Co-living: 21st century communes are catching on

19 October 2017 - 07:10 By Martine Pauwels
Residents work in one of the communal spaces at the co-living building The Collective Old Oak in northwest London. The 10-storey building may look like a hotel, but it is actually a large-scale house-share
Residents work in one of the communal spaces at the co-living building The Collective Old Oak in northwest London. The 10-storey building may look like a hotel, but it is actually a large-scale house-share
Image: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP

The 10-storey building may look like a hotel, but it is thought to be the world's biggest large-scale house-share, offering modest rooms and upscale services for hundreds of young adults caught in London's housing crisis.

The Old Oak building, situated on a canal bank in northwest London, opened in the spring of 2016, and has become a pioneer of "co-living", a concept that is beginning to catch on elsewhere, notably in the US.

"Today in cities, we don't know our neighbours, housing is more and more expensive, we're living behind our devices and this is addressing that challenge," said Ryan Fix, consultant at The Collective, the project's developer.

This was no niche market, he insisted: "It's going to be a massive movement in the coming decades."

Ed Thomas, who manages the property for The Collective, offers a tour of the 546-room building and its facilities.

"You've got a nice spacious room with big window that lets lots of light in," he says as he shows a room measuring 12m². All of the rooms are currently occupied. Some have a tiny en suite bathroom, with a small washbasin placed almost over the toilet, and a kitchenette. In others, the cooking and washroom areas are shared.

The Old Oak boasts high-end facilities such as a spa, gym, library, workroom, restaurant and even a cinema, which is packed for evening showings of the hit TV series Game of Thrones.

The building is a 10-minute walk from two Underground stations. And its distinguishing features include its industrial-style architecture and sprawling common spaces filled with colourful armchairs and wooden furniture.

There are also communal activities, such as music evenings and yoga classes.

The majority of the Old Oak's tenants are young people aged between 22 and 35 earning an average of £30,000 (about R536,032) a year - who might otherwise be sharing a cramped house with strangers.

It is common for Londoners to spend "40 to 50% of their net salary" on housing, said James Mannix, a partner at estate agency Knight Frank.

It's going to be a massive movement in the coming decades.
Ryan Fix, consultant at The Collective

"It is extremely difficult to find a place to rent in London and young people are increasingly marginalised," said The Collective's Ed Thomas.

"It is very time-consuming, and even once you move into somewhere, the chances that you find a group of people that you get along with are extremely slim. We're trying to tackle that problem."

Knight Frank says a typical room in shared accommodation costs £1,602 (R28,635) per month in central London and £954 (R17,056) in areas farther out.

The Old Oak's prices are largely in line with those of the local area. The majority of the rooms cost between £850 (R15,188) and £1,100 (R19,662) per month , but that includes all bills (energy, internet, cleaning, taxes and common facilities). The largest are advertised at more than £1,400 (R25,029).

Adam Saez, a 26-year-old Australian sports trainer who has lived in Old Oak for over a year, sees his rent as "an investment".

"I've not only made friends, but I've also done a lot of networking, so I've met a lot of people that I now work with as well," he said.

Sarah Sinigaglia, a 19-year-old Italian-Swiss student newly arrived in London, agreed. "It's very easy to meet people," she said. "In the evening, you can go downstairs to the lobby or the bar, and there are lots of people like me who are alone."

The Collective, whose first shared building was funded by a "Singapore family" for an undisclosed amount, is launching two other projects in east London. They are expected to open in 2019.

The Collective is also looking to expand internationally and eyeing different target groups, such as families. - AFP

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