Since opening their first site in 2016, the Collective has seen a global increase in demand for co-living. It’s unsurprising when study after study has found that city dwellers, despite being surrounded by people, are likely to feel lonely. Combined with a scarcity of accommodation, rogue landlords and the high price of real estate, it’s a cocktail of woes that has driven more people to their brand of seamless living in a community-centred environment. It’s also what led them to start The Collective Foundation, which offers an incubation programme and funding opportunities to entrepreneurs hoping to alleviate such problems of urban living.
On top of this work, the co-living pioneers are opening a second location in London’s Canary Wharf this July. The 705-room location offers flexible leases, from one night to 12-months, and will be the world’s largest co-living space. Under one all-inclusive bill residents get a private room with access to a host of shared spaces, such as a rooftop restaurant and pool, gym, golf simulator, as well a diverse programme of social events which help them nurture real connection and lead more fulfilling lives.
A NEW WAY OF LIVING
The Collective has pioneered co-living in the UK. With brand new offices in New York and Berlin, a second London site in Canary Wharf, and a global pipeline of 7,500 co-living rooms, founder Reza Merchant has a big year ahead.
There has been a growth in demand of co-living, why do you think that is?
Reza Merchant, Founder & CEO: Growth and urbanisation means that space needs to be used more efficiently, which means we’re going to have to find more innovative forms of housing. If you think about a city like London, the only option people have is to rent a room in a house because it is too expensive to rent your own flat. Co-living is definitely one of these new innovations on accommodation.
It’s a way of living that’s more than a roof over your head. We provide the basics, so your bedroom, which is fully furnished, we change the sheets, we clean the room – so we make it as convenient as possible. You’re also surrounded by brilliant shared spaces and an interesting community where you can form really deep connections. Our average age is 29 but the current range at Old Oak is 18 to 66 – it’s a very broad range because the concept of living in a communal way has got nothing to do with age, it’s about mindset.
Who have you found seeking out this way of living?
That person is someone who wants to connect, wants to experience life to the full and really wants to grow and evolve as a person. We believe from the moment you’re born to the moment you die, every human will benefit from connection to others. It’s why loneliness is such a big problem in cities and in London in particular where a loneliness minister has been appointed. It actually causes illnesses and real issues in people’s lives. So, as cities get bigger and less intimate, it becomes harder and harder to have those connections with others.
How does the Collective facilitate those connections?
One way is having shared space. In our new location in Canary Wharf, for example, we’ve got 20-floors. The top floor has an amazing swimming pool with a spa/relaxation area. There’s a really cool restaurant and bar. On the ground and basement floors there’s a gym, cinema rooms, games rooms and events spaces. You’ve got all these spaces available for people to come together, but then we programme events extensively (see p47). We want people to meet their future soulmates, best friends and business partners. We are focused on enabling that.
Canary Wharf is set to be the biggest co-living space in the world. What will it offer residents?
It has 705 rooms and it’s 250,000 sq ft, so 50% bigger than Old Oak. It’s got great amenities and, because it’s bigger, there will be a much larger team on site to facilitate an enhanced experience for our members.
Canary Wharf as an area also has so much potential. It’s going to have access to Crossrail, so members will have the wider London area at their finger tips. It will be an interesting environment for people to learn in.
They will also have access to both communities, Canary Wharf and Old Oak, which are on very different sides of London and the connectivity there will help that. Eventually the objective is to build a global network. As a member we hope that you’ll be able to have access to housing in all major cities. We’re no longer just citizens of one country so there needs to be a global housing solution.
What does global expansion look like?
We want to be in major European and US cities. We are opening our first American space in September in Long Island City, New York. New York is a major market for us and it’s a wonderful building in an old paper factory. We will be announcing more US cities later this year. We also have an office in Germany and a number of projects coming up there. And we’ve just closed a transaction in Dublin so we will be opening there at some point too.
A WELCOMING COMMUNITY
Maisie Barlow, 24, is an actor and creative who has been living at The Collective Old Oak for nine months.
