Houseplant Workshop, Communal Netflix And Pizza Nights: Should You Try Co-Living?

After the success of co-working spaces, co-living has been hailed as an antidote to Millennial loneliness – and the housing crisis. Ali Pantony signs up to see if it lives up to the hype


by Ali Pantony |
Updated on

‘If you were a biscuit, what kind would you be?’ I consider my answer carefully. This is not a question I was expecting to be asked today. Digestive? Too boring. Jaffa Cake? Too divisive. I settle on Hobnob which, I’m told, is an excellent choice.

No, I’m not doing my Hinge profile. I’m at The Collective in Canary Wharf, a co-living space that opened in September with 705 rooms available to rent. Biscuit- gate is actually a question emblazoned in big letters on a poster beside the lifts.

‘It’s to encourage people to talk to each other,’ says Jackson Torchia, community host leader. ‘We’re not just designing a living space here, but as my team’s name suggests, we’re building a community.’

Indeed, ‘community’ is a concept that underpins everything at The Collective. Its first outpost opened in 2016 in north-west London and the company has since raised £900m for global expansion, with its Canary Wharf site hailed as ‘the largest co-living building in the world’. In ‘build- to-rent’ apartments, tenants have their own studio with a bed, TV, kitchenette and private bathroom. Like most co-living spaces, there are communal kitchens, lounges and gyms, while at The Collective you’ll also find a rooftop restaurant, spa, steam and sunroom, swimming pool, cinema, games room, even a golf simulator.

Taking its cue from the global success of the co-working initiative in which people share workplaces, co-living is essentially a grown-up version of student halls aimed at young professionals struggling to get on the housing ladder. There’s no council tax, no bills and, crucially, no ordeal of going through a letting agent. When you consider that 40% of Millennials are still living in rented housing at the age of 30, with a third facing renting for the rest of their lives, it’s easy to see why the co-living model is taking off.

In the capital, there’s Pollen Co-Living in the south-east of the city (landlord Pip is known to pop over with pizza on birthdays); LifeX, which has over 65 co-living homes across Europe; and Lyvly with properties from Lewisham to Greenwich. Elsewhere, Uncle in Manchester brands itself as a ‘kinder, simpler rental experience’; Co-Living Spaces in Brighton is ideal for the Instagram generation (think neon lights, graffiti and more #palmprint than you can shake a selfie stick at); and, last year, Goldman Sachs agreed to fund a wellness-focused co-living development in Birmingham, with 481 rooms and a rooftop running track.

Wellness is a key focus at The Collective, too. Walking into its lobby, I see a large chalkboard displaying the week’s events. As well as G&T masterclasses and a ‘kokedama’ workshop (pot-less hanging houseplants to me and you), there’s circuit training, yoga sessions, running clubs and Tuesday night meditation. It’s clear that improving mental health via IRL connection is one of co- living’s main selling points.

‘Many of our residents have started a new job in a new city, or even a new country, and don’t have a large social circle here,’ Torchia explains. ‘That can be pretty terrifying and social anxiety is a very real thing, so we say we’re here to help you with it. People are attracted to the fact a lifestyle is ready-made for them.’

It’s easy to see why co-living is a success among Millennials then, as research has found that 83% of 18 to 34-year-olds are ‘often or sometimes’ lonely. ‘I moved here two months ago because I got a six-month work placement in Europe, and this was more convenient than letting agents,’ says Chicago native Zack*, 28, who I start chatting to on a peach-coloured velvet sofa in The Collective’s den. ‘But the social aspect is my favourite part. I’ve gone from knowing no one in the city and feeling pretty alone, to having a WhatsApp group with other residents where we arrange drinks in the restaurant or cook-outs in the kitchen. It’s like a family.’

Co-living spaces are often billed as a solution to the renting crisis... In reality, they’re designed for young, wealthy renters

But the social aspect of co-living doesn’t work for everyone. ‘I moved to The Collective in 2016 because I wanted to have my own space, but not feel lonely,’ says Lisa*, 31. ‘But the trouble is, unlike uni, work is stressful and the hours are long – when I got home, I wanted to chill on the sofa, not head to the games room for shots. Had I just arrived in London to kick-start my career, eager to make new friends, it would’ve been amazing. But that wasn’t me, and I was too stuck in my ways as an adult.’

Perhaps, then, co-living is best suited to those yearning for a social circle, rather than anyone who already has one. But what about its supposed other appeal, as an antidote to our flawed private-rental sector, with its unaffordable prices and subpar conditions? At The Collective Canary Wharf, tenants can pay for Cosy, Standard, Comfy and Big rooms, with prices starting from £1,430-£2,297 a month (the longer you stay, the cheaper the rent). The rooms are clearly chic and clean, but affordable? Not so much.

‘Co-living spaces are often billed as a solution to the renting crisis, offering no bills, fees, nightmare flatmates or knackered furniture,’ says Georgie Laming, campaigns manager at Generation Rent, which lobbies for fairer private-rented housing. ‘In reality, they’re designed for young, wealthy renters who can afford over £1,000 on a studio apartment in desirable postcodes.’

In fact, analysis