Spotlight on: Karolina Gerlich – from volunteer to CEO of care workers charity the National Association of Care and Support Workers

August 24, 2021

Karolina became a Dot Dot Dot guardian in 2017, living in Canning Town, east London. When she wasn’t a full-time care worker, Karolina was spending much of her free time volunteering with the National Association of Care and Support Workers, acting as CEO. Find out from Karolina how guardianship and volunteering enabled her to gain a full-time paid role as the chief executive of the charity she had dedicated her spare time to.

During the first two years of my guardianship with Dot Dot Dot, I was working full time as a care worker. At the same time, I was dedicating a huge amount of time to volunteering as the CEO of the National Association of Care and Support Workers. I was spending much of my time helping to give care workers a voice, representing the workforce and participating in meetings with stakeholders. Ultimately, all of my voluntary work was around championing those in the profession as skilled professionals who make a huge contribution to the economy and to society. 

Being able to dedicate so much of my time to representing care workers with this organisation meant that as of March last year, I was given a full-time paid role as CEO. In my role as chief executive, I run the charity and develop stakeholder relationships and engagement. As care workers are a low-paid workforce, we give out financial grants to to support their wellbeing and mental health – there’s a lack of funding in the sector and so due to many having to self-isolate during the pandemic, there were also a huge amount of care workers were missing out on fair pay. Last year we gave £2.2 million to over 3,200 care workers. 

I first found out about property guardianship in the Evening Standard. When I did my research, Dot Dot Dot stood out from other organisations doing the same thing because of the volunteering element – lower costs combined with volunteering was an idea I could really get behind. Other companies seemed to prioritise profit over people, but at Dot Dot Dot, they’re much more focused on doing the right thing and putting their guardians first. 

I viewed a 2-bed property in east London that I ended up moving into – there was lots of space and the value was unbeatable for London. If I’d wanted to privately rent somewhere of the same size, it would have cost me double the amount. I ended up being a guardian for almost three years, which was an overall positive experience for me as it meant that I was able to use my money more wisely rather than most of it going towards living expenses. If I was looking for affordable housing in the future, I’d definitely look to live with Dot Dot Dot again.

Read more stories from our 10 great guardians who we’re highlighting as part of our tenth birthday celebrations. 

Social impact worth millions

August 24, 2021

Volunteering has always been at the core of what Dot Dot Dot does – our mission is to provide housing that makes it easier for people to do more good, and we do that by housing people who want to give time to good causes as property guardians.  So as we celebrate 10 years since we launched, we have counted up how much volunteering we have enabled during our first decade – and it’s a lot.  

The value of Dot Dot Dot guardians’ volunteering

Collectively, our guardians have given time worth £4.3m to good causes since 2011 – the equivalent of one person working full-time for more than 200 years.  But a good deal of that volunteering happens because our guardians are kind people who want to make a difference, and would do so whether or not they were housed by Dot Dot Dot.  

So how much more volunteering have we caused to happen, beyond what would have happened anyway? We have dug into the numbers and worked out that £1.8m of the value of the time guardians have given to charity is directly due to our efforts.

How we worked it out

We took two steps to arrive at this value.  First, we discounted the amount of volunteering our residents were doing before they joined us – so if, for example, someone went from volunteering 12 hours a month to 16 hours a month we only counted four hours for that person.  We found that, on average, 67% of our guardians’ volunteering was additional to what they had been doing before we housed them.

Then second we accounted for other factors which caused residents to volunteer more after they joined us – for instance, some people joined us because they knew they were going to start volunteering more as they went through a career change, so in these cases their extra volunteering wasn’t due to our work, and we didn’t count it as a difference we had made.  Overall, we found that 62% of the increase in our guardians’ volunteering was due to being housed by us.  You can read more about the data and calculations we used to arrive at these numbers here.

