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