‘Co-living has given me the confidence to be myself – both socially and professionally. I work in the creative sector so don’t always have structured workdays; so, meeting people in the building with similar work hours has been invaluable. I’ve been able to make connections with people in very high places, which would have taken a long time otherwise. I have also explored my creativity through events, and being in a supportive environment has allowed me to take big risks without the financial burden of things like venue costs.’
‘My best memory of The Collective would probably be the week I moved in. It had been such a stressful time ahead of moving, but, as soon as I arrived, I felt like I was home. I attended Friday drinks on the first night where so many people came and chatted to me. It was a magical experience to feel like I was accepted and welcomed into the community from the get-go! I think through sharing and connecting we’re not only able to grow, but we can build strong foundations and support one another in this crazy fast-paced world. Living in a city like London can sometimes make people forget that we’re all in this together. However, coming home to a sense of community really helps to reignite that.’
THE COLLECTIVE FOUNDATION
Founded in 2014, The Collective Foundation is the co-living provider’s philanthropic arm. ‘Through The Foundation, The Collective can extend its purposeful mission beyond its buildings, to the neighbourhoods and cities they serve, and to wider society. We can create communities where people thrive, in cities all over the world,’ explains Andre Damian, The Collective Foundation’s director. In London, that means anything from helping to end homelessness, improving people’s mental health, providing educational opportunities for individuals from underrepresented backgrounds, and promoting sustainable living. Through our programmes, we actively support and fund social ventures and charities that are making a positive impact in our communities across these issues. The charity also runs a London-based accelerator programme, which they launched in 2017. This year it will support 10 social enterprises, helping them access funding, The Collective’s spaces and community, as well as mentorship.
MAKING FRIENDS AND LEARNING NEW SKILLS
The Collective’s Head of Cultural Programming and Experience, Jade Coles, outlines what to expect from Canary Wharf’s social calendar.
Outside of institutions like schools and with a growing number of people becoming freelance, how do you make meaningful friendships and connections as an adult? This is a massive part of The Collective’s draw: the ability to meet new people from all walks of life and forge relationships in an environment that nurtures such exchanges.
Facilitating this is the cultural programme, which is driven by the idea that ‘good things happen when we come together, so be more together.’ As such, the co-living space offers a varied calendar of events – from talks and networking opportunities to crafting workshops and wellness activities. ‘We’ve seen higher attendance quarter on quarter because we work closely with the residents to create a programme for them and to bring, what I like to call, the best of London to [their] living room,’ explains Jade Coles.
These events are not about manufacturing ways for people to awkwardly make small talk over cocktails. Instead, they’re about offering interesting opportunities where members can learn something new, be curious, start a conversation and have some fun with likeminded people. ‘New relationships have been formed and businesses have been founded off the back of some of these events,’ laughs Coles.
It’s the kind of programme that reacts to its diverse pool of members – with events that capture the cultural zeitgeist, like ‘The Future of Body Hair Politics’, to more laid back silly offerings, like ‘Nice and Spiky Comedy’. There are also events that help foster entrepreneurship, like ‘The Lazy Leader: Learn your leadership style’. As well as a mass of workshops hosted by the most innovative and interesting startups in London from the likes of Earl of East London and Smith & Sinclair.
As well as events to stimulate the mind, there is a wellness slant to the programming. ‘With the lines of business and pleasure blurring more, it’s important to find moments to decompress. Our events are 60 to 90 minutes out of someone’s day where they can do something enriching for themselves that also helps them switch off,’ says Coles. There’s yoga twice a week and monthly opportunities for members to spend 30 minutes with a counsellor from The Self Space – who are also collaborating with The Collective on a series of events, which touch on facets of mental health like ‘everyday mental maintenance’ to workshops on navigating friendships. On top of this, there is also a dedicated series of self-care events every Sunday which touch upon everything from crystal healing to mindful meditation.
However, all of this is just a jumping point for residents to become inspired to hold their own events and for them to create their own niche communities within The Collective. ‘We want to democratise the calendar, which we hope will become filled with collaborations between The Collective and its members. We want everyone to feel empowered to be part of the programme.’
A number of member events will be open to the general public across the summer. Booking opens June 2019 via The Collective’s website.