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property guardian angels

Live-in guardians help protect and maintain property for owners grappling with vacant buildings, but they also provide affordable accommodation, as Samantha Baden discovers


ext time you pass what looks like a vacant building, pause and have a closer look; it may not be as empty as it first appears. That’s because owners of vacant offices,

warehouses, day care centres, pubs, libraries and other buildings are increasingly turning to guardian companies to defend, protect or keep their property safe while it lies idle. With

inside Masters of marketing

Companies celebrate at the 21st annual Property Marketing Awards Events, page 96

People on the move

This week’s appointments, promotions and start-ups in the property sector people & companies, page 102

The face of Harpenden

British Land boss Chris Grigg finds fame in the Lee Valley Diary, page 110

Online this week A breakthrough in superlight, strong cables could take skyscrapers to new heights. Find out more at


6 July 2013


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Live-in guardians use their ingenuity to make unusual properties, such as Southwark Park School, London SE1, into a comfortable home large numbers of vacant properties across the UK, empty buildings are becoming an economic strain for owners who need to insure, maintain and hold on to their asset while they try to sell, lease or redevelop it. That is where guardian companies come in. They manage the building by filling the empty space with people who need affordable housing and, in return, collect a licence fee from the renters and usually a small fee from the owner.


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How does it work? Camelot Europe, the largest property guardian company in the UK, was first to the local market in 2002 when it brought to London its business model, founded in the Netherlands in 1993. Initially, the service was offered as an anti-squatting measure, but has since evolved to include protection against a range of threats, including vandalism and dilapidation, says Stephen Davies, Camelot Europe’s business development manager. Today, Davies’ firm has about 2,000 guardians in the UK caretaking more than 500 buildings. Some very large properties have more than 200 guardians in residence at any one time. Deterring squatters remains central to the protection afforded by property guardians. Squatting residential properties is a criminal offence, but commercial property squatting remains a civil matter. “If your property is vacant and

halls of residence in Ealing since January. Debs Strawbridge from the group says 200-plus guardians in residence provided by Camelot Europe is a cost-effective solution compared with the expense of employing a security guard.

squatted you need to go through the expensive legal process,” Davies says. “But if you occupy a building using a live-in guardian solution it is no longer vacant or unoccupied, so attempts to squat it become a criminal matter, exactly the same as if someone broke into your home while you were at work.” As margins tighten, a live-in guardian can help maintain schedules. “If a building is damaged or destroyed it will affect plans for redevelopment or disposal,” Davies says. “If the owners have lost control of a site through squatting, vandalism or damage, then it’s a huge delay and a huge cost to them.” The Notting Hill Housing Group has been using live-in guardians to secure former

Camelot Europe protects the Grade II listed Middlesex Hospital, Cleveland Street, W1, with live-in guardians 6 July 2013

What is protected? “The scheme in Ealing –138 potentially empty units in a quiet residential area – is a prime target for squatters,” she says. The flexibility of the arrangement is also appealing. Notting Hill Housing Group plans to begin refurbishing the site for market rent soon. “Camelot will stay in some of the units,” Strawbridge says. “The contractor will take possession of part of the site and there will be a rolling programme of refurbs with Camelot moving out on a bit by bit basis.” Away from Ealing, Davies’s firm is also protecting the Grade II listed Middlesex Hospital on Cleveland Street, W1, known as the Cleveland Street Workhouse and owned by University College London. The property, which was used as a hospital building until 2005, has housed about 20 guardians for more than four years while the owner sorts through planning issues. “The majority of the buildings we deal with, probably 80 to 85%, are commercial,” Davies says. “That includes former care homes, which have a residential feel but are commercial properties. The majority are offices, schools and hospitals.” And while London is the largest market, Camelot has five offices around the UK in Bristol, Birmingham,

