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.
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.