While cities like New York and San Francisco have already embraced the co-living trend, with companies like Pure House and Common paving the way, Londoners have yet to experience this new way of living.
But as of this month, that’s no longer the case. May 1st was a momentous day for us, with the doors opening to our first new-build and the world’s largest co-living building – The Collective Old Oak.
Somehow in the midst of all the activity, I managed to grab Ed, our Community Manager at Old Oak and a co-living veteran from his experiences in San Francisco, to pin him down for a quick coffee and get to the bottom of what it actually means to be responsible for managing a community of over 500 people.
What drew you to San Francisco?
The tech industry – I’ve always been fascinated by tech and figured Silicon Valley was a good place to expand my knowledge in the sector.
In San Francisco, you lived and worked at co-living schemes – which came first?
It was actually by chance that I lived in a co-living scheme. I just responded to an advert from the UK on Craig’s list not really understanding what I was getting into. I had an interview, with my now counterpart, and was relieved to hear I’d secured a place at Negev. After four months, a group of us moved to a new co-living scheme, Campus, having heard about it through word of mouth. All co-living communities know one another so word spreads pretty quickly. After living in co-living schemes for a year, I was a convert. So I decided to go and work for one to really get a full understanding of the ins and outs of co-living. I’d seen the potential in this new model and was intrigued, to say the least.
What attracted you initially to co-living?
The convenience piece was very important, but it was mainly the fact that young people in tech start-ups from whom I could learn a lot surrounded me 24/7.
Was that the same as what you feel today to be the main benefit?
Yes, I think we still all need that human connection, which co-living offers. But co-living in San Fran will be different to London will be different to Paris – it’s about first understanding whichever community you’re in and then helping it thrive.
You managed Negev’s co-living communities, but their buildings were typically 20-40 units, compared to 546 at Old Oak. Do you think it’s possible to build a community at that scale?
The community at Old Oak is obviously going to look very different from a 20-person house. Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist, known for the Dunbar Number. The theory of Dunbar's Number suggests that 150 is the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships. We’ve got over three times that number in Old Oak! So we need to realise and accept that not everyone is going to know each other, therefore our events strategy needs to reflect this and do its best to bring people together to connect.
Where did you draw your inspiration for Old Oak's values?
Burning Man was a definite source of inspiration! Our key to making Old Oak successful is thinking about designing a great experience, so I frequently refer to companies and organisations that are embracing design thinking, like The Government Digital Service, Testler or Apple; companies that you feel an emotional connection to. It all centres on thinking about the end-user.
What exactly does being a community manager entail?
It basically means you’re the interface between The Collective and the people living in the community, responsible for designing the best possible experience. We need to constantly think about how we operate certain spaces and how we bring people together.
Do you think co-living can work everywhere?
100% yes – today young people everywhere are demanding more from everything and I think co-living is the answer to people’s housing demands. People want more from communication? Facebook pops up. People want more from music? Spotify pops up. People want more from transport? Uber pops up. People want more from living? The Collective pops up.
What advice would you give a new Londoner wanting to make the most out of life in London?
Find people. Meet people. Put yourself out there.
After London what's your favourite city and why?
As a city San Fran is absolutely incredible, you can bike to the beach for a surf, trek along the pacific coast trail, it’s sunny – the list goes on. It lets you make the most of life.
What's the biggest life lesson you've learned to date?
Be kind to people because you never know when they’re going to turn up in your life again.
Come see the community we've created at The Collective Old Oak.