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Farewell to Chelsea Police Station

LOWE’s flagship property is returned for development after four fantastic years.

A fortnight ago we handed back the keys to our beloved Chelsea Police Station. This building has always been close to my heart as the flagship property that provided the foundation for the LOWE you see today. What started out as a passion project almost four years ago has proved its value time and again in providing affordable housing over 150 guardians whilst saving the client an estimated £180,000/annum in security costs, and £500,000/annum in business rates.

When I took on Chelsea, I had just completed my investigation into alternative living options in London’s Zones 1 and 2, spending time in a (questionable) guardianship, a houseboat and even a horsebox – all for under £500 (including bills).  None of these options were viable for people like me; young professionals looking for affordable housing close to their place of work. When I was offered the opportunity to manage Chelsea Police Station, I knew this was my chance to show the immense potential of guardianship as a cost neutral solution for landlords and a sustainable answer to the rent crisis that is affecting young professionals and key workers across London.

In those early days it was vital to go above and beyond to ensure the wider community was onboard. We opened the doors of this historic site and invited our new neighbours to come in, have a look around and have a chat about what guardianship is and what it can be. Any negative, preconceived notions that anyone might have had before meeting their new guardian neighbours were quickly eradicated as we walked them through our rigorous vetting process and showed them the quality of the fit out. We invested around £200,000 throughout our time managing the property to ensure not only that the building was safe and compliant, but also somewhere that our guardians could call home. How many young professionals can boast living in the centre of Chelsea with a cinema, a rooftop garden and a gym?

There are a few stand out moments for me from our time at Chelsea that highlight LOWE’s core values of community, economic viability and sustainability. The rooftop garden that was built by the guardians with support from LOWE was a fantastic coming together in pursuit of a common goal, and the green haven they created became the focal point of the property for many years. In fact, the Chelsea Police Station guardians formed such a bond that a large group of them went to visit a former guardian in Budapest with a surprise gift from LOWE to go behind the bar.

A key element of my vision for LOWE was that we would build strong relationships with our guardians and the police station is a great example of how well this works. Two of the very first guardians to move into the property stayed there for the full four years that we managed it, and many of our early joiners have either moved into our other properties or stayed at the property for a long period of time. Having taken advantage of all the benefits that co-living brings, from pizza parties to Halloween laser tag, movie nights to BBQs, the Chelsea guardians were the perfect example of how to enjoy community life and we are thrilled that of the 42 guardians that were living in the property in the final month, we have been able to re-house a quarter of them across alternative properties in our portfolio.

My intention was to disrupt the market and do away with the common perception of guardianship as a crash pad for people without options. I wanted to provide affordable housing for key workers close to their place of work and I am proud to say that with the LOWEkey initiative we have been able to realise this, with a great variety of key workers benefiting from the affordability and location benefits that that police station provided.

Chelsea Police Station has been with us every step of our journey thus far – from our 2-man team, fresh faced days of Lowe Cost Living with our bright blue sign, to the expanding team of today’s LOWE that sees our portfolio growing beyond London’s border to the South Coast and north to Oxfordshire and Essex. On the days that I remember to take time to reflect, I look back and am so proud of what we have achieved. I had an optimistic vision for this property as a place of community, quality and a practical solution for empty properties that need flexible options for mitigating the immense costs landlords face. The enduring relationships the guardians formed with each other is testament to the quality of our guardians and the social value of guardianship, setting us in good stead for the years to come. I am very proud of the success of this property as both a home and a viable security solution and, more importantly, I am very proud of the guardians that made the police station into the vibrant home that it was.

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