Having worked for The Collective for a couple of months, attempting to demystify the concept of co-living to curious family and friends has become part of my daily life – and until recently, I thought I was doing a pretty good job at it.
I would start by explaining that co-living, at its core, is a way of living focused on creating a genuine sense of community, built around shared spaces and activities. I would proceed to extol the virtues of Old Oak’s fantastic communal areas, daily events, convenient all-inclusive monthly bills; and provide a brief precis to the sharing economy, and intangible benefits of connectedness.
Don’t get me wrong, those things are huge draws for co-living, but it was only when I came to find myself in need of a new living situation that the deeper appeal of - and greater need for - co-living suddenly clicked in my mind.
A few weeks ago, I started the arduous process of trying to find somewhere new to live in London in the wake of a break-up and another housemate moving away. With no friends or family offering a spare room, London suddenly felt like it had tripled in size. Despite the convenience of Facebook houseshare groups and sites like spareroom.com, it quickly became clear that finding a room would be easy, but finding a home not so much.
Let’s talk about loneliness -- word on the street is that it’s an epidemic, hurting young people (18-34s) the most. A 2013 survey by ComRes found that 52% of Londoners felt lonely, making it the most lonely place in the UK. Other research has suggested that London is the most lonely city in Europe, too. I’m ready to believe it. Part of the blame may lie with social media, making us more connected but replacing all-important face-to-face contact. Perhaps the cliched trope that the British are afraid to talk strangers and form new connections also carries some weight here.
I’ve lived in the south east of England my whole life, studied in London, and even then have found it hard to feel part of a community here – especially once the safety net of university disappeared: people move away, meeting new people requires more effort and planning, careers take over.
Despite the bright lights and opportunities, big cities like London can feel impersonal and impenetrable. I’ve managed to find places for myself in various interest groups across London, attending monthly or bi-weekly meet ups. I’ve made a handful of good friends there, but it took a lot of time and effort for that to happen, and it’s still a far cry from a permanent, local, close knit community I can feel part of everyday.
As we get older, we get busier, and socialising gets harder – but that doesn’t mean we lose the desire to connect, face-to-face, with other people on a daily-basis.
The Collective, I think, get this, and that is what makes their Old Oak development such a powerful thing. They’re not trying to solve the housing crisis, or reinvent the wheel for the sake of it; they’re trying to create a way of living that provides people with connection – to other people, to opportunities, to moments worth remembering.
For me, the appeal of co-living dawned on me when I was faced with the idea of coming home to an empty studio apartment, or a houseshare comprised of solitary strangers. I wanted connection - shared meals, film nights, a friendly face when I got home - to be part of my daily routine, not something I had to schedule in my diary. I also wanted to be able to meet new people easily because - and this is something we don’t talk about enough - making new friends as an adult is actually not that easy.
Co-living pioneers a purposeful way of living that brings all of these elements together. Co-living and co-working, interest groups and meet ups – these things are gaining momentum now because somewhere along the line we've collectively realised that we need more face-to-face interaction and closeness with other people in our world of likes and shares and follows. Is co-living the solution to the silent epidemic of loneliness facing many of London’s young people? It certainly seems like a step in the right direction.
Written by Grace Waters