There appears to be a new craze of sticking the prefix ‘co-’ in front of just about everything: co-living, co-working, co-creating etc. What’s this all about? At best it might seem like the 2010s version of the early naughties’ iTrend; at worse, like some sort of marketing gimmick.
This month marked a year since we opened The Collective Old Oak, the world’s largest co-living space. We’ve spent a year pioneering a new way to live, work and play in mega-cities like London — but it’s still hard to capture, for the uninitiated, exactly what the co-living concept means.
This guide is an attempt to provide an explanation, tackling the common questions we’ve encountered over the past year. If you’re curious about co-living — or simply living differently — keep reading.
What is co-living?
Ultimately, there’s no set definition of co-living, or what a co-living community should look like. Fundamentally, what unites any co-living project is a desire to live in a more connected way with the people around you. It’s the pursuit of a way of living focused on creating a genuine sense of community; it’s about sharing a home, communal spaces, and daily activities. Pretty much everything else is open to interpretation!
Co-living might look like an ordinary house share, where the occupants have made a conscious decision to live in a more collaborative way. Or it might look like The Collective Old Oak, a co-living community of over 500 people. In a nutshell, Old Oak members rent their own private studio apartments, but also have access to numerous shared spaces and daily community events.
So it’s effectively ‘co-existing’, or living with roommates. Why is it being talked about as new concept, or as a concept at all?
This is a tricky one. Absolutely, there’s nothing new about the idea of humans living together in a community; we’ve historically always tended to live in tribes. It’s scientifically proven to be good for our health to live socially as part of a community, and vice versa. However, somewhere along the line, society became a lot more fragmented, and the idea of community drifted further and further away from the way we actually live.
By 2017, we’ve found ourselves in the midst of a loneliness epidemic, one that is affecting young people (ages 18-34) the most. London has been hailed the loneliest city in both the UK and Europe, with 52% of Londoners feeling lonely. Part of the problem, no doubt, is the isolated way in which we live. Only half of surveyed Brits claim to feel close to people in their neighbourhood; 1 in 10 young professionals have never even spoken to their neighbours.
Co-living has emerged as a concept in no small part as a backlash against the disconnected nature of modern living, paradoxical in our hyper-connected digital age. Living in a connected, collaborative community may not be new to the human race, but it’s a relatively novel paradigm right here, right now.
Who is co-living for?
In short, anyone who is ready to embrace a more connected way of living; who wants to be part of something through the place they call home. After all, the beating heart of the co-living experience is the community of people who share a space. Part of the power of co-living comes from the way it integrates community and connectedness into everyday living – into the home space.
This is probably more significant than it immediately sounds, given that we are living in an era of what has been dubbed ‘time poverty’. British employees work the longest hours in Europe – more and more of us are becoming part of ‘Burnout Britain’, working in excess of 48 hours a week. Time poverty and poor work-life balance are not only causes of social isolation and loneliness in the first place, but also prevent us from taking steps to join communities and feel more connected. It’s a vicious cycle.
Co-living means you can be part of a community everyday – even if it’s a simple as having someone to chat with when you come home. You don’t have to worry about making time to find and test out new social groups or activities, or to travel there and back. No one really talks about how hard it is to make new friends as an adult, but it is – especially after university. Being part of a co-living community is an easy way to meet new people and forge ongoing relationships.
What type of people live at Old Oak?
We’ve found that there’s no real ‘type’ of person that lives at Old Oak. Since we opened our doors a year ago, we’ve built an incredibly diverse and inclusive community, made up of entrepreneurs, digital nomads, students, artists, performers, designers, developers, crane drivers, city workers, civil servants… you name it! What our members have in common is a curious mind and an ambition to live their lives to the fullest together.
At The Collective Old Oak, an all-in-one monthly bill covers everything: rent, utilities, council tax, wifi, cleaning (fortnightly room cleans and linen changes), and access to all communal spaces and community events. No hidden costs – no unexpectedly high bills at the end of the month!
If you need help with anything, our onsite team are available 24/7 to make your co-living experience the best it can possibly be. And, to help make life that little bit easier, we’ve also partnered with a selection of businesses - Lovespace, Urban Massage, Zipjet and Zipcar - to offer our members a range of exclusive discounts and offers.