We’re glad that not all of our guardians’ volunteering is due to our work

These results tally with the way we see our role.  It would be worrying if all the volunteering our guardians did was due to us – we work hard to house people who actively want to volunteer, rather than to convert people who would rather not do it.  This is because if we were compelling unwilling people to give time to charity they probably wouldn’t give their best effort.  

By contrast, people who find a cause they care about and work that is intrinsically motivating will naturally try harder and be more committed.  The volunteers will benefit from it more themselves, too, through learning, friendships and increased wellbeing.  And our jobs at Dot Dot Dot are more enjoyable when we are supporting and encouraging people to do volunteering they believe in, rather than nagging them to do something they don’t really care about.  

So it is reassuring that 58% of our guardians’ volunteering is happening for reasons other than our work – it means that our recruitment process is working, and that people who would like to be property guardians but who would prefer not to volunteer are choosing to be housed by our competitors.

But we’re also glad to be moving the needle

But it would also be worrying if our work made no difference.  Our vision is of a society where people have the time and energy to give back to causes they care about, and we believe that providing our guardians with well-managed, inexpensive housing frees up both their time and their energy to get involved.  

It gives them more time because not having to pay high rent can enable them to work fewer hours, or they can live closer to their jobs and therefore cut down on commuting time.  It gives them more energy because it reduces anxieties linked to financial hardship and unsafe or unsuitable housing, and means that people are in a better place emotionally to think about contributing to a cause.  So we are glad to see that our work is making a meaningful difference to guardians’ volunteering.

The bigger picture

Supporting volunteering is only one of the ways in which we make a difference as a social enterprise.  We also have a positive impact by creating inexpensive, well-managed housing at a time of housing crisis, by preventing empty buildings from blighting neighbourhoods and by being active contributors to the growth of social enterprise as a sector.  

But since we have had volunteering in our DNA since day one, it’s great to know that our guardians have given such a lot of value to good causes over the past ten years, and we’re very glad that we were able to enable them to do even more.  We look forward to housing and supporting even more generous, motivated people in our next decade.

Read more about our social impact and contributions to the charity sector.

The value of Dot Dot Dot’s social impact over the past 10 years: How we calculated it

August 18, 2021

In June, Dot Dot Dot celebrated its 10th birthday, and August marked a decade since we housed our first guardian.

We’ve worked out the total value of our guardians’ volunteering over the past 10 years is £4.3m and the value of the impact Dot Dot Dot has made is £1.8m. These two figures make us very proud, but how did we get to them?

The value of all our guardians’ volunteering

In the 10 years up to June 2021, our guardians volunteered a total of 339,058 hours, and 77.7% of those hours were volunteered by guardians living in London.

We use the National and London Living Wages as the basis for calculating the value of each hour volunteered. Aside from the fact it’s good practice and Dot Dot Dot is a Living Wage Employer, those wages are equivalent to that paid for entry-level roles in charities, and we think it’s reasonable to assume a majority of our guardians are undertaking work of at least this value.

If our guardians were working and not volunteering for free, then their employers would be paying costs associated with employing people e.g. National Insurance, pension, sick pay contributions, and a good rule of thumb is that these add a further 30% to a salary. So, we:

  1. Broke down all our volunteering by the year in which it occurred
  2. Assumed in each of those years 77.7% of the volunteering was done in London
  3. Worked out the London and National Living Wage rates plus 30% on-costs for each year
  4. Calculated an hourly wage for both London and non-London based volunteering weighted across the 10 years we were looking at.
  5. Multiplied those weighted hourly wages by the number of hours volunteered in and out of London over 10 years

Value of London volunteering (263.448 x £13.09) + Value of out-of-London volunteering (75,610 x £11.31) = Value of all Dot Dot Dot guardians’ volunteering: £4.3m

Working out our social impact

We are very proud that the total value of our guardians’ volunteering was £4.3m over the past decade. However, we really wanted to understand the impact that Dot Dot Dot had made in 10 years i.e. what was the value of the volunteering that only happened because guardians were housed by us.