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Manchester and Glasgow. Gavin Handman, of Guardians of London, which began providing live-in guardian services more than two years ago, has seen demand increase rapidly. “The growth has been fantastic,” he reflects. “We have signed up some housing associations, work with a couple of councils and have quite a few private landlords who come and go depending on what properties they have at the time.” The business model Typically, guardian companies make their money from the licence fees they collect from their tenants. In most cases, they also charge a smaller fee to the property owner, although exact arrangements differ between companies, as do costs. Generally, Camelot Europe charges its live-in guardians £30 to £70 a week in licence fees inclusive of all bills and property owners £30 to £80 in management fees, although in some cases it is a cost-neutral arrangement for owners. “The guardians pay a quarter of the going rate,” Davies says. “But it is difficult to say what the going rate is for a fire station, for instance.” The situation makes sense to many owners, especially if they are paying £2,000 a week for a security guard. There are other costs associated with making a building habitable for guardians. As a minimum, properties must be windproof and watertight, have a water supply and electricity. The guardian company can advise on the installation of a self-contained shower pod, while the tea point in an office building could be a perfectly suitable kitchen area. These costs to the property owner can vary, Davies says, ”from just a few hundred pounds to change locks up to the

Meet a guardian Simon Kampta, 44, has been a property guardian for just over a year. In that time, he has lived in two properties. His current home is a large former classroom in a now-vacant child care centre in northwest London, where he was placed by Guardians of London. Kampta, an administrator with the NHS, says he values the quality of the accommodation and its affordability. “One of the reasons I am a guardian is the high quality of the accommodation. It might need a bit of work, but there’s the sheer size of it.” Kampta pays £100 a week inclusive of all bills. “It’s really cheap, but it’s not the cheapest. Some people pay £50 to £55 a week, depending on the size and condition of their accommodation. “Another benefit is meeting new people. I have lived with social workers, actors and musicians. most horrendous squat I have ever seen, which maybe cost £10,000 [to put right]”. What is provided Guardians must bring their own furniture, including bed, wardrobe, TV, microwave and oil-filled electric radiator, if there is no central heating. “Some guardians will bring more stuff and take a gamble they

Running on empty

6 July 2013

may be remaining for a time,” Davies says. Some long-term guardians, he adds, have recarpeted floors and painted walls with the owners’ permission. Guardians have to pass an extensive vetting process in order to register with an accredited guardian company, which is why key workers, who have already passed such tests, are favoured by many companies. know the unusual buildings we look after, from fire stations to warehouses, and we were being contacted from time to time by film companies and others asking to use the space.” The scheme can also be a good way to generate publicity for a property owner. Camelot Europe helped conservation charity Elephant Family to use the former British Library warehouse in E1, where 200 large elephant sculptures were painted and later distributed across London and other cities. This, says Davies, “generated some great publicity for both causes”.

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Have a vacant building and want to make some money out of it? It’s possible, but it depends on the property type. Camelot Europe recently launched the Make Space Pay scheme to generate income for clients with vacant buildings, perhaps by renting it out for film and photography shoots, functions, team-building activities and everything in between, says Stephen Davies, the firm’s business development manager. “It’s something we have developed over the past few years because people

“Plus you get really interesting buildings to live in,” he says. “I have got friends who live in an office building in Southwark with views of St Paul’s – it’s really quirky; other friends are in an amazing old school on top of a hill in Peckham. It’s fantastic.” But it is not always easy for property guardians. They never know when they will have to move on and may have to deal with onsite maintenance themselves. “Owners tend to try to limit the amount that is spent on the property while it’s vacant,” Kampta says. “The guardian company doesn’t want to spend money on it either, so it comes down to us.” “It is very self-serving and, luckily enough, we have people here who can help out, but that’s one of the things you need to be aware of. Sometimes you have to look at what you have got and be quite creative with it.”


Camelot in the Press: Property Guardian Angels - Estates Gazette  

Camelot in the Press: Property Guardian Angels - Estates Gazette -Samantha Baden

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