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Writer, Musician & Guardianship Building Manager

                                                                                                                                              Victoria Birkinshaw 2017

Guardianship - BUILDING

Guardianship - HOME



Head of a Dubious House
Frederick Boxer

Opportunity is a funny old thing, I had moved back to the U.K after a five-year period of doing very little up a mountain in Switzerland. And thought what I really should be doing next is very little a bit closer to where I considered home - London. I signed up with a guardian company (Newbould) figuring this was the best way to stretch out what was left in my Swiss bank account. I ended up in Charlton, Greenwich, in an old people's home called Fred Styles House. Newbould had just acquired the building and needed someone to temporarily secure it, keeping squatters or vandals out before guardians could be found to fill the spaces. I'll only be there three months, I thought, so why not buy myself a little bit of time to work out what to do next.
  The building had been decommissioned just two months previous and its empty forty-two flats were boarded up from to toe. It wasn’t the most welcoming of places; little natural light, repetitive, identical corridors and doors gave the feel of a prison or mental institution. Each floor had a colour code. All were pastel. The heating permanently notched up to candle melting temperature and the taps turned in the wrong direction.  It was to be an education.
  In the beginning there were just two of us, me and a white witch called Holly who wouldn't leave her flat because she was too busy astral projecting. I was quite busy too, sitting in each flat to see which one was the best and ‘whee’ ing myself around in the wheelchairs left lying around the building. This was before I knew I was to be given something I had so far most successfully avoided like the plague. Responsibility.
  Soon into my stay a member of Newbould asked me if I would like to stay on and be house manager. 
“What does that entail?” I asked,
“Well, you'll get a large discount off your rent, perhaps even all of it.”
“Yep,” I said without hearing anything more,
“I'll do it”.
People do tend to only hear the details they want to. The good bits. With no training, or idea of what I should or shouldn't be doing, I did it for four years.
  We guardians weren’t allowed to talk to the owners, in this case the council. There were keys left everywhere, all unmarked. Trial and error became part of my daily routine. Where were the fuse boxes? How do I change the bins, or clean the industrial washer-dryers? What do I say when someone tells me their friend has died, or brings me a dead mouse in a pizza box and asks what to do with it? Half the flats had no bathrooms so a majority of guardians had to use the communal showers, barring robbery or intoxication, this is how most people got locked out. I grew indifferent to the sight of barely dressed -fresh from the shower - men and women turning up at my flat.  I dreaded the buzzer going off in the middle of the night.
  I got over losing the ability to slip through my everyday existence without people knowing my name, and even got used to being stopped to answer questions every time I poked my head out my flat. I usually got collared in the local Co-op, with a two-litre bottle of own brand cider in hand. I smiled, and listened and tried my best to find a solution, the right words, or at the very least buy some time until I could find someone who actually knew what they were doing. Through time I realised no one knew what they were doing. I picked up some practical skills and managed to get a hold on how this building worked. I did the monthly inspections, checking if the guardians had pets, drugs or sub-letted. Mostly I used the time to see how people were getting on and if anything needed fixing. Occasionally I’d sit with them and have a cup of tea.
  Along the way I collected a few people around me that were eager to go on “how do we do this” escapades. The bins got emptied, the dryers got cleaned, the communal garden made friendly and the “how do we do this’ people became friends. From all over the world. From New Zealand, Romania, Thailand, Russia. I met more here than I did when I traveled because I had time to see them again and again and again. There was something unique about my time in a decommissioned south London old peoples home. This rarely happens in adult life.

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