To do this we needed to get some data from our historic and current guardians to calculate:

Hours volunteered x monetary value of those hours x %age of volunteering at Dot Dot Dot which was/is additional to any they did before being housed by us x %age of volunteering at Dot Dot Dot which was/is attributable to being housed by Dot Dot Dot

To make this as robust as possible we needed data from a representative sample of guardians – we needed to be confident that not just the people who volunteered a high number of hours had responded. So:

  1. We asked all current guardians to tell us how many hours they volunteered in the the couple of months before joining Dot Dot Dot – in order to compare the difference between the hours they now volunteer
  2. We also asked them how important a factor being housed by Dot Dot Dot was in any extra volunteering they did
  3. We asked all former guardians the same two questions

We compared the average hours volunteered by current guardians with those of former guardians, and found them to be very similar, within a couple of percentage points. Fundamentally, we were confident in the representativeness of our sample.

Now we needed to look at the additionality and attribution points, and calculated that:

  • 66.85% of volunteering was additional
  • 62% of that additional volunteering was due to people being housed by Dot Dot Dot

We received replies from enough people to give us a strong confidence level of 95% with a confidence interval of 5.5% in their answers. So, for example, for the numbers above, we were 95% confident that, if every guardian had responded to our survey, then between 61.35% and 72.35% (66.85% ± 5.5%) of their volunteering was additional.

Which meant we could do our calculation, and found the value of the impact Dot Dot Dot has made in support of charitable causes in its 10-year history is £1.8m.

London Out of London
Hours volunteered 263448.066 75609.934
Weighted wage £13.09140069 £11.30840146
Additionality 0.6685 0.6685
Attribution 0.62 0.62
Value of Dot Dot Dot impact £ 1,429,467.32 £ 354,383.24 £ 1,783,850.56

Read more about the value of our social impact over the past 10 years.

Spotlight on: Helen, our beekeeping guardian in Letchworth Garden City

July 30, 2021

From Helen, Dot Dot Dot guardian in Letchworth Garden City

Every Wednesday I volunteer in Hitchin, Hertfordshire with Buzzworks – a charity whose mission is to help people learn about the world of bees and train people in the art of beekeeping. I started off by helping to maintain the education centre gardens, before moving to assist the head beekeeper. We extract the honey from the hives which are then put into jars and sold at a market in Hitchin every month.

Before I became a Dot Dot Dot guardian, I was already volunteering with Friends of Norton Common. I used to go dog walking on the common and one day another dog walker told me about the group. It’s a lovely mix of people who are very knowledgeable, together we make sure that the green spaces are well maintained and safe for visitors to enjoy. We have such a laugh and come rain or shine we are there. Plus it keeps us fit and healthy and helps us feel connected to each other and nature. I’m learning many new skills and can do things now that I never thought I would.

I’m so grateful to Dot Dot Dot for providing me with a safe space in Letchworth so that I could continue living here after moving out of my previous flat. I work in social care and wouldn’t have been able to afford my own space. Now, I have the financial security to be able to enrol in courses and invest in my personal development. Plus, I’ve managed to pay off all my debts and become independent.

I cycle to both volunteer locations every week which makes me feel great and means that I’m not using my car which is good for the environment and my mental health. I’m passionate about normalising conversations around mental and emotional health, and whenever I volunteer I am able to discuss these topics with the other volunteers.

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.

Bringing a youth club back into use with London Borough of Lewisham and Grove Park Youth Club Building Preservation Trust

July 22, 2021

Grove Park Youth Club in Lewisham was opened in August 1966. Having been a valuable asset to the Lewisham community for over four decades, it was forced to close in 2013 due to budget cuts. 

