Three cheers for the bureaucrats!

June 25, 2021

Our culture celebrates those who come up with ideas far more than those who translate them into reality. Yet, says our founder, Katharine Hibbert, it’s the diligent administrators putting ideas into practice that make for a successful, sustainable business.

As we celebrate a decade of Dot Dot Dot, there’s one thing that would astonish ten-years-younger me.  You might think it’s the fact we’re still in business – but I had a hunch that property owners and guardians would choose a better quality and more impactful option if it existed.  You might think it’s our scale – but although we’re now one of the biggest 10% of social enterprises in the country, I made spreadsheets in the early days modelling what growth would look like.  Although at the beginning I wasn’t sure I could make my plans a reality, I drew up the vision of what success would look like, then I put aside my doubts and acted as if it was possible.  It turns out that what I imagined wasn’t too far off the mark.    

But the one thing I never imagined and didn’t predict was just how much I would come to love excellent administrators, thoughtful bureaucrats and reliable middle managers.  Like most entrepreneurs, I’ve always been fairly comfortable with chaos and uncertainty.  You wouldn’t pursue a dream of building an organisation from scratch offering something that doesn’t exist yet, let alone doing it with zero start-up capital and minimal business experience, if you didn’t secretly quite enjoy being well outside your comfort zone.  My personality had always led me into roles which lacked structure and where no one really managed me.  In my previous career, as a journalist at the Sunday Times and as an author, I was more or less given free rein as long as I produced decent writing on time.  If I’m honest, I found all forms of administration a terrible bore, and I avoided it as much as I possibly could.

However, almost as soon as I started working on Dot Dot Dot, I realised that it didn’t matter how good my ideas were if I couldn’t overcome the practical hurdles to realising them.  That meant things like making sure that our properties met the relevant health and safety standards, that staff had the right employment contracts, that the books were balanced and that we had enough insurance cover.  And all of that meant bureaucracy and administration.

I found that there was lots of fantastic support available to would-be social entrepreneurs to help them develop their vision and imagine their business model.  There was rather less advice available focused on the nuts and bolts of actually making things happen.  I repeatedly came up against hurdles like the difficulty of finding an insurance broker who would construct a bespoke policy for a new business model, and that of identifying a reliable accountant without having an accounting background myself.

Some of it I managed to do myself.  But a great deal of it got done through the efforts of my colleagues.  Dot Dot Dot’s very first employee, Sam Norwood, joined as a paid intern and stayed on for more than a year afterwards.  He helped me to figure out how much support to give guardians in finding volunteering opportunities that suited them, and wrote our first volunteering handbook – he has since gone on to become a teacher and launch his own charity, Write Back.  Our second employee, Saffron Clackson, took a two-year career break from her job in the Civil Service to work on Dot Dot Dot from 2012 to 2014, and built us proper HR, book-keeping and property-management systems.  And Ben Richardson – now Managing Director of Caring in Bristol, a homelessness charity – put a huge amount of effort into working through tricky issues in guardian management during his time with us as a Relationship Manager from 2013 to 2016.   It’s the same story today – Dot Dot Dot’s success is thanks in large part to our excellent team who methodically work through problems and solve them step by step.

Before working on Dot Dot Dot, I would probably have seen that kind of work as an unglamorous distraction – something that ties you down and takes you away from the big ideas.  Now, I see that building a business involves constant triangulation between the ideal vision and the practical constraints you’re dealing with.  Doing that successfully requires system-builders who pick up new ideas and translate them into practicalities, not just a room full of charismatic generalists who love to solve problems on the fly but who also don’t mind creating new ones along the way.  Crucially I also had to get my chaos-loving tendencies in check and learn to cooperate with people who like to create order. 

I also learned – the hard way – that it’s administrative details that are most likely to trip up businesses like Dot Dot Dot.  Our worst crisis, when we came the closest to failing as a business, was caused by a string of book-keeping errors when we outsourced the work to an inadequate provider and didn’t check it thoroughly enough.  It led us to underestimate the costs we were accruing, which could have made us insolvent – we were lucky to catch it in time.  It wasn’t ideas and vision that saved us in that case, it was colleagues diligently combing through the data and putting the mistakes right.

