Guardianships

This morning I dropped my friend’s stuff off in Chalk Farm. She’s moved into a property guardianship, in an old condemned council house. She’s not the only one there by a long stretch considering it’s condemned. And she’s paying more than you’d expect.

As I’m carrying things up the stairs one of the other tenants, coming down, says “You are moving in?” “My friend is.” “Why? This won’t be here in two months?” “Well, then at least she’s got somewhere for two months.”

I feed it back to her. It will be there, she reckons. They keep delaying the demolition. And you get 30 days notice which at least gives you time to run options. And if she has to move again, she will.

But it pisses me off. This city is so hard to get by in. I was woken by the builders on the scaffolding. “I did one of those long jobs – a bank extension,” one of them was saying. “They were all staying on site overnight. Up in the morning, working 16 hour days. Sleep on site. Paying no tax but I bet if they get sick they use the NHS.” I don’t know how the guy outside my window knows their tax affairs. But I can understand why they slept on site if they could. There are loos on building sites. Despite all the empty space, this city pulls people to the centre, but using the public transport is punishingly expensive for low income, and property is impossible.

I like to have people from out of town on my sofa for a night or two for free. I get company, maybe some food. They only have to worry about train fare. If I can, I put people into my room when I’m away for less than she’s paying for guardianship. These property guardian rooms are evidence of another fat parasite anyway. I got quietly angry about it today, going up in the murder-lift.

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Fifteen years ago, a company would own a building that was unused and likely to be unused for a while. To prevent squatters or vandals it was helpful for them to have someone living in part of it.

My friends who had recently left drama school sometimes ended up in a boardroom at the top of a defunct office, or in an old pub or … well, any manner of old building. Sometimes they’d pay a peppercorn rent – like £10 and bills. Sometimes they’d actually be paid a few quid and work a bit like caretakers. This made things possible for these young artists, so long as they were fortunate enough to have someone to introduce them to the owners needing the guardians. All the people I knew that did it were highly responsible and careful individuals. “I can only ever have one guest at a time,” “No alcohol up here,” etc. They had to abide by Draconian rules, and they did so.

Problem is, someone realised there was money to be made, and probably used paranoia as a weapon. Fear of the bad people. “We will vet your guardians with a stringent process, to prevent BAD GUARDIANS” Create a problem. Offer a solution. But also, people want cheap rent. In exchange for taking work away from the property owners these buggers made guardians pay to be caretakers. “Yeah it’s almost what you’d pay for a box in zone 5, but look at the garden.” Then they packed them in. One such company is currently going to court for putting over 30 paying people – maybe as many as 60? – into a property with just one working bathroom and one kitchen.

To my mind – and perhaps my actor training biased me – the people from the broken homes, the semi literate, the heavily dyslexic, the ones breaking out of generations of systemic poverty – they were bringing more to the table in terms of depth for work than the soft ones like me, who couldn’t understand why nobody got my joke about Achilles, and back then could speak the words but hadn’t learnt to feel them. You’re always looking across the fence, sure. But my work was towards what they had for free much as their work was the other direction.

Those rare voices can’t weather time unpaid like I could thanks to my parents. It’s cost me some comfort and perhaps a family of my own, to hone myself. The loss of those super cheap guardianships mean responsible hard working guardian types can’t do a show at a pub theatre in the evenings and polish the door frames in the day. Even low rent doesn’t come out of doing Ibsen for expenses and “recognition”. Rep is all but dead, and lots and lots of people want to be actors because of this odd conflation of acting and fame in the public imagination, the one that makes for so many awkward family gatherings “ask your agent to put you in that Star Wars.” Plus it costs us a fortune in car insurance. Starting out is hard!

Power to the Brians of this world, making jobs in this sector. But cheap accommodation in London… How, now, if guardianships charge so much?

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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