with 30,000 litres of Bavarian beer, traditional folk music and a German food market.

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

March 22, 2022

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

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

Assessing if a property can be used for guardianship

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

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

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

Housing guardians to keep properties safe

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

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

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

The final stage – vacant possession and handback

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

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

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

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

March 11, 2022

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

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

Cate, forging her artistic career path

From our Manchester guardian, Cate 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlotte, XLP

From our west London guardian, Charlotte

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

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

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

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

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.

In conversation with Mark Ackroyd, our new CEO

January 25, 2022

As we get into the swing of a new year, we catch up with Mark Ackroyd, new Chief Executive at Dot Dot Dot, about his love of the nitty gritty, how the landscape has shifted in the past five years and his aims for 2022.

Tell me a bit about how we got here – what’s your background? What brought you to Dot Dot Dot?

“I have always been interested in working with organisations that have a social element to what they do. I originally qualified as a social worker and quite quickly found out that I enjoy both the social element but also grappling with complex operational problems.

“I worked for the National Governing Body of Tennis on child safeguarding, and, since then, I’ve worked in schools and in managing creative shared office spaces. I’ve gradually deepened my understanding of property management but more generally of managing complex operational businesses. 

“Dot Dot Dot feels like a business that is addressing a very urgent challenge, but which, when I joined as Director of Services, was also a good overlap with the type of professional background that I had of balancing both social and operational business needs.

“I’m passionate about being values-driven. I like helping people to translate their values into what they do every day with their customers or with their job. Dot Dot Dot is a great fit for the things that I like to do and that I have built a skill set for over the years – nitty gritty operational detail that enables social purpose.”

 

What are the best bits about working at Dot Dot Dot?

“I really enjoy hearing about how our guardians have been making the most of their time. That is as much to do with their motivation and their drive as it is about the work that we do. It’s nice to have contact with a very cool, very motivated group of customers – that’s really exciting. 

“Another part is that I love being part of and leading a team. I think we’ve got a great team of employees that live our values, but they’re also just a really interesting group of people who are not just there for the 9-5. That, for me, is a real passion – trying to give people a work environment that is a pleasure for them. 

“The final thing is that running a business like Dot Dot Dot is quite complicated, so there’s an intellectual challenge to leading a business that has that mixed bottom line. Dot Dot Dot is a small business and a social enterprise, but when you get beneath the skin it’s a real Swiss watch – there are lots of high consequence processes, because they involve real human beings living in real homes. I really enjoy that complex machine element of what we do; trying to balance all those different factors is engaging and fascinating.”

 

How has the landscape changed since you started at Dot Dot Dot?

“During my time at Dot Dot Dot, the housing situation and the long-term financial prospects for most people have become worse, and it stopped becoming feasible for many to get onto the housing ladder. By now, you increasingly have people who feel a long way from that prospect.

“Our guardians face a more generally challenging financial environment, which is partly to do with Covid but is also a long-term trend as well. The move towards a gig economy, the gradual erasure of stable, long-term jobs is a real challenge. Many people who have a lot to bring to our cities are in precarious situations, and that’s definitely changed the landscape we work in as well. The need for us to get inexpensive housing out there has grown. 

“The debate around the social impact and responsibility of businesses has evolved significantly and has dramatically accelerated over the last five years. Dot Dot Dot have continued to deliver on our core social mission and we’ve got a very clear idea about unlocking the potential of the people we house, but we need to make sure that the way we communicate is in keeping with a much more sophisticated landscape.”

 

What are your aims for 2022?

“Our strength has always been working closely with local authorities and housing associations, and particularly in regeneration programmes, and one of my goals for 2022 is to make sure that we maintain strong, productive relationships with those clients. They have housed a lot of people with Dot Dot Dot through the pandemic, and they are now figuring out how to manage their own temporary housing needs and their own residents’ needs. One of our main focuses is to ensure we continue to foster those relationships and use our expertise to help our clients manage some of the strategic challenges that many in the housing sector are facing at the moment. 

“Another focus over the next year is to continue to understand, articulate and develop our social impact, and to ensure that the impact our guardians have is targeted as effectively as possible moving forwards.

“I also hope that we’ll be returning to the Dot Dot Dot office, to re-establish a culture of spending time together with colleagues in a more regular way. Fingers crossed we’ll be able to put our newly spring-cleaned office to proper use!”

 

On the Dot Dot Dot bookshelf: 10 things to read to understand the business we are today

January 19, 2022

From our founder, Katharine Hibbert

At Dot Dot Dot we make no apologies for being geeks.  We think hard about housing, about social impact, and about how to be a successful business which makes a useful contribution to both spheres.  Many of our approaches and views come from our hands-on experience of housing nearly 2,000 people over the past decade, supporting them to give time worth more than £4m to good causes.  But just as important is what we’ve learned from books – and here are the top ten things to read that have shaped my thinking on our work. 

