Old Oak member, Vijay Kannan, shares his views on the true value of co-living.
I think we can all agree the problem of recent times is a lack of housing crisis articles. But this is not a housing crisis article.
Not about that engineer who moved into a 128-foot truck in his company’s parking lot, or the illustrator who paid a rent of $400 to live in a box in his roommate’s flat, or even the man who commuted for five-and-a-half hours every day to work in London from his home in Barcelona. It’s just that if there is an angle on street-smart stories of people escaping the clutches of housing prices, it has been covered.
This is not just about finding a cheaper way to live, it’s about finding a better way to live.
Co-living is not a new fad – it’s been around for as long as humans have existed. Tribes that slept in close-knit groups, cooked and ate together and looked after one another have punctuated our history. As humans grew more aware of their surroundings, as inventions and discoveries rendered most dangers moot, we stopped relying on each other in the same way.
Communities disintegrated, joint families became nuclear, and people became more invested in their own Instagram posts. Self-absorbed living may be possible today, but it is by no means sustainable, and it is certainly not healthy. We can tweet to hundreds of social media strangers all over the globe and have ‘live’ interactions with all of them at the same time, yet around 7 in 10 of us in the UK do not know our next door neighbours.
Community living seeks to eradicate the miseries of this, but it does not stop there. Being a single professional in a cosmopolitan cauldron like London can be daunting – returning to your cold flat like in the movies can be a frustrating reality for some, but it does not have to be this way. Co-living harnesses this pool of people who are looking for connections, for friends and for a larger community. I believe co-living also offers something far more paramount. It infuses individuals with sparks of ideas. Ideas that are vital for our growth in this dynamic world of commerce and communities, ideas that keep us ‘in the loop’ and fire the most important circuits in our brains each time we have an engaging, stimulating conversation with diverse human beings. This crossing of paths of people belonging to different industries, continents, cultures and backgrounds, interests and beliefs is what will open our minds to what we most need. And it also brings you closer to people who are just like you, people who make you wonder if they were your long-lost siblings. Here at The Collective, we know how valuable those connections can be.
Enough about the concept, let’s talk about the product.
The rent of £225-250 seems steep, and it is, by most flats’ standards. Here, I had two factors stand out when I evaluated moving in. Firstly, as Warren Buffett famously mentions, there is the toss-up between value versus cost. The number of amenities bundled in to the rent – all the bills, a gym, working spaces with Wi-Fi, etc. – saves travel costs, memberships and time spent paying extra bills every month. You even get a handy kitchen pack when you move in and you don’t require any bedding or sheets as it’s all part of the deal – truly the minimalist lifestyle. And while you surely will be able to live in a larger room for £20-30 lesser each week, you definitely cannot put a price on the conversations, the friendships, the sense of community, networks or even the satisfaction of living in a pristine structure, immaculately designed and situated by a canal.
It is also true that it is the people that make this space what it is – and that does not stop with residents. Community managers play a great role in delivering the experiences that I mentioned, and each one works tirelessly to ensure all our needs and wants are being met. I’ve admired the way they implement ideas from residents and bring them to life in a jiffy. On our Facebook group, I had mentioned the possibility of procuring a large world map for all of us to pin ‘name tags’ on the places we come from, to both gawk at the sheer diversity under one roof as well as help initiate new friendships for those who have just moved in. In less than a week, it was up and running – and the first name on it was that of our Community Manager, Joanna.
This doesn’t stop with fancy Facebook ideas; we have a ‘Town Hall’ every month to talk about larger, more pressing issues, offer feedback on the property and experience and learn about the plans going forward. We believe in giving back to the community we live in, not just internally but the local area as well. Members here have organised cleaning up the adjacent canal, trimming of the bushes nearby and bake-offs with proceeds going to charities close to their hearts. There is a collective conscience within the group here that focuses on leaving London just that little bit better – as it is, after all, the city that keeps on giving.
The design infrastructure of your rooms, the common areas and even the reception and its ever-present staff is another deal-clincher. The minimalist, industrial chic décor of this swanky building would make Jonathan Ive swoon in his white room. Equipped with a sauna and spa, a games room, a library, a Japanese tea room, a disco launderette and more – it is a reminder that a flat in London can be as exciting as you want it to be. Be it community BBQs by the gorgeous canal, Yoga or HIIT sessions, or weekly movie nights in the cinema room, within weeks of moving here there is a buzz around the place that makes you want to be a part of it. Your Snapchat might even look like you’re forever on holiday. Unless you reveal the grey English skies in your story, that is.
This is an intellectually-driven concept that meets the need of the hour, delivered with the attention to detail and total panache in a city that requires more such ambitious ventures. To participate in the infancy of such a project puts you among a special set of people who believe in being part of the solution instead of the problem. While the execution of this concept will stumble and have to learn along the way, there’s no denying that it is quickly finding its feet.