A TWO-room apartment in the centre of York for £400 a month, all bills included? You must be joking, right?

Well, no. That’s exactly what supply teacher Sally Drinkwater is paying for her two-room pad (bedroom and sitting room) off Fulford Road. And she’s absolutely delighted with it. “It takes me ten minutes to walk into the city centre,” she says. “And it’s just five minutes down to the river!”

There is, however, not so much a catch, as a twist. Sally shares her home with almost 40 other people. And it’s not exactly a house they’re sharing - it’s an empty office block. Frederick House, the former Shepherd HQ right next to the police station, to be precise.

Sally is a ‘Guardian’ - one of almost 40 legal tenants of the office block who, in return for a cheap monthly payment (which for legal reasons is deemed a ‘licence agreement’, not rent), are effectively looking after the building while it stands empty. An updated planning application has already been submitted to convert the building and the guard house out front into student flats. So for Sally it isn’t exactly a long-term home. But for now, she says, it is perfect.

She had been living alone in a tiny flat in Selby, but fancied moving to York to see what it was like to live in the ‘hustle and bustle’ of the city. The problem was, she couldn’t afford it: not and save money towards a home of her own (or more travel, depending on how the mood takes her).

Then she heard about Frederick House - and about Live-in Guardians, the company which is looking after it until it is redeveloped, and which wanted young professionals to move in in the meantime. It offered space, and somewhere to live in the heart of York at an affordable price.

York Press:

Sally Drinkwater in her sitting room at Frederick House

Sally’s brother is a Guardian at a similar building in London - so she knew how it worked.

She’s been in Frederick House for two months, now - and loves it. She’s on the building’s third floor, which she shares with nine other people. There’s tons of space, she says. She has her own sitting room and bedroom, and there’s a communal kitchen, and two huge communal spaces. There are plenty of loos, and the ten of them share two showers.

It is all pretty basic. But it is warm, light, comfortable, and there are no bills. She was even able to bring her own furniture - the rooms, all former offices, are let out empty.

She loves living in York, Sally admits. “I’m really enjoying it - especially in the heatwave. There’s lots of culture, lots going on, great bars and restaurants.” But she doesn’t think she’d have been able to make the move from Selby had it not been for Live-in Guardians. “It is expensive to live here. This made it doable.”

As well as being cheap and convenient, living in Frederick House has been a great way of meeting like-minded people, she says.

She’s well-travelled herself - she was born in the Isle of Man, and has lived in various different places - and many of her fellow Guardians are the same. Lots of them have interesting jobs, too, she says: one works at the university, another is a freelance digital photographer. “I had been living by myself. So it is great to meet new people,” Sally says. Sitting around the kitchen table talking the evening away is brilliant, she says.

York Press:

The shared kitchen on the third floor of Frederick House

She doesn’t have much security of tenure: she and her fellow Guardians can be required to leave at 28 days notice. “But that’s OK,” she says. “I don’t have any ties and there are plenty of house shares in York. I wanted to try York to see if I liked it, and this has made it possible.”

But does she feel safe living here? It is, after all, a huge, empty office building where hundreds of admin staff once worked. And even with ten people living on each floor, it does still feel pretty, well ... cavernous.

“I’ve always felt safe. There’s CCTV, and other people around. There’s never a time when I feel as though there’s no-one here.”

Frederick House is the first ‘Guardian’ property in York to be managed by Live-in Guardians, which describes itself as the ‘market leader in vacant property protection’.

It has about 900 Guardians looking after a range of empty buildings, mainly in London - but this is the first time it has ventured north. What made it decide to look after Frederick House?

The building was part of the property portfolio of one of Live-in Guardians’ big clients, says Danny Schindler, the company’s Chief Operating Officer.

York Press:

PUT TO USE: Frederick House

Initially, Live-in Guardians was a bit uncertain about taking the building on. “We know London inside out, what the prices are, etc”. They didn’t have any of that knowledge about York - and didn’t even know whether the idea would work here.

But York fits the profile of the kind of city they are interested in - an attractive university city where a high proportion of former students like to stay on after graduating. And as soon as they advertised for Guardians for Frederick House, they were blown away by the response.

Then house filled up rapidly. At the time of writing, there were still a couple of spaces left - but you can bet they will go quickly.

So might Live-in Guardians be ready to take on other properties in York if they can find the right buildings standing empty?

You bet they would, says Danny. And they might already have one Guardian ready to move in.

Once she has to move out of Frederick House, Sally says, she’d be very happy to be a Guardian in another property in York...


The principle behind companies like Live-in Guardians is simple enough. Big office blocks and other large buildings that have been earmarked for development can often stand empty for months or even years.

Looking after them can be very expensive, says Danny Schindler. You either board them up and hope for the best, or you bring in security guards 24/7 to deter vandals and squatters.

So handing a property over to Live-in Guardians can save the owner a lot of money, he says.

York Press:

SHARED LIVING: Danny Schindler in the door to one of the communal rooms at Frederick House

The company requires the building to be cleared out. It will then install showers, toilets and kitchens where necessary, have fire and health and safety assessments done, then advertise for young professionals to live in the property at reduced rents.

Live-in Guardians has a responsibility to the owners of the property, Danny says - so prospective Guardians go through a careful interview process. And there are strict rules about behaviour: no parties, no illegal substances, no candles (in case of fire), no blocking of fire doors, no overloading of electrical sockets. Regular inspections are held, and anyone found breaching any of the rules will find themselves being asked to leave.

But Live-in Guardians also has a responsibility to its Guardians, Danny stresses. Some Guardianship schemes - there are several companies in the business - have been accused of exploiting young Guardians or caretakers, by crowding them in, or offering them poor quality accommodation with no security. Yes, his company offers its Guardians only temporary accommodation, Danny says. But it has strict company guidelines about how many Guardians there can be in a building, and about the ratio, for example, of Guardians to showers (one shower for at most five or six Guardians).

In addition, Guardians all have direct access to the company’s maintenance team (or, in York, the concierge at Frederick House, Graham Wilson).

It’s not for everyone, Danny admits. But Frederick House offers affordable accommodation for young people in the heart of York so they can save up for a deposit on their own home, or whatever else they want to save up for.

And it is good for the local area, too, he stresses. The Guardians living here use the local shops, bars and restaurants. “And a scheme like this brings a building that might have died back to life.”

Live-in Guardians would be interested on taking on other empty buildings in York. If you have a building you think might be suitable, contact Danny Schindler at danny@liveinguardians.com

If you would like to be a Guardian, visit www.liveinguardians.com