In 2018, 52 years after the youth centre first opened, we partnered with London Borough of Lewisham and Grove Park Youth Club Building Preservation Trust (BPT) to secure the building with property guardians and bring the youth club back into use. With the property now handed back to Lewisham council in its newly restored condition, the Grove Park Youth Club will reopen its doors to the community on 26th July 2021 for the first time in eight years.

A lost community asset

The loss of youth services has not just hit Lewisham; funding cuts have forced councils and local authorities to close the doors of youth and community centres all across the UK. The YMCA found that every region in England has suffered cuts to youth services by at least 60% since 2010, leading to severe consequences for young people and the communities in which they live. As Dot Dot Dot founder Katharine Hibbert explored in a recent blog, physical social infrastructure like libraries, cafes and youth centres are essential to community cohesion, and can even be a matter of life or death. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has compounded issues around youth provision even further. Youth charity, UK Youth, found that, despite more demand, 83% of youth centres reported that their level of funding had decreased, while 64% said they were at risk of closure in the next 12 months.

It is little wonder that the Grove Park community were devastated at the loss of another community facility when the Grove Park Youth Club was closed back in 2013. Originally earmarked for demolition, the youth club was initially occupied by another property guardianship company. Despite the building being secured, the community, and in particular the Grove Park BPT, were committed to bringing the youth centre back to its former use.

Partnering with Grove Park Youth Club Building Preservation Trust and Lewisham Council

In collaboration with Lewisham council, youth service providers and local groups, the Grove Park Youth Club BPT put a plan in place for the revival of the youth club. The trust reached out to Dot Dot Dot in 2018 after hearing about our work and social purpose. Not only would we be offering security for the building while renovation work and fundraising was undertaken, but our guardians’ commitment to volunteering helped to bring the building back into good condition. Our experience of collaborating with councils and third party groups like Civic in east London made us the right fit for the trust’s mission to bring the last purpose-built youth club of its kind back to life. 

Bringing the youth club back into use

Since August 2018, our Grove Park guardians have contributed 787 hours of voluntary work, with each guardian contributing most of their voluntary hours to the revival of the centre. 

Their work has included arranging community clean-up days, putting together plans for a community garden, writing funding bids, recruiting volunteers and stakeholder management.

Killian Troy, a Trustee of BPT and a local to Grove Park, lived in the property for two years and contributed almost 300 hours to the cause: “For me, the benefit of being a property guardian is that I live somewhere that doesn’t contribute to London’s housing crisis. We make good use of buildings that would otherwise stand empty or be developed, and I am able to live with others and together we are working in and contributing to the local community.” Nearly two-thirds of our guardians volunteer for causes in their local area, and benefit from stronger social ties to their communities.

Through housing property guardians that care for empty buildings and the communities around them, we have created the opportunity to partner with property owners and third parties like the Grove Park Youth Club BPT and bring a well-loved community asset back into use. Beyond providing property security for empty assets like in standard property guardianship models, we partner with our clients and local groups to invest in their communities – proving that meanwhile use can and should be worthwhile.

If you’d like to hear more about how we work with our clients and their partners, you can sign up to our newsletter, Meanwhile Thoughts, or contact us at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com.

Five simple steps to re-styling your home

July 14, 2021

Once you’ve secured your new home, you’ll probably be thinking – how can I start decorating? One of the benefits of being a Dot Dot Dot guardian is that in a lot of our properties you have the creative freedom to paint and refresh your space so you can really feel at home. As we recently created a show flat in Queen’s Park, we’ve got plenty of top decorating tips to share – with one key thing in mind – how to decorate affordably. 

1. Stripping wallpaper

Time to ditch that tired wallpaper to give your walls a fresh start? Thankfully this one-day DIY job can be done fairly painlessly. First, make sure your floors are covered with old sheets or newspaper to protect them from debris. Next, test how easily the paper peels off the walls with a putty knife – if it comes away easily, then you’re dealing with an easy task. If it doesn’t budge then you’ll need to use water and a chemical stripper. We’ve got the method for both below:

Peelable wallpaper

You’ll need:

  • Putty knife or an old bank card cut into the shape you need 
  • Soap
  • Water
  • A cloth

This simple method entails loosening the edge of the paper with the putty knife, and tearing carefully. Repeat all around the room until the walls are free of wallpaper, and voila – all that’s needed now is a thorough clean with soapy water. Make sure the walls are completely dry before you begin painting.