Our culture celebrates those who come up with ideas far more than those who translate them into reality.  Ten years ago, I felt the same way.  Today, though, I am full of appreciation for thorough, careful people who quietly get the job done right day in and day out.  It isn’t a toast that you hear very often but, on our birthday, here’s to the quiet, diligent people who get things done.  Cheers!

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

June 25, 2021

In 2019, we brought our mission to provide safe, affordable 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.

Dot Dot Dot…10 years and counting

June 23, 2021

Dot Dot Dot chief executive, Peter Brown, reflects on what he’s learnt after moving from a housing association to work for a social enterprise.

So Dot Dot Dot is 10 years old…and I’ve been part of it for seven of those years. The first time I heard about Dot Dot Dot was in about 2012 when someone in my network mentioned that someone he knew had started a property guardianship social enterprise. That turned out to be Katharine, who had recently started her social enterprise and was looking for properties to house people who did great volunteering. The concept has been proven with some early successes, but more properties were needed. 

At that time, I was working for the local authority housing organisation, Tower Hamlets Homes. Like most housing providers of that size, we had a small number of properties that couldn’t be used for longterm local authority tenants. I was looking for a solution that was better than just leaving the properties empty and hoping for the best, which had been the strategy up to that point. Having people who also volunteered whilst looking after the properties met a business need, because it cut risk and costs, and gave long-term tenants great neighbours. It made my housing management colleagues feel good that properties were being put to a good use by working with an organisation that was innovative as well as trustworthy. 

Because I worked for a client before I came to work at Dot Dot Dot, I got to experience the full value of what happens when you partner with an organisation that is purposeful, exists for all the right reasons and has a clear, socially responsible approach to doing business. Perhaps it’s unusual to switch from a housing provider to supplier, but many of the values that housing organisations hold true are shared by Dot Dot Dot, The way that work is carried out has changed over the years, but the Dot Dot Dot business model, our desire for impact and the commitment we have to good results for everyone hasn’t altered.

I have always been a fan of the social enterprise model. To my mind, they occupy that space somewhere between purely commercial organisations and fully mission-driven charities, and try to take the best bits of each, aiming to create something powerful, purposeful and, crucially, sustainable. It’s been a pleasure to be part of Dot Dot Dot’s journey this far and to get to work with so many great clients, colleagues and guardians over the years.

Most of my career before I joined Dot Dot Dot was in the public sector, and for organisations much larger than Dot Dot Dot. When I contrast what it’s like to lead Dot Dot Dot with those earlier professional experiences, there’s something quite freeing about organisations like ours that are smaller and able to be nimble. At Dot Dot Dot, we are very focused on doing the right things for our clients and those we house, and increasingly we will be focusing our efforts partnering with clients who we think will enable us to do our best work. At Dot Dot Dot we are trying to do one thing – provide housing that makes it easier for people to do good – and everyone in the team wants to do this and to find ways to do it well. 

It’s also good to be able to stay connected with people working in all kinds of housing organisations – the big, the small, the specialised, as well as the more general. Through our careful choice of guardians who want to volunteer, and our diligent management approach, we have always made sure that we can add value to our clients’ work and projects. We know that we get our strongest feedback when we are working in situations where choices about what guardians are on site and how they are managed matter the most. These situations commonly are the more complicated regeneration and development programmes, and bigger buildings in the areas where property owners have a long term stake and ongoing interest. They are often settings where clients have sensitive projects and often with longer-term residents closeby.

Another reflection is that I’m more certain than ever about how vital a brilliant team is. Dot Dot Dot has a great team of people working for it – with its Board supporting the exec – and the collective value of the team’s commitment, energy and skills is immense. We couldn’t achieve what we have over the last 10 years without our people.

Over the years, the way we have done our work has of course changed – we have more staff, we have evolved and improved how we work and, as we have become bigger, we have become more professionalised and created more specialised roles. When I began at Dot Dot Dot, we could travel to all of the properties in our portfolio by bike (or bus if it was raining!), since they were all in East London. We aren’t so local anymore – we have properties throughout London and the south east, as well as the south coast, Oxford and Cambridge and Manchester – but the commitment we have to our work, our desire to create a positive impact and our sense of values has not changed at all…and hopefully won’t do in the next 10 years.

Spotlight on: Ailsa, looking back at eight years of Dot Dot Dot guardianship

June 17, 2021

From our longest standing guardian of eight years, Ailsa

Back in 2012 I’d just started volunteering with Bow Arts after not being in London for long. At the same time, I got made redundant from my job and had to leave the digs I was in at the time. I was on the brink of having to leave London altogether until one day when I was leaving an arts exhibition, I was feeling flat and started chatting to the receptionist about my situation. She told me that her friend had just started up an organisation called Dot Dot Dot, and as I was already volunteering I’d be a great fit. 

I wasn’t sure at first, but I went on the website, got in touch and met with Dot Dot Dot’s founder, Katharine. We had a really honest and open conversation about property guardianship – and I was hooked on the idea. 

I decided to press on with becoming a Dot Dot Dot guardian and met Katharine at Blackwall Tunnel DLR stop from where we walked through a housing estate to a little fifties flat at the top of a tower block in east London. She showed me the flat and I immediately thought, yes, I’m having it! It was so exciting to bump into other guardians on the stairs – it was all so new to all of us, it felt like such a novelty. We used to do ‘come dine with me’ evenings and visit each other’s flats for drinks. For me, they became my London community;  my best friends. Ten years later, I’m still close with several of them after bonding so much in those early days. 

I ended up staying in my fifties flat for six months where I paid £260 a month before we were asked to vacate the building. Luckily a 1-bed flat came up in an area nearby. Katharine was also living here at the time so we ended up living close by to each other. I ended up living in five different properties over the eight years that I was a guardian – I knew I wanted to stay living in east London and there were times that I moved out and privately rented somewhere else. It’s expensive, I had to share with other people in a small place and put my stuff into storage. And so I always came back to Dot Dot Dot. 

As a Dot Dot Dot guardian, you know that you’re going to live alongside good people who care about others. There was safety in it for me as well – I know what being a guardian involves and so I was keen to roll with moving to new places when we got given notice. Sticking with it, saving money and feeling secure allowed me to pursue my art career and volunteer with a big range of organisations. I’m not a guardian at the moment but there’s a good chance that I’d look to be a Dot Dot Dot guardian again in the future. 

Read more stories from our guardians on their volunteering and how living with Dot Dot Dot has given them the freedom and flexibility to pursue their goals.

Counting the costs of empty properties

May 21, 2021

Many property owners focus on the lost rental revenue when calculating the cost of an empty building, but, says Dot Dot Dot chief executive Peter Brown, there are many more savings to be had when using property guardians.

When a mainstream use of a property comes to an end e.g. because an occupier has left, or the building needs to be redeveloped, the focus on the financial loss to the property owner is usually on lost rental revenue. This is understandable, because those figures usually quickly add up, but there are also significant costs involved with managing and stewarding empty buildings which can hit the property owner’s bottom line. 

In my experience, most organisations will underestimate these costs as they aren’t used to holding property empty. And in larger buildings that have had a commercial tenant, the property owner won’t have been responsible for the building’s day to day costs and so may not even have a sense of the running costs of the building, so won’t have been able to make an assessment for how much the building may cost to keep empty. Every month when we run through our budgets, I never cease to be surprised by how quickly the savings of using guardians, rather than leaving buildings empty, can add up. 

For example, we took responsibility for around 165 Council Tax accounts in the last financial year, saving 14 of our clients more than £220k in Council Tax payments alone. Single accounts ranged from individual studio flats up to our largest 90-person property, and, there were plenty – hundreds – more accounts where the guardians paid Council Tax directly, thereby contributing even more savings. We’re also working up the savings on utilities, maintenance and alternative security options for each of our projects, so we can give our clients a more complete understanding of all the money they’re saving by choosing to work with us.

The costs of empty property that we typically see fall into two categories – direct and indirect. 

Direct costs are things that clients would have had to pay for themselves if the building lay empty – for example:

  • Council tax: discounts and exemptions for empty property have not been available for a number of years, and in some areas policies to incentivise owners to use property means that Council Tax bills can double for longer-term empty property
  • Energy and utilities: even when equipment is switched off, there are often standing charges to pay for
  • Hard security products: many of our clients have historically used third party security products such as metal screens to secure their empty properties. These products are either rented or purchased, and so using guardians removes the need to pay for them
  • Repairs and maintenance: we will often be able to take on some of the routine repairs and maintenance, depending on the building
  • Health and safety, and compliance: even an empty building needs to be managed and kept safe, for visitors and to avoid it becoming a hazard.
  • Depreciation: though it’s hard to measure, an empty building will most likely lose value over time as it becomes more dilapidated. There’s a value in a building that is cared-for and looked after. 

But there are also other costs – indirect ones – that only become relevant once a property is empty:

  • Insurance – many insurers have clauses requiring property to be occupied without long void periods, and some insurers will charge more for empty property given the risks of vandalism or damage going unnoticed and unchecked
  • Theft or vandalism – these costs can be high in terms of both the cleanup and securing the building again. Unfortunately, we’ve seen even the smallest property being the target of metal thieves.
  • Squatters or unauthorised access – the court and bailiff costs associated with removing squatters can easily run into five figures.

So, when faced with an empty building, my advice would be to consider and make provision for a wider set of these costs and not just rent loss.

If you want to get an idea of how much property guardianship could save you, get in touch with us at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com.

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

Some clients will do significant work and others will do none – this varies according to each client’s compliance needs, budgets and operational priorities. Our work needs to fit around the agreed specification, filling the gaps and ensuring that the property handover process is smooth and efficient. Getting this ‘recipe’ right is a key step – it gives our clients certainty about their own workflow, it allows us to make detailed plans, and it gives us an insight into the unique pressures and preferences of a new organisation or team.

Beyond that, we will also put in place the tracking, reporting, administrative and compliance elements of our service so that each client can access the right service and the right information in a way that works for them.

As well as the obvious property management issues, each client’s way of working needs to be accommodated. This is not just about ‘receiving’ properties, but also to their ongoing management and maintenance.

  • How are utilities handled and how should we transfer those services effectively?
  • Do operational staff prefer to share documents in paper form, by email or by using shared online drives and documents?
  • Do the client’s teams want us on site so that we can react to a flexible timetable? Or do they want a more structured approach with fixed schedules?
  • Do clients want us to liaise directly with their contractors and suppliers? Or should we work directly via the client’s own representatives?
  • Does the client have specific policy or practical requirements around anniversary or repeat compliance checks?
  • Are there particular elements of housekeeping or maintenance that are particularly important for the client? Perhaps one area or block needs special attention?

These are just some of the factors that we consider, and although this seems like a lot of detail, we are able to get ‘under the hood’ of these requirements quickly by combining our wide experience with good quality client conversations.  We have our own standards for high quality guardians and well-managed housing, and we understand how those can be delivered in a wide variety of operational contexts. We love the challenge of moulding our service so that we become a flexible and low-hassle part of each client’s toolkit.

A lot of this is worked out at the proposal stage before a contract starts, but detailed process-building continues after we are on the ground and working closely together with clients. We like to build high quality relationships with both decision-makers and operational staff within our client organisations. This allows us to respond intelligently and quickly, to find efficiencies, and to pre-empt risks and difficulties. 

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

Working with property developers across the country to care for empty buildings and the communities around them

May 20, 2021

With our deep understanding of working in large regeneration contexts, it is unsurprising that some of our client list is made up of housing associations and local councils. Yet the reality is that we have collaborated with a wide variety of clients with varying needs, and we have a broad experience of working with property developers to provide vacant property management through housing guardians, and support their redevelopment processes. This breadth of experience is what makes our model so successful – we are able to draw on all of our past experiences to deliver the best service for our clients.

In this month’s blog, we will be taking a look at how this manifests in our partnerships with property developers, in particular in Marylebone, Cambridgeshire and Purley. We explore how our experience of working with different types of building and a diverse client base has given us the knowledge to best support our clients, not just in their vacant property needs and redevelopment plans but in stakeholder relationship building and fulfilling their CSR objectives.

Supporting relationships with stakeholders

For any client looking to secure an empty building, the needs of all stakeholders – be that local residents, councils or planning authorities – must be taken into account. For property developers in particular, this is key when asking for planning permission from the relevant authorities. 

Working with a social enterprise is valuable for property developers because it can help maintain strong relationships. In 2018, we started working with Dorrington to secure an empty property with plans for redevelopment in Marylebone. Dorrington’s plans were dependent on planning permission from Westminster Council, and thus it was essential that they maintain a good relationship with the council in the interim. 

Due to our holistic approach, we were able to work closely with Dorrington and ensure that the property was well looked after, secure and ready for council inspections.  We were also able to use our varied experience of working with councils to support relationship-building with Westminster.

In Purley, where we worked with Peer Group to secure a large commercial property, we agreed that there would be staff presence on site once a week to provide access to third parties. Maintaining good relationships with third parties ensured that essential works could be carried out to support the redevelopment process, and Peer Group were able to allocate time and resources elsewhere.

A flexible approach

Flexibility is a key component of our work at Dot Dot Dot. For property developers in particular, redevelopment plans can have unknown timeframes and plans can change quickly, so long-term commitments are not always possible. 

In Cambridgeshire, we have partnered with This Land to secure a variety of properties, including residential flats, farmhouses, an education centre and former student accommodation. When plans for the student accommodation came to fruition, we were able to ensure a smooth hand back within 30 days. At the start of each project, a Relationship Coordinator is assigned to deal with any guardian and compliance issues, and this ensures that there is a staff member to manage the hand back process at the end of the contract’s life.

In Cambridge, Marylebone and Purley, our flexible approach to property management and an efficient hand back process ensured that This Land, Dorrington and Peer Group were able to move forwards with their redevelopment plans on the timescale they wanted. 

Supporting our clients’ CSR objectives

This Land has an interest in building social value into their development plans, and we have worked closely with them to support their CSR objectives, including signposting our guardians to voluntary work with homeless people. All of our guardians commit to volunteering for good causes for 16 hours each month, 

Not only do we offer effective security for empty buildings, but we deliver social value in the communities that surround them in line with our clients’ values, and support them in spreading the word to their stakeholders.

Whatever the project – whether large or small, residential or commercial, CSR strategy or not – our extensive experience of working within the public sector bodies bears fruit when working with private developers, because we are so attuned to the positive impact our guardians have on the communities in which they live.

 

If you would like to find out more about how we can support our clients, you can get in touch with the team 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.

What does property guardianship free you up to do?

April 16, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Bringing in experts so you can focus on other priorities

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

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

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

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

 

Supporting long-term placemaking with Poplar HARCA in east London

April 15, 2021

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

Responding to Poplar HARCA’s needs

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

Keeping it local

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

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

New business

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

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

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

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

« Previous PageNext Page »

What are you looking for today?

Marketing Permissions

Dot Dot Dot Property Ltd will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing by email. Please confirm you are happy to hear from us by:

Email
You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at hello@dotdotdotproperty.com. We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By checking the box, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

GDPR
We use MailChimp as our marketing automation platform. By clicking below to submit this form, you acknowledge that the information you provide will be transferred to MailChimp for processing in accordance with their Privacy Policy and Terms.