Prop­erty guardians com­bat van­dals and thieves

Churches, man­sions and li­braries could be home sweet home for those will­ing to be tem­po­rary guardians of York­shire’s empty build­ings. Sharon Dale re­ports.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY -

PROP­ERTY is a great barom­e­ter, and its peaks, troughs and trends in­di­cate changes in ev­ery­thing from fash­ion to so­ci­ety and even re­li­gion.

Nick Hil­ton, of Ad Hoc, which turns empty build­ings into tem­po­rary homes, says that, two years ago, his main clients were own­ers of com­mer­cial prop­erty, who had been hit by the credit crunch.

Now, he’s see­ing more churches, vicarages and pub­lic build­ings.

“We still get shops and of­fices, but we are see­ing more build­ings from re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions as con­gre­ga­tion num­bers dwin­dle. We are also a lot busier be­cause of the Gov­ern­ment’s Spend­ing Re­view. We are get­ting a lot of pub­lic build­ings, in­clud­ing li­braries and leisure cen­tres, as the cuts takes ef­fect.”

Ad Hoc is a con­cept started in the Nether­lands 20 years ago and now has of­fices in Bri­tain, in­clud­ing one in York.

Nick says: “It was started by a com­pany di­rec­tor’s son. His fa­ther had an empty build­ing that had prob­lems with theft, and he was a stu­dent who needed some­where cheap to live. It was his idea to make the build­ing into tem­po­rary homes, and that’s where the idea for Ad Hoc came from. It’s re­ally taken off here in Bri­tain.”

The ar­range­ment seems to suit all par­ties. Prop­erty guardians, who must be 21 or over, pay a li­cence fee of £40 a week for the ac­com­mo­da­tion and util­ity bills.

They must agree to not to smoke or have par­ties. No pets or chil­dren are al­lowed, and they must be pre­pared to move on with two weeks no­tice.

“The av­er­age stay is eight months, but guardians stay with us for about two years and will live in an av­er­age of three dif­fer­ent build­ings dur­ing that time,” says Nick.

The guardians are a di­verse bunch, ac­cord­ing to Ad Hoc, who say they have housed ev­ery­one from an ar­chi­tect to a yoga teacher and a zo­ol­o­gist.

“The ma­jor­ity are “cre­ative types’, like artists and mu­si­cians, who can be more flex­i­ble about where they live, though we did have a man who had been sleep­ing in his car af­ter his wife threw him out,” says Nick

“The build­ings vary. The only stip­u­la­tion is that they’re wind-and wa­ter­tight and have some­where to wash and cook. We’ve had tower blocks that are set for de­mo­li­tion, we’ve also got a unit on a busi­ness park, which is ob­vi­ously fairly ba­sic, but at the other end of the scale we have three peo­ple shar­ing a £13.5m man­sion in Lin­colnshire.”

For the prop­erty owner, the ad­van­tage is that a guardian will de­ter van­dals, thieves and ro­dents and flag up any main­te­nance is­sues.

Own­ers usu­ally pay a man­age­ment fee of be­tween £25 and £100 a month and must cover util­ity costs. But at the mo­ment, Ad Hoc has waived the fee.

“If a build­ing closes, it gets boarded up and be­comes a tar­get for prob­lem be­hav­iour and ver­min,” says Nick. “Putting a prop­erty guardian in is much cheaper than board­ing up a build­ing and em­ploy­ing se­cu­rity. Round-the-clock se­cu­rity guards can cost up to £8,000 a month.

“Hav­ing guardians there, see­ing lights on at night and see­ing peo­ple go­ing in and out, is a big de­ter­rent to any­one who wants to break in or steal lead off the roof.

“Plus, a guardian will in­form us if a win­dow breaks or there’s a leak. If a place is empty, a prob­lem like that can go un­re­ported for months.”

Sam Cook, 22, a care worker from Lin­colnshire, moved to Leeds in Jan­uary. He is a prop­erty guardian shar­ing a man­sion house in Head­in­g­ley, and says: “I was look­ing for a room to rent and heard about Ad Hoc. I liked the idea of not hav­ing any coun­cil tax or util­ity bills to pay. This makes it re­ally affordable. Some of my friends are pay­ing much more in rented ac­com­mo­da­tion and don’t have half the space that I’ve got.

“There’s no con­tract, which means I only have to give two weeks’ no­tice. I re­ally en­joy it here. I have my own room and share the kitchen and lounge. It’s a lit­tle bit like stu­dent halls of res­i­dence but for work­ing peo­ple.”

Sam, who sings and plays gui­tar in a band, says the money he saves on ac­com­mo­da­tion al­lows him to work part-time, which gives him more time for mu­sic and trav­el­ling to gigs.

Andy Wig­gles, 40, is a HGV driver, who moved into a man­sion, which had been con­verted to of­fices.

“I split up with my wife and am still pay­ing my share of the mort­gage on our house, so I can’t af­ford an­other big bill,” he says. “I was liv­ing in a bed-sit but I was look­ing for some­thing else. This suits me re­ally well.”

Ad Hoc has vicarages in Arm­ley and Seacroft, Leeds, and a church in Hull com­ing onto its books.

“It’s a win-win sit­u­a­tion. The build­ings’ own­ers have some­one tak­ing care of their prop­erty at very low cost, and the guardians have some­where cheap and in­ter­est­ing to live,” says Nick Hil­ton.

THE AD­MI­RAL’S HOUSE: A Grade II listed and once be­longed to Croft fam­ily, of port and sherry fame. Its own­ers have ren­o­vated and dec­o­rated the house in keep­ing with its Ge­or­gian roots.

SAM COOK: A guardian in a for­mer man­sion house in Head­in­g­ley, Leeds.

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