Traditional hard-to-remove wallpaper

  • Water
  • Wallpaper stripper like this one from B&Q
  • Spray bottle
  • Putty knife or an old bank card cut into the shape you need 
  • Soap
  • Water
  • A cloth
  • Rubber gloves

Mix your wallpaper stripper with water as per the instructions on the bottle, then pour into a spray bottle. Spray the mixture onto a small section of the walls and leave to absorb for a few minutes. Then, as with the peelable wallpaper, use the putty knife to loosen the edges of the paper and scrape off, repeating the spray, absorb, peel method all around the room. Lastly, go over the walls thoroughly with soap and water to remove any residue left behind!

2. A fresh coat of paint

A good place to start is to consider what you want the finished look to be. Don’t forget that you don’t have to paint all four walls the same colour – do you want an accent wall? Could the door frames be a standout colour? Make sure to consider your approach carefully before you begin. 

Once you have an idea of the style you want, pick up some samples and get testing your colour palette out. This will give you the chance to see what the colours look like at different times of the day and in different rooms. We recommend painting your samples onto paper and tacking the paper to the wall – just in case the light colour you might choose doesn’t cover up the dark sample you started with!

must haves for painting your walls:

  • Paint
  • Paint roller
  • Paint tray 
  • Drop cloths
  • Paintbrushes
  • Masking tape (for neat edges)
  • Damp cloth

Before getting stuck into the main event, ensure that all of your furniture is either out of the room, or completely covered with old sheets or newspaper for protection. Next, grab your masking tape and firmly cover where the wall meets the floor or skirting board, and the ceiling, to ensure clean paint lines.

Next, with your roller brush at the ready, work from the ceiling down, moving your way methodically around the room. Roller brushes are good for covering large areas quickly but you will find it easier to use a paint brush when it comes to painting closer to the ceiling and floor/skirting board. 

You’ll want good ventilation to keep the air flowing through your property at this stage – make sure to keep windows open and consider having a fan on to encourage air movement (plus, the fans will help speed up the drying process). 

If you’re covering up dark walls, don’t forget that you’ll probably need to apply several coats to ensure complete coverage, or first use a primer. 

Once you’re done with the fun part, you’ll want to clean your brushes and rollers to keep them in good condition for next time. For latex and water-based paints, all that’s needed is a thorough rinse through with soap and water. For oil-based paint, you’ll need some mineral spirits to really wash the residue away. 

Top tip: people will often give away free paint that they no longer need or want on Freecycle and Facebook Marketplace. Check out these options if you’re looking to source paint on the cheap!

3. Easy to lay flooring

For a cheap and effective option to cover up any worn out flooring, you’re in pretty safe hands with a roll of lino, or stick on vinyl tiles. As the simplest and most cost-effective way of sprucing up your floor, peel and stick tiles can look more professional than you might think. B&Q does a great range of simple colours from just £8 per M2. 

If you’re after something soft under foot, you might consider opting for carpet tiles. Most of them will come with sticky backs making application simple and straightforward. Check out Screwfix’s range of shades and hues for prices from £39.99 for a pack of 16 tiles. 

A third low-maintenance option is a good coat of paint. This oft-overlooked method of sprucing up a floor can add a sumptuous accent to your new room – plus, it’s a great way to use up any leftover paint you might have from refreshing the walls! 

4. “Upcycling” second-hand furniture 

Tired and dated furniture might not be on the top of your list to collect via Freecycle or a charity shop – but what if you were to give it a revamp? Instead of buying new and often badly made pieces, restyling a second-hand table means you’ll be  creating a unique item for your home. 

