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MY INTRODUCTION TO LOWE GUARDIANS

My name is Jack Rudman and I’m a recently married 29-year-old, who has lived in London for the past 7 years. Like so many other fresh-faced graduates, I knew the only place I wanted to live after studying was London. After growing up in Oxford and being what can be described as a mummy’s boy from a big family, moving to London was a big decision. My family are Oxford through and through, with my parents, aunts and uncles and even a couple grandparents all going to the same school and still living within a 2-mile radius of each other – my Dad even proudly tells people he has spent his entire adult life in the same postcode even though he has moved 3 times! It’s safe to say, the entire Rudman clan thought I was crazy as they couldn’t imagine living anywhere but, what is commonly described over family lunches, England’s greatest city, the mighty Oxford.

Much to my Mum’s displeasure, in September 2011 I finally made the move to the capital to start my new life. To say I’ve never looked back would be a lie, but I now love London and consider it my home city. Over the last 7 years, I have mastered the tube, become accustomed to the £5 pint, begun walking at an aggressive pace and spent most weekends deciding what to eat from “food markets”.

Why am I doing this?

After nearly 6 years in the world of Marketing and Advertising agencies, where blue sky thinking and meetings on bean bags are the norm, I knew it was time for a change.

Having been introduced to LOWE Guardians by a friend, I soon realised that I wanted to start a new career in something that I believed in. When I first moved to London, I experienced first-hand the crippling realisation that I actually knew very few people and couldn’t afford to live anywhere. The more I spoke to the team at LOWE, the more I realised that there were a number of alternative living options that I could have explored instead of spending over half my salary on traditional rent.

It was great to learn that the guardianship model gives people of all ages the chance to pursue their aspirations in an affordable and safe environment with like-minded people and so I was excited when the chance to help unlock these aspirations came up when I was offered the role of Client Services Director at LOWE.

I am someone who believes that to be able to talk about something with a sense of credibility, you must experience it. On my second day in the office, I overheard our Property and Lettings managers discussing a vacant room in one of our Greenwich properties – I knew this was my chance!

Monday: The Introduction

That morning I waved goodbye to my wife complete with everything I needed for my week-long stay with my 30 new housemates – phone charger, a borrowed blow up bed, duvet and pillows. I am typically quite a confident person but I was incredibly nervous. My mind raced: Would they like me? Should I have dressed cooler? Why didn’t I pack any pots and pans!?

As soon as I made it through the front door, I was met by 2 guardians – I’d arrived. I was immediately taken aback by the friendliness of my first encounter, with outreached hands they introduced themselves, offered to help me with my bags and explained how one had just beaten the other at table tennis down in the basement! I immediately felt at ease and was so grateful for such a warm welcome, albeit a completely serendipitous one. Feeling more confident I made my way to my room – I had two missed calls from my wife, only to be outdone by the four from my Mum.

Once in my room I began setting up, only to be immediately struck by panic as I tried to charge my phone – the electrics aren’t working! I would love to say that I reacted calmly and thought logically about the solution but that was not the case. I must have done 3 laps of the room, putting my charger in every single socket, pressing each one on and off a dozen times. Fighting the urge to ring the office line demanding to speak to LOWE’s Property Manager, I sought help from the other guardians. Within moments, I had been pointed towards the fuse box, offered another charger by my neighbour and given three numbers to ring.

I was relieved but also incredibly embarrassed to learn that it was actually my charger that was broken, not the electrics! Feeling a little red-faced I went out to do some food shopping and deal with the mounting missed calls. After attempting to blame my wife for switching her charger with mine and reassuring my mother that everyone was nice, I headed to the kitchen.

I ventured into the communal kitchen and was taken aback by the size of the room – it was like being in a school dining hall with a huge kitchen area. Another Guardian, whilst cooking up a storm, quickly introduced himself and explained he’d been living there for a couple of months, having moved from Brighton. He said he had initially been nervous about the concept of communal living but was now thoroughly enjoying his time and had even convinced a friend from home to move in too! I Chatting with the other guardians in the dining area, I learnt that one had moved in after University and was still working out what they wanted from a career, one was studying for a masters in futuristic design and another was an actress/writer. They explained how they loved living together and over a bowl of popcorn I was amazed at how much they were willing to share with me. I thought these kinds of conversations would only be reserved for seasoned Guardians rather than someone like me who was just dipping their toe in the water.

After chatting for nearly an hour, I headed to bed for my first night away from home. Fearing it would be like trying to sleep in student halls, I was amazed to find it was incredibly quiet and everyone was incredibly respectful of those who were sleeping. I felt a sense of warmth and security that I would be living with people who were looking out for me – a strange concept seeing as I’d only arrived a few hours before.

