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Olivia Harris: Dive into Dolphin Living

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“Our mission is to provide homes for London workers on modest incomes near their place of work on rents they can afford.”

Welcome to a #ANewLeaseOfLife, a sub-series of the devcast…podcast, where you’ll be learning how experts of the BTR, PRS, student accommodation and retirement living sectors climbed the ladder of their professions.

Hosted by Nick Hammond, Head of Build to Rent at deverellsmith. Our guest in the studio this episode is Olivia Harris, Chief Executive of Dolphin Living – a charity providing affordable rental homes to working Londoners on modest incomes.

After working as a Chartered Accountant for more than 15 years within the property industry, Harris was previously Finance Director at Dolphin Living, eventually assuming the role of Chief Executive. With an abundance of industry knowledge and an impressive career, Olivia shares with Nick Dolphin Livings core mission, what they have planned for their future talent and how they have navigated through these unprecedented times.


Life before Dolphin

Following her Chartered Accountant qualification, Harris worked in a practice for a couple of years, working with real estate clients such as Mapeley and Delancy. She shares that this was a time in her life when she had an accelerated learning curve, however, working full-time became incompatible with her life as a Mum.

With the support of Delancy, she then made the jump to setting herself up as a consultant working part-time, giving her more flexibility whilst enabling her to continue the fascinating work that she always had done, such as working on a German property fund and student accommodation.

After realising she was treading water and not advancing her career at the rate she wanted, Harris applied for a part-time Finance Director role at Dolphin Living, and that’s where her voyage with Dolphin began.


Diving into Dolphin Living

Distraught after not initially getting to the 2nd interview stage, Harris eventually progressed through the stages and met with the board. Subsequently, Harris was offered the job and joined in April 2012, and has now been with them for a solid 10 years.

Harris shares that in the 1960s Westminster City Council bought Dolphin Square. Fast-forward to the 2000s and the council realised that the square wasn’t reaching its full potential. They did something about it, and along with the leaseholders the interest was sold.

The charity was set up to help London workers on modest incomes afford accommodation near their places of work. Harris described Dolphin Living as a ‘small-scale BTR without the bells and whistles’, focused on keeping rent low, but the quality of homes high.


The future of talent for Dolphin Living

Harris explains that charities can’t always compete on salary, as we don’t pay significant bonuses, but one of the things they focus on is bringing talent into the organisation and retaining them through training and development opportunities and an excellent working environment.

She shared that when working for smaller organisations, the boundaries of your job are freer, so you get the opportunity to step out of the constraints of the role and get involved with other capacities of the organisation.

Listen now to learn more about Dolphin Living and its mission, and what she thinks the new housing minister’s priorities should be over the next 100 days.