Check out car boot sales, charity shops, Freecycle and Facebook Marketplace for inspiration. If the item is wooden, consider how you might give it a spruce – does it just need sanding and re-varnishing? Or would it benefit from a coat of paint? Remember that chalk-based paint works best on wood, and you’ll need to add a top varnish or wax layer to protect your piece and give it a finished sheen. 

If you have a chair with grubby material on it but have never re-upholstered before, don’t worry. YouTube is a great resource for simple how-to videos to make the most out of your new item. Plus, a simple search on Ebay will throw up a wide range of fabric offcuts for low prices to give your piece a brand new style. 

5. Deep clean

Top tip: if you’re looking for an economically and environmentally friendly cleaning solution for your home, a solution of bicarb, vinegar and lemon can actually clean just as well as many commercial cleaning products! The Guardian’s handy guide provides a run down of how the experts give their homes a going over with these three simple ingredients. 

Start with cleaning the bathroom. Spray your shower, bath, toilet and sink down with your chosen bathroom cleaner and leave to soak for a few minutes. Using the rough side of a cleaning sponge, get to work scrubbing down the bath or shower, focusing on areas that need special attention. 

You’ll then want to give the kitchen some attention. Starting with the fridge, use an antibacterial spray and go over all exterior surfaces. Remove shelves and trays from the fridge and clean thoroughly with soapy water.  Repeat this step with any other white goods you have in your kitchen. Then wipe down drawers and cabinet faces, and clean your sink with bleach making sure to rinse thoroughly afterwards to avoid staining. 

Next using glass cleaner and a microfibre cloth, go through the property to remove marks and stains on all of the windows and mirrors. 

Lastly, using a hoover or a dustpan and brush, make your way through each room to clear up any dust and debris left behind after your wall-painting and floor-laying. A damp cloth can be handy to really get into the corners of your rooms to ensure a polished finish. 

Discover more about Dot Dot Dot guardianship and how to apply to become a property guardian. Stay posted for part two, where we’ll be revealing six tips for sourcing furniture on a budget. 

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.

Dot Dot Dot staff give their time to good causes

June 4, 2021

During #VolunteersWeek 2021 we caught up with Dot Dot Dot staff who, like our guardians, often give up their time to volunteer for good causes. From a forest school for kids, to food banks and trustee positions, there’s loads of great work going on in our local communities.

Patrick Harrison, business development associate at Dot Dot Dot

I volunteer for my wife Sue’s forest school business, Branching Out-woods, mainly at a primary school in Braintree.

The theory of forest school is that the children choose what to do in the woodland, and the leaders assist them to do those things, which might be den making, craft, cooking, rope stuff, or almost anything in their imagination. There is a big role for risk taking and fires which the children learn to make for themselves. It sounds hippy-ish but the evidence is that it really helps a child’s development (and the adults! – it’s so hard not to give the answer but let the child take (managed) risks and learn from their mistakes). We do see the children change in a few weeks!

After week three of the six allotted sessions we see the children relax into it and make the time their own. When we ask them if they would like to see anything changed, the response is “No, this is our time to do what we want”. It seems many children have so much of their life structured and directed.

Katharine Hibbert, founder and director of Dot Dot Dot

I’m a volunteer trustee at Headway East London, a charity which supports people who’ve had brain injuries as well as their families. We have a day centre and various outreach programmes working with people from 13 London boroughs, providing everything from physiotherapy and counselling to an art studio and opportunities to make music. As a trustee, I’m responsible (alongside the rest of the board of trustees) for making sure that the charity is well run and makes the biggest difference it can, and I also try to get involved in a hands-on way when I can. I’ve been doing this for seven years now.

