You’re never too old to be­come a live-in guardian

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

pick­ing. Cal­loway’s block lies in a dead­end road where van­dal­ism and crime once flour­ished, but thanks to the guardians, anti-so­cial be­hav­iour has vir­tu­ally dis­ap­peared.

Cal­loway is older than most of his fel­low guardians, but he’s made many friends among the com­mu­nity of younger neigh­bours who work in oc­cu­pa­tions as var­ied as theatre and the civil ser­vice. He ac­cepts that one day his block will be sold and he’ll have to move, but he trusts Dot Dot Dot will help. “I know they’ll do their damnedest to find me some­where else. They’re very sup­port­ive of those who en­gage in its ethos.”

Dot Dot Dot was cre­ated seven years ago by Katharine Hib­bert, who came up with the idea while re­search­ing Bri­tain’s un­used prop­er­ties for her book. She founded the com­pany with the no­ble ob­jec­tives: of be­ing so­cially re­spon­si­ble, help­ing to bring fi­nan­cial free­dom to peo­ple, and of­fer­ing them a chance to “give back” to the com­mu­nity.

Its guardians must vol­un­teer for at least 16 hours a month in re­turn for af­ford­able rents that av­er­age £425 per month, com­pared with £850 in the pri­vate sec­tor. Lon­don guardians re­cently notched up more than 104,000 hours of vol­un­teer­ing, says Hib­bert, who puts so­cial value at the heart of the com­pany’s busi­ness model, with all prof­its rein­vested back into the so­cial en­ter­prise.

“Many peo­ple would love to give their time to good causes and make a dif­fer­ence but are held back by the cost of liv­ing,” says Hib­bert. “By re­duc­ing the cost of their hous­ing, and sup­port­ing them to get in­volved with the causes that they care about, we en­able them to do work that everyone in their com­mu­nity ben­e­fits from.”

Guardian­ship can also mean the chance to switch to a more re­ward­ing but less lu­cra­tive ca­reer and in­tro­duce you to a com­mu­nity of like-minded peo­ple along the way. Paula Manacas, 56, was in cor­po­rate busi­ness for 20 years as a cer­ti­fied busi­ness trainer in her home coun­try of Por­tu­gal. In the UK, she worked in the health sec­tor and be­came a trainer in neuro-lin­guis­tic pro­gram­ming.

Af­ter her part­ner died sud­denly, Manacas found her­self rent­ing a room in a shared house in Es­sex, but she knew she needed a com­plete life change. “I was mourn­ing and try­ing to get on with life, but be­ing in some­one else’s house wasn’t for me. It was why I de­cided to move back to the cap­i­tal and that’s when I be­came a guardian.”

Three years ago, Manacas signed up with Live-in Guardians, one of the UK’s big­gest empty prop­erty pro­tec­tion spe- cial­ists, with 600 guardians cur­rently pro­tect­ing 60 build­ings in cen­tral Lon­don. There is huge de­mand, with 2,000 peo­ple on its wait­ing list. The com­pany only takes work­ing ap­pli­cants who are over 21, but there’s no up­per age limit and it en­cour­ages older guardians.

Manacas tried other com­pa­nies, but re­turned to Live-in Guardians which she de­scribes as “or­gan­ised and help­ful”. She’s lived in all kinds of build­ings, from a pub to a church, even find­ing her­self shar­ing an old manor house in Bushey, pay­ing a small rent. “My friends said, ‘You live with eight men. You’re mad!’,” she says. “But they were all lovely guys and most are still in touch now. They were all younger than me, but re­la­tions and com­mu­ni­ca­tions were good. I felt happy, pro­tected and the space was great.”

Today, Manacas lives in a north Lon­don church, where she has her own room, shar­ing a kitchen and bath­room with three oth­ers. Pay­ing around a third of mar­ket rent, she can live com­fort­ably – even shop­ping at Waitrose – de­spite chang­ing ca­reers to work with dis­abled chil­dren while sav­ing to set up her own coun­selling and train­ing com­pany. “We get on so well, but also re­spect each other’s alone time,” she adds. “This space is so spe­cial, and it is not re­motely fright­en­ing, de­spite all the tombs buried be­low us.”

Guardian­ship of­ten gets a bad press, with ac­cu­sa­tions that the hous­ing short­age forces peo­ple into guardian­ship that of­fers sub­stan­dard ac­com­mo­da­tion with lit­tle se­cu­rity. But it’s been a huge help for Manacas. “Some peo­ple have pre­con­ceived opin­ions about this way of liv­ing be­cause it is not the norm,” she says. “But as a sin­gle woman, it’s bet­ter for me and I en­joy it. And you make life­long friends.”

Paula Manacas, main; a prop­erty in Fitzrovia, be­low, and one in Hamp­ton, right, which are be­ing pro­tected by guardians

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