Housing

Where Will We Live?

James Meek (London Review of Books, 2014)

How did we end up in the situation where there is, as Meek puts it, “a huge, growing, unsatisfied need for housing that doesn’t require you to earn above an average income to afford”?  This essay – published by the London Review of Books and available for free – tells the story of how we ended up here through the prism of the housing situation in Tower Hamlets, the borough where Dot Dot Dot was launched and where we still work today.  It explores the human, social and economic impact of Right to Buy, beds in sheds, the bedroom tax and more, and is an indispensable read for anyone trying to understand why it’s so difficult to find a reasonable place to live.

The People of Providence: A Housing Estate and Some of Its Inhabitants

Tony Parker (Hutchinson, 1983)

Oral historian Tony Parker spent 18 months talking to residents on a then-newly built housing estate in South London – listening to stories of everyday life from mothers, vagrants, policemen and a 75-year-old widower who spends “an hour or two in bed each week with one or other of about twelve different ladies I meet at our church”.  Parker has an incredible ability to get people talking, and then to turn each person’s private thoughts and experiences into a compelling and enlightening chapter-length story.  The People of Providence is a window into what housing means to individuals and how it shapes their lives.  Written for a contemporary audience in the ‘80s, it’s just good a read today.

Estates: An Intimate History

Lynsey Hanley (Granta Books, 2007)

Part memoir, part history, Hanley’s book tells the story of social housing in the UK in a personal and even-handed way.  While admiring the early ambition of council house builders to create homes for heroes, she is critical of later developments of huge estates made up of poor-quality, badly located homes, like the one she grew up in herself.  Going back to visit her parents – who still live in the same estate, just outside Birmingham, she calls it “a clean, wide-open prison”.  She ends the book with recommendations for improving estates – centring on the need to give residents a say in how they’re housed.


Social Impact

Refinery29 money diaries

Dot Dot Dot’s mission is to provide housing that makes it easier for people to do more good, and this regular feature published by Refinery29, an online magazine aimed at Millennial and Gen Z women, shows why this is needed.  Every week, one woman documents in detail what they earn and spend during a seven-day period.  Week after week, it highlights the stresses and trade-offs involved in paying for housing, other living costs and a bit of fun on an ordinary wage, especially in London.  Few contributors have meaningful savings, and those who have managed to buy a home have usually had significant help from their parents.  I read it every week to find the motivation to keep working on providing inexpensive homes to people who’ll use the reduced financial pressure to make a contribution to their communities – and I also read it for the nosiness value. 

FREE: Adventures on the Margins of a Wasteful Society

Katharine Hibbert (Ebury Press, 2010)

My own book, telling the story of the squatters and scavengers who get by on what the rest of us throw away, sparked the ideas that became Dot Dot Dot.  Working on it helped me to understand why homes sit empty in the UK and to see a new opportunity to fix the problem, as I’ve blogged about here.  But it also gave me the motivation to build a solution that would contribute to community-building and neighbourliness in the areas where we worked.  The history of squatting contains some great stories of people getting together to fix the problems they faced using the resources that were at hand – many of today’s housing co-ops grew out of the squatting movement in the ‘70s.  Researching this history made me feel able to just get on and build something that didn’t exist yet – other ordinary people had got together to do it in the past, so why shouldn’t I?

Radical Help: How We Can Remake the Relationships Between Us and Remake the Welfare State

Hillary Cottam (Little, Brown, 2018)

Should we solve the social problems we face today by shrinking the size of the government to empower the private sector to find market solutions?  Or should we raise taxes and pump money into the existing system to make sure everyone gets what they need? Cottam, a serial social entrepreneur and academic, argues that the answer is neither – instead, she says, we should invest in structures which enable citizens and communities to work together to help each other alongside making sure that the state provides what is needed to make that a reality. 


Business

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Bruce Patton (Penguin, 2011)

It’s impossible to avoid difficult conversations – especially when dealing with people’s homes, jobs and money, as we do every day at Dot Dot Dot.  This book is the best guide I’ve ever read to making those conversations go as well as possible.  Its lessons – such as how to actively listen and make sure you’ve understood what your counterpart is saying, to think in terms of how each person (including you) contributed to the situation rather than trying to apportion blame, and to appreciate that people can agree on all the facts but still see things very differently – apply to any kind of difficult conversation, not just professional ones.  But they are so relevant to our work at Dot Dot Dot that I bought a dozen copies for the team last Christmas.

