As an estate agent, I realised quite early on that there would be a need for key workers to have accommodation near to their places of work, if only to recharge before going back to work.
Most hotels had closed and the ones that were open were charging a great deal of money. I had an idea to provide accommodation for free so that people could get their heads down whilst doing 12-14 hour shifts.
Having co-founded Love Your Postcode, a Birmingham estate agents, with my wife in 2009 – which we’ve seen successfully grow into a team of 20 – I put the word out on social media to see if there was any interest.
Within a few hours, requests started pouring in. They weren’t from people simply looking for a convenient place to stay, however: my senior team was taking calls from NHS staff and key workers who wanted to protect their loved ones.
Their parents were vulnerable because they had underlying conditions like asthma and diabetes, and they didn’t want to go home.
We had one NHS staff member who was working across three trusts and sleeping in his car because he didn’t want to risk going into his family home where he had elderly parents.
Another doctor was commuting two hours back and forth to his hospital each day, which he referred to as ‘two hours that are wasted’.
I set up a Facebook group to connect workers and property owners and have watched as masses of requests have been met by kind-hearted landlords, even in the most remote areas.
Hundreds of free, newly built and fully furnished apartments have been offered up for key workers ranging from teachers to care workers and paramedics, and we are continuing to place people at a rate of seven to 10 a day. It’s become a really emotional exercise.
I wish I could help everyone but I know it won’t be possible. The response from our clients and others has been great but it’s still nowhere near enough – the demand for properties is 25-1.
Doctors are sharing with one another, sleeping in the lounge so that more of them can benefit from a single unit. Of course, some people we have contacted do struggle to see past what’s in it for them.
I understand their concerns to a point and in response, I have committed my business to covering any minimum costs landlords need to cover to pay their mortgage, and we clean the property to Covid-19 standard at our own expense.
However, as most of the residents won’t be leaving for several months, it’s not an immediate concern.
If logistics is an issue, my team will collect the keys and do the move in.
Coronavirus has hurt every single industry including my own, but this is not the time to be counting losses. We need to be counting our blessings and doing the right thing.
I’m a practicing Sikh and showing compassion, charity and love are key pillars of my faith – it’s what I’m measured on and what I was born to do.
In this pandemic, we all have a chance to turn around and serve without being selfish.
For a long time estate agents have been tarnished with a reputation of distrust and poor service.
This project has brought many of the best in the industry together for the greater good.
You can see social media accounts buzzing with positive messages and applause from their respective communities.
If your estate agent or local property developer is not playing their part, you have the right to question them.
Without a doubt, it is my team that has gone above and beyond by risking their own lives and the health of their loved ones.
Over half of them have fallen ill with mild symptoms of the virus since March and still returned to finish doing what they started.
They have provided complete support, working long weekends, moving individuals into properties and managing risk. We will keep doing this for however long it takes.
I just want people to become aware that they can do something positive, other than clapping at 8pm every Thursday. People will remember what you gave back in a crisis, not how successful you were as a businessman.
We all have the ability to become the greatest versions of ourselves, by simply serving and winning the hearts of those you helped.