I got involved with Headway East London after visiting the centre and being so impressed by the positive, purposeful atmosphere. The members have had their lives changed by devastating brain injuries, and yet they find ways to enjoy themselves and do things which are meaningful and worthwhile. It’s very satisfying to feel that I’m making a contribution to that. I’ve also learned a lot – about brain injury, but also about running a charity, and that helps me in my work at Dot Dot Dot too.

Most of the work of being a trustee is fairly dry, and is mostly focused on risk management – it’s a lot of looking through accounts and policies, and discussing updates to them. The biggest difference I make is probably by sitting on the panel that recruits the charity’s senior leadership team – we recently appointed a new chief executive, which was a huge responsibility. But the most enjoyable and memorable bits are spending time with the members – particularly at the supper clubs we have every few months in non-Covid times, when members cook up a feast for scores of guests as a fundraiser.

Abi Carter, head of growth and partnerships at Dot Dot Dot

I volunteer at Paddington Development Trust, a charity that aims to help communities in north west London exert greater control over their own lives. We run employment and training programmes, and wonderful community health initiatives based around local people delivering health messaging to their peers. We also invest in improving the local built environment and have converted a Grade 1 listed church into a community arts and culture hub. I became a trustee in 2016 and chair a year later. I also volunteer at Tottenham Food Bank, based out of Tottenham Town Hall. I joined in April 2020 when Covid-19 hit and food banks all over the country were affected a) by their usual raft of older volunteers having to self isolate and b) by the surge in demand for their services.

I worked just down the road from Paddington Development Trust – at Lord’s, in St John’s Wood – and wanted to volunteer to see a different side to the area and learn more about the pervasive barriers that prevent so many people in London being able to enjoy and get the most from the city. I also thought it would be useful from a personal development perspective – being able to broaden my own skillset and networks beyond sport. At the food bank, there was a massive need for volunteers, but it also gave me a strong sense of purpose at a time when my plan to go travelling and studying after leaving a long-standing job had been kiboshed by Covid-19…and the alternative seemed to be just to sulk about it!

At the Trust, my most memorable moment was the first time I walked into Grand Junction – the church we converted into a community asset – when it had been scrubbed and renovated, and cleared of scaffold, and was actually hosting local people, running projects that had never been run in that part of London before, and giving them a place to be really proud of. The restoration has been over 10 years in the making and the source of many sleepless nights, and it was amazing to see how much blood, toil, tears and sweat had gone into making it such a joyous place for so many wonderful local people.

The early days of Covid-19 were carnage at the food bank, as you’d expect. We had queues of hungry and desperate people outside, and a paper-based system which wasn’t made to cope with volume. A few of us volunteers quickly helped the organisation that runs the food bank put an effective system in place to get the packing and distribution done, which mainly involved giving out orders with absolutely no authority – but it worked! At times we were delivering to 80/90 people in an afternoon, and the feeling of team work and people focusing on doing small jobs very well never ceased to give me a great sense of pride.

Mark Muldoon, relationship coordinator at Dot Dot Dot

I volunteer at all sorts of different places and I’ve always tried to do it in my local community – it feels good to not just live in my neighbourhood but to be playing an active role in it. I’ve been a volunteer event photographer at Poplar HARCA/Poplar Union since August last year and a volunteer painter and decorator at Civic in Custom House every now and then since last May. I’ve also been a food waste distributor for OLIO in Poplar since November last year and I’ve volunteered as a litter picker in Limehouse Basin for Moo Canoes. Through OLIO, I solely manage the redistribution of supermarket food that would otherwise be thrown away, ensuring as much of it as possible gets into the hands of less well off families in my local community.

Data proves that everybody really does need good neighbours

May 19, 2021

A recent report highlights the importance of strong community infrastructure and neighbourliness explains our founder, Katharine Hibbert.

