‘Guardians’ who live in an old road policing unit protect it against vandals and squatters
PUBLISHED: 09:00 17 April 2017
An old police building which has been left abandoned and in a sad state for more than two years is now a home to eight ‘guardians’ with the aim of deterring squatters and vandals, the Mercury can reveal. Reporter Eleanor Young went down to the old road policing unit, in Weston’s Winterstoke Road, to meet one of the residents and find out more.
The road policing unit was once used as a base for police officers who focus on road and traffic crime – but when it closed in 2014, Avon and Somerset Constabulary needed to find a way to protect the site.
The force hired Camelot, a European company which aims to protect vacant commercial properties from vandals and squatters by putting in ‘guardians’ who live in the building day and night, care for it and act as a presence for the community.
John Sumner, from the police’s estates department, said: “We often use a guardian service to provide security for police buildings once we have vacated the premises, this is to minimise vandalism and antisocial behaviour.”
Eddie Kushnir, aged 24, moved into the police unit almost a year ago after finding out about Camelot online.
The Ukraine-born man found the guardian scheme during his search for a new flat, hoping to move out of his damp and mouldy home in Upper Kewstoke Road.
He said: “I have just started my life; I do not have a lot of money so this is perfect for me.”
Eddie and his seven housemates act as around-the-clock security for the building’s new owners, Kelway Building Supplies.
HOW DOES THE GUARDIAN SCHEME WORK?
– Guardians are a constant presence at the property.
– They keep the property clean and in a good condition.
– The act as a deterrent for vandals, burglars and squatters.
– They pay £170 a month in rent (depending on the size of the room).
– They do not pay council tax or bills.
WHO IS IN CHARGE OF THE GUARDIANS?
Camelot was launched in the UK 15 years ago and now has people living in more than 350 commercial properties around the country.
Regional manager Paul Lloyd said: “People tend not to come in if there are lights on, cars outside, windows open and people at home – the same logic can be applied to old business units.
“People who are out on their luck, struggling to make ends meet or trying to get on the housing ladder need to save money, and this is a good way to do it.”
Camelot has guardians in 45 buildings across the South West, including several others in North Somerset.
Mr Lloyd said the company’s main aim is to keep the building safe and secure but, through its work, has also helped people in tough times or sleeping rough afford cheaper accommodation and get back on their feet.
There are more than 30 people sleeping rough on the streets of Weston and schemes like this could be the saving grace for some of them.
Mr Lloyd said: “Because we have such low licence fees, it is much more affordable for people who have little money.
“A lot of the time you are normally able to rent or have to live in council housing or end up homeless, if you cannot afford the first two, then you could fall into the latter.”
WHAT IS NEXT FOR THE BUILDING?
The unit has been bought by Kelway Building Supplies after it was granted planning permission from North Somerset Council to change the unit into a new warehouse for its supplies.
A company spokesman said: “We agreed to purchase the unit on the premise that planning permission was granted.
“The plans have been agreed and are being put in place to make it commercially viable but we do not know when we will move in yet.”
The guardians will be given a month’s notice to move out but Mr Lloyd told the Mercury they always aim to retain good guardians where possible.
Eddie said: “It is my home and I will be sad when we have to move on but that is the way it goes.”
To become a guardian or to speak to Camelot about putting guardians in your closed buildings, contact Paul Lloyd at firstname.lastname@example.org