What communal spaces are there at Old Oak?
In addition to onsite amenities like a gym, launderette and supermarket, Old Oak features a variety of well-designed shared spaces for working, relaxing and socialising. These include a games room, spa, library, secret garden, roof terrace, cinema room and sports bar. For those that love to cook, there are also communal kitchens and themed dining rooms on every floor. Old Oak is also home to The Common, an onsite restaurant and bar.
What about privacy?
Regardless of what type of room you rent, all Old Oak members have their own private bedroom and ensuite bathroom. Studio rooms also have their own kitchenette; ensuite rooms share a kitchenette with just one other room. There’s always the opportunity to socialise at events and in communal areas, but members can retreat to the privacy of their own space whenever they like.
What types of member events are there?
Some highlights from the past couple of months have included: Musical Bingo, Disco Yoga, writing and design workshops, a Pulp Fiction screening party, a week long festival of wellness, and Old Oak’s epic one year birthday birthday (with quintessential photo booths and drag queen karaoke).
There’s something going on pretty much everyday: yoga, exercise, and dance classes; brunches, dinners and free drinks; potluck dinners; live music; networking events; guest speakers; board game and film nights; debate and code clubs; crafting events; open mic nights; festivity events and meals – and the list keeps growing as community members set up their own clubs and events!
How do I connect with other members in such a large community?
With all the member events that happen throughout the week, there’s always an opportunity to connect with the Old Oak community – around share interests or laidback meals and drinks. There’s also a Facebook group, where members can connect, ask questions, or suggest new initiatives, and where newcomers can introduce themselves; every day someone reaches out to the community for help or advice about something, and with over 500 people there’s someone who can help with just about anything.
We’re also trialling a buddy system at the moment, pairing newcomers with Old Oak veterans to help them get settled into the community.
Can I play a role in shaping the community?
Of course! Old Oak encourages its members to co-create with us – it’s a big part of the collaborative co-living experience.
In the year that Old Oak has been open, it’s been inspiring to witness the way the community has developed itself, outside of the efforts of the community managers. A quick glance at the community Facebook group shows countless examples of members coming together to create new clubs, outings or community initiatives.
Every month the community managers hold a Town Hall for the community, giving members the opportunity to share any questions, comments or suggestions with the team. As Old Oak is located on the Grand Union canal, one suggestion was buying a couple of kayaks for the community – we did and they’ve become incredibly popular!
To take this to the next level, back in March we launched the Collective Co-creation Fund, a £20k sum to be spent on Old Oak improvements over the next year. The allocation of funding has been chosen democratically, with our members offering and voting on suggestions. Our first project is going to be our own take on the Library of things, based on the needs of the community. We're thinking communal bikes, a GoPro, an unlimited cinema pass, tennis rackets etc.
How long should I co-live?
There’s no straightforward answer to this. For some co-living is adopted as a temporary stage in life, one that empowers them to meet new people and try new things before journeying off on their own again. For others, co-living becomes a permanent fixture. On a practical level, our minimum tenancy at Old Oak is currently 12 months.
In any case, one of the most exciting things we’ve witnessed over the past year is the way the co-living experience has travelled far beyond our four walls here in North London. We’ve heard amazing stories where individuals have been inspired enough by living at Old Oak to take radical decisions outside of Old Oak. Co-living is in itself a fairly radical decision, and how people have taken that mindset beyond the building
has been very inspiring. We’ve seen people form lifelong friendships; get jobs they never normally thought they’d get; take steps in their lives they didn’t think they could.
Co-living pushes people outside of their comfort zone, and opens their eyes to an array of new phenomena. You’re surrounded by different people from different countries doing different things, and home suddenly becomes an education. It’s a place to learn — about yourself; about different industries; about art, culture, nationalities — and that can have a huge knock-on effect on what happens next in your life.
Is it right to look at co-living as reinventing the wheel, as redundantly conceptualising something that has always existed? Is it more appropriate to look at is a game-changing paradigm? The truth probably lies somewhere in between – in a world where we’ve become disconnected, lonely and too busy to form new relationships, co-living emerges as a exciting way of living to take us back to our roots.
To learn more about The Collective Old Oak, get in touch and arrange a tour.
Written by Grace Waters