Tuesday: Morning routines and adventure

I woke up to face what I knew for me personally, would be my biggest challenge – the morning routine! I am a bit of a creature of comfort and the idea of sharing the bathroom with others was something I’d been dreading. Heading to the bathroom at 7.15am, I found that all the showers were clean, considerably more powerful than my shower at home and there wasn’t a soul in sight – a major tick for me!

Going to brush my teeth, I knew I’d forgotten something else – toothpaste. Thankfully someone was just coming into the bathroom and seeing my rabbit in headlights expression immediately offered me their toothpaste, which I, and everyone I was in close proximity to that day, were incredibly grateful for.

After work, I decided to have a wander around Greenwich. The surrounding areas and pubs were incredibly tranquil and all the major sites were within walking distance of the property. It is a lovely part of London and the more I saw, the more frustrated I became at the fact that I’d spent so little of my time in the capital exploring it’s different boroughs. Living in Greenwich for the week opened my eyes to the fact that there is life beyond the few areas I spend my time in.

Whilst watching the football, I spoke with a few locals and found that most didn’t know the Police Station was being used to house guardians. I explained the concept to them and was pleased when one said “well it just makes sense doesn’t it.” I felt proud of what I was doing, and of the guardians I was living with, knowing that their care for an iconic site in the area was supported by the locals.

Wednesday: Corona’s and Community

To get to know the Guardians more, I thought it would be nice to organise some drinks. Having spoken with the Head Guardian earlier that day about my plans, he and another guardian kindly offered to give me a hand carry the drinks back from Sainsbury’s.

After setting up the drinks in the communal dining area the Head Guardian sent a message out to the others via the house WhatsApp group. Over the course of the evening we were joined by around 10-15 guardians, with people popping in and out to see what was going on. It was a wonderful example of the benefits of co-living and not only enhanced my experience of Guardian life first-hand but also compounded my career decision.

Without wishing to offend my friends, over the course of the evening I had more interesting conversations than I have done at nearly 7 years of dinner parties. This was without doubt due to the diversity of the those living in the property – one Guardian wanted to get into the marketing world after honing her craft in the public sector for the past 18 months, whilst at the other end of the scale there was an older guardian who wanted to make the next step in his career and moved down to London from the North to pursue his career in banking. As I stepped out of my bubble, I started to think about how different my life would have been had I been in this environment when I’d first moved to London. I certainly wouldn’t have spent the first 2 years of my career doing something I hated in order to prove myself to everyone around me. One guardian told me about how we had 3 different ventures on the go at the moment and spent most of his days running around the city. It was clear that putting every penny into his business meant more to him than living in a swanky apparent on his own.

The whole sharing experience was underpinned by the support network the Guardians have created for each other. Communal living isn’t about who bought the TV or who was the last one who did the washing up, it is about listening and caring for those around you. When I think about the times I have tried to help people, I tend to think about how often I’ve spoken about who I know and who I could put people in touch with, rather than getting to know the person and what they want to achieve.

After heading to bed a little worse for wear, my joy turned to a growing frustration at the lack of opportunity for this type of support network. There are so many buildings in the UK sat dormant, just waiting to house all these amazing people who have so much to give.

Thursday: The day after the night before

As I packed up the few things I’d remembered to pack at the beginning of the week, I became reflective of my time spent in Greenwich. I remembered how nervous I was at the beginning to how comfortable I was at the end. I remembered how my idea of shared living was simply a group of people thrown together due to circumstances, rather than it being a personal choice. My definition of a relationship had also changed from thinking about what I could get from a situation rather than what I could give to one.

I’m not an unrealistic person, communal living isn’t for everyone. I didn’t think it would be for me and at the current stage of my life I still think this is true. However, if I could give the opportunity I’ve has this week to the younger version of me then I’d have grabbed it with both hands. The opportunity to not only meet new people but also to meet people with their own unique thoughts and experiences is what I have found to be the most refreshing.

The only advice I can offer after my limited time as a guardian is that you get out what you put in. This involves everything from decorating your room and creating your own space, through to just being open to engaging with others in your spare time. I learnt that by putting myself out there and overcoming my nervousness, I had an incredibly positive experience. As we grow as a business, we want our Guardians to grow with us. It’s important that we are supporting them and they in turn, are helping us improve at every turn.

Finally, I just want to say a massive thank you to everyone I encountered during my time in Greenwich. You were fantastic hosts and a testament to communal living and guardianship!

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