The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right

Atul Gawande (Profile, 2009)

The premise of this book is simple – almost every task can be achieved more reliably and with fewer errors by using a simple but well-designed tick-list.   Because Dot Dot Dot aims to provide a consistent, predictable and reliably good quality service to everyone we work with, and because we work with so many different kinds of buildings in different areas housing different people, it’s essential that we get the basics right every time.  We’ve moved away from paper checklists on clipboards, onto a bespoke system that all of us can access from the cloud, but we employ a full-time member of staff to look after our data and make sure we know if things aren’t as they should be.  Gawande’s commitment to systematising tasks is a good back-to-basics reminder of the importance of getting things right every time, and how to do so.

Getting To Yes

Roger Fisher and William Ury (Cornerstone, 1981)

This book gives me optimism about the world by making a money-driven business case for being a basically decent person when negotiating.  It argues that the aim of any negotiation should be to explore opportunities to “grow the pie” – to listen carefully and think laterally to find things that you can do for the other party which will be of greater value to them than their cost to you.  It also reminds negotiators that such deals are rarely one-offs, so relationships and reputation matter.  And – importantly for a social enterprise committed to behaving ethically – it advises on what to do when faced with a counterparty who isn’t playing fair.   This book, a deserved classic, is readable and short and should be read by everyone who ever has to negotiate over anything – in other words, all of us.

Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big

Bo Burlingham (Penguin, 2006)

So much of the narrative around entrepreneurship is focused on achieving vast scale.  This book presents the alternative to “go big or go home”, arguing that doing a great job for a bounded group of clients is often a better route to business success than trying to be all things to all people.  Our focus at Dot Dot Dot has always been on winning projects in contexts where we can do our best work, rather than picking up as much volume as we possibly can if doing so dilutes our quality or social impact.  This approach – built into our decision-making process – has served us well for the past ten years, and Burlington’s work explains why it is likely to continue to do so into the future.

If you want to read more about our approach, you can visit our approach page or sign up to Meanwhile Thoughts, our monthly newsletter for property owners.

How our guardians will be supporting vulnerable members of the community this winter

December 20, 2021

With the arrival of the holiday season it can be easy to forget that for many, the winter period spells isolation and hardship. But there are plenty of ways in which you can help to share joy with others over the coming months. We sat down with some of our guardians to find out how they’ll be volunteering to combat loneliness and poverty, and to get some ideas on how we can all get involved to spread festive cheer.

Spotlight on: Charlotte and Shout, a free, 24 hour mental health text support service

“I’ve been volunteering with Shout for more than two years now and it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done. People can text into Shout if they have no one else to talk to, are feeling isolated or they have relationship problems. Myself and my fellow volunteers are there to provide a listening ear, de-escalate situations and also to empower the texter to seek the support they need.

In my day job, I co-run a mental health app for the LGBTQIA+ community called Kalda. Its mission is to help people to connect with others who might be facing similar issues and to attend weekly mindfulness sessions via our app, which you can search for on IOS and Android.”

Discover volunteering opportunities with Shout and how you can get involved to support their mission.

Spotlight on: Eke and Connection Support, a befriending service working to ensure no one feels alone this year 

“I’m currently linked with six elderly clients who are at risk of social isolation. I get in touch with them to listen, have a chat and brighten their day. If they ever had a problem or needed help with a daily task at home then I’m always on hand to help them out. Connection Support’s team of volunteers also help out with anything from gardening to shopping to picking up prescriptions.

Volunteering as a befriender means that you build strong relationships with the people you’re linked with and provide vital support to those who don’t have families or are on their own, particularly over the Christmas period. They always say it’s so nice to have someone to speak to and to feel valued. That’s what it’s all about.”

Find out more about Connection Support and their available voluntary positions.

Spotlight on: Jack and the Royal Voluntary Service, providing critical support to the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic

“As an NHS volunteer responder for the Royal Voluntary Service, who collaborate with Good Samaritans, I put myself on duty to take calls and support vulnerable people in England who are at most risk from the COVID-19 virus to stay well. This is to help support the NHS and social care sector during the ongoing pandemic.

Mostly, I have acted as a ‘Check-in and chat volunteer’, providing short-term telephone support to individuals who are at risk of loneliness as a consequence of self-isolation. I have spoken with mostly elderly individuals who live alone and are suffering from ill health or isolating, giving them an ear to listen to and assuring that they are not in danger and have everything they need.

It is a really valuable experience because often the individuals I speak to are suffering from loneliness and to help cheer them up and offer them a form of socialising, it’s rewarding.It’snice that even a short telephone call can boost someone’s spirits and hopefully make them feel better about what they are going through.”

The Royal Voluntary Service are always in need of new volunteers to join their team. Head over to their website to sign up.

Learn more about how our guardian community is dedicating their free time to a huge range of good causes across the country.

Want to apply to be a property guardian? Find out more.

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.

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