Is 'co-living' the new way for millennial Londoners to flatshare?

Suzanne Bearne on the new style of community living that's hassle free

 22 June 2016

Tracy Eden has everything she needs at her new home. She has access to a gym, a dedicated co-working space and a library. When she wants to take time out, she can visit the spa and games room, or when the sun fleetingly appears, the 30-year-old civil servant can relax on the roof terrace or in the garden. 

Eden’s set-up kind of sounds like a hotel, but it’s a co-living space, the new style of communal living targeted at millennials, where tenants have their own bedroom and bathroom, and share communal spaces such as a kitchen, spa and library with others. With bills and cleaner included, it’s community living that’s hassle-free. 

Eden moved into The Collective Old Oak in Willesden, north London, in May. Here, residents can choose to live in a studio comprising of an en-suite room and a kitchen, or a “twodio”, an en-suite bedroom that comes with a small kitchenette shared with one other. Each floor of the 551-bedroom block features a larger kitchen with a dining table and communal living spaces shared between 30 to 70 residents. 

“I was drawn to the newness of it all,” says Eden. “Whilst the rooms offer adequate private space, as someone who works from home once or twice a week, I loved the idea of working in the library, co-working space, secret garden or roof terrace. The biggest draw for me, as a fitness fan, is having an on-site gym.” 

She’s also a big fan of the social aspect of co-living. “I like the idea of community and the fact that rather than being stuck in a small space with someone I didn’t gel with, I get to meet lots of like-minded people.”

Following on from the boom in co-working spaces, shared living spaces are cropping up across the world as young people prefer a sociable living environment with many extras thrown in to boot. 

Out of office: The rise of co-working

“Co-living is a new way for young people to live in cities, designed to provide convenience, quality and a genuine sense of community,” says Reza Merchant, chief executive of co-living developer The Collective. “It’s a product that caters to the changing lifestyle trends of a demographic which more and more values experiences over material possessions, and is increasingly open to the idea of sharing and collaborating.” 

Jonathan Openshaw, editor of The Future Laboratory, a London-based consultancy, says the co-living trend is driven by a mixture of practical pressures combined with a more pervasive change in consumer mindset. “There is a wide reaching urban housing crisis that means many younger post-recession consumers no longer see getting a mortgage as possible or even desirable,” he says. “The rental market is skewed towards often unscrupulous landlords, meaning that young professionals are left with very little choice. On the consumer mindset side, the rise of the sharing economy has lead to a focus on access over ownership. There wasn’t a significant service model in housing before the rise of this new manifestation of co-living, so in a way it’s no great surprise that this is happening now.”

The Commom Room at Old Oak Collective

Co-living has sprouted up across the States, with companies such as Pure House, Commonand WeLive – a sister company to workspace provider WeWork - tapping into the trend. In London, housing body Peabody is partnering with workspace provider The Trampery to launch affordable workspace on-site together with accommodation through a live/work scheme targeted at London’s creative and tech entrepreneurs called Fish Island Village in Hackney Wick.

Ismene Luke-Gladstone, 21, a receptionist and PA assistant at a production company has also just moved into the Old Oak Collective with her boyfriend. “We wanted to share with others but keep our own space too,” she says. “It gave us a 'cushion' as the bills are all included and therefore a lot less to worry about and remember each month.” 

But isn’t it a bit student halls of residence? “It does feel like a grown-up uni halls in some ways,” admits Eden. “Not everyone is tidy or is used to cleaning up after themselves as we have quite a few people who are aged 18 to 21 so, thankfully, we have cleaners. It certainly doesn’t look like halls though and feels much more like home; everyone is really friendly and welcoming and most have embraced the idea of being social and sharing ideas, local discoveries, leftover meals or interesting events. The communal space never feels overwhelming; we all have different schedules that seem to work in terms of cooking or doing the washing or using the spa. There are groups of friends here already and they generally hang out with each other. Other than that, people do hang out on movie/TV nights or at Friday drinks which is lovely.”

Critics might argue whether it’s value for money, but Eden insists it is. She pays out a total of £1083 per month, which is £220 less than her previous houseshare. She also saves on gym membership.

As for the future, Openshaw believes the rise of the co-working market is probably a good indicator of where co-living is going. “It’s a more established market and you can even see companies that started in co-working such as WeWork making the move into living. We’ll probably see more evolved and compelling co-living offers that feel less like student housing and more like an aspirational life choice.”

With no end in sight for Generation Rent and a growing desire for ultra convenience, the co-living trend looks only set to boom.