Temporary use property guardian schemes are arguably addressing a need for short term affordable rented accommodation in London. It is a growing phenomenon which has arisen to tackle vacancy, illegal squatting and the need for affordable rented accommodation; all at the same time.
Having looked at how artist’s studio providers have used the model as form of affordable dual use live/work space(http://affordablewick.com/hr-studio-2013-14/), this case study looks at one of the many other guardian operators in London who’s criteria is open to not just the creative sector, but a wider range of tenants.
In the summer of 2014, myself and two others moved into a guardian scheme property in Wapping, it is a 2000 sqft office space recently vacated by firm of accountants.
We have a modest rent, with enough space to live and to work for each person. We as a collective have one out of the five open plan floors in the building, we are one architect, one sound artist, one comic book artist and one barista.
There instant positive apects to this arrangement, one of which is the location, which is relatively central in E1, making the journey time to freelance jobs very convenient, as well making it easier to get specialist supplies on our doorsteps. Many of us have never lived this close to central London, so there is a great novelty of experiencing some aspects of city centre living.
The space itself is another positive point, as it is generous and open for user interpretation and some degree of self build, which brings on an important ‘sense’ of ownership.
We have all been accustomed to tricky and cold industrial buildings in East London, so in comparison this space was much easier and more convenient to set up for living and working quickly.The space came complete with carpet tiled floors, suspended ceilings, kitchenette, boys and girls bathroom facilities with shower installed by guardian operator, air conditioning and power points recessed into the raised floors. The fact that the accountants firm had moved so recently (a matter of weeks earlier) meant that everything worked, and was in good condition.
The role as a guardian also means that constant occupation is encouraged, as working from the space throughout the day is seen as a positive in maintaining and safe guarding the building. There fore, informal ‘home based working’ or ‘live-work’ is a legitimate phenomenon here as for running independent or sole practitioner style businesses.
The guardian operator arranged three rooms to be built in the space to our design. We decided to put the rooms in each corner bearing in mind the poor acoustic separation of plasterboard walls which would of course be the cheap material of choice.
We built a mobile Island kitchen in the middle of the space, out of materials reclaimed from the building itself. The kitchen is as would be expected, the social space of the house.
We furnished the space with a mixture of our existing possessions, creating living space which looks out through the floor to ceiling windows onto the adjacent building site and high street. The space is generous, each of us feel that we have space to breathe, think work and live. Therefore the atmosphere is relaxed.
The demographics of the occupants further reflect the presence of young ‘creative types’ as Richard Florida might define as the creative classes, that being of those in search of alternative forms of occupation, but not necessarily working directly within the creative industries per say.
The other floors of the building are occupied by largely a mixture of 20’s to 30’s people, with a wide range of occupations; from tattooists and musicians, to teachers and office workers. The floors are accessed via a main staircase, which is the only point of contact between tenants of different floors and there for there is not such an immediate sense of community, although the precarity of the contracts may also play a part in deterring any social investment.
It has been understood that the site has recently been sold to a housing developer, and it sits next to one of the largest developments in Wapping, featuring over 400 homes and a hotel. The view out of the window shows an expansive building site undergoing rapid change as the giant concrete and steele structures begin rise from the ground.
It is currently uncertain what will be the future of the building we occupy, but we are led to understand the we should have at least a year in the space.
This is one of the common negatives of this arrangement; the building is surrounded by building sites which create a great deal of noise and disturbance from as early as 7:30 in the morning. The developments which will soon begin tower to the skies, blocking out light and creating over looking.
The other common negative is that occupants have the usual months notice to leave at any point, which is unknown and precarious.
The rants are very affordable considering the location in the central London, however there is still a deal of resilience needed to be able to cope in these spaces, as the provision of heating, building bedrooms, kitchens and showers, can be a slow process, and also of relatively poor quality compared to living in an ordinary home.
It is difficult to to say whether this form of guardian ship is exploitative of young renters, when there are many unique positives as mentioned earlier in this text. There is also the fact that there are so few organised alternatives for affordable housing for the relatively low income demographic that we see here.
Guardian schemes are becoming more numerous in London, and the motives behing many of them are beginning to show a potential for a better exchange between tenants, landowners and the wider communities.
Dot Dot Dot is a property guardian which sets a criteria for mandatory community outreach and voluntary work in exchange for cheap rents. (http://www.dotdotdotproperty.com/)
In south London, there is a guardian scheme ran by a collective of creative practitioners operating a funded program of events for the local community (http://assemblyse8.org/)
There seems to be hope that this temporal movement to consciously begin to act as a vital mechanism for creating better neighbourhoods, but for now, for any prospective guardian tenant, there is still a large element of ‘pot luck’ in regards to operator, location and contractual arrangements.