Saying that it’s nice to be on good terms with your neighbours is a bit like saying you enjoy eating chocolate – so unsurprising it doesn’t really deserve to be mentioned.  But a new paper from Cambridge University argues that strong community links are so important that they can be a matter of life and death in a crisis like the pandemic we’re living through. The researchers also argue that the infrastructure that supports them, in the form of the physical places where people meet and the staff and volunteers who activate them, deserve far more government support than they currently get.

During the pandemic more mutual aid groups were set up in areas of the UK with more social infrastructure, researchers from Cambridge University’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy found.  That means that volunteers were more likely to pull groups together to help the most isolated and vulnerable community members in areas with more places like pubs, cafes, swimming pools and libraries.  While the researchers don’t have proof of causation, and the research was focused on towns rather than cities and rural areas, the correlation may be because community infrastructure enables people from a mixture of backgrounds to mingle on a regular basis, breaking down barriers and encouraging people to feel a sense of solidarity. 

The researchers also pointed to in-depth research by sociologist Eric Klinenberg into a 1995 heat wave in Chicago.  When temperatures got dangerously hot, more than 700 people died, and these deaths disproportionately occurred in areas with worse social infrastructure.  This correlation was much stronger than the link with poverty or population age.  Klinenberg argues that places which encourage regular, informal social interaction among a wide pool of people support greater trust and make it easier for neighbours to check on one another and to look out for those who may be more vulnerable – and in difficult times, this saves lives. 

When physical infrastructure promotes community cohesion

Greater involvement in local projects can also create a stronger sense of belonging in a community and feeling proud of it, the Cambridge researchers argue.  At the new Museum of Making, which will open in an 18th century silk mill in Derby this month, people living nearby volunteered to clean 11,000 bricks from the original factory which have been incorporated into the new design.  Meanwhile, volunteers have created England’s only community pub on a council estate in Brighton, bringing a closed-down pub back into use as The Bevy, which in normal times hosts dementia clubs and arts and crafts sessions as well as being open for food and drink, run by a mixture of paid staff and volunteers.  During the pandemic, the pub switched to providing meals on wheels to local elderly residents.

The Cambridge researchers argue that this kind of community involvement – plus the beautiful finished museum and friendly pub – can make a significant contribution to boosting local pride and the feeling of having a stake in the fortunes of the area.  This in turn may make it easier for policy-makers and charities to tap into local sentiment and create interventions which are genuinely wanted and needed, rather than trying to fix problems without an engaged community that can give meaningful feedback on what is and isn’t wanted.

Quantifying neighbourliness

But more research is needed to provide rock-solid economic data to feed into policy-making, to ensure that the places and people that foster local ties and a sense of connectedness get the support they need.  The researchers echoed the call by former Bank of England head Andy Haldane for a greater focus on quantifying the value of neighbourliness, volunteering and civic pride.  We all know we like it, but if we can’t point to its value in pounds, shillings and pence, it risks being an afterthought when the government makes decisions.

At Dot Dot Dot, we see the value of neighbourliness, volunteering and community involvement every day, and we get a lot of satisfaction from cooperating with the venues and projects which create the volunteering opportunities our guardians get involved with.  For example, it has been great to support our Newham guardians to get involved with the community-building efforts created by Civic, an organisation that is working to breathe life into local high streets. Guardians have volunteered alongside local residents to create a fruit and veg pop-up shop, a podcast and rehearsal room and a hub for making scrubs for doctors and nurses – efforts with tangible direct benefits, but which also help to build neighbourly relationships and local pride. Likewise, the guardians we house through our partnership with Poplar HARCA have been volunteering to host dance classes in a local community centre and delivering food parcels as part of a local mutual aid effort. 

We wholeheartedly echo the researchers’ call for more investment in and acknowledgement of places and people who make all of this possible.  It’s also great to see academic evidence of what we know from experience – that all of the effort our guardians make to contribute to good causes and local communities is far more than just a nice to have.

If you’re interested in neighbourliness and giving back to your community, you can apply to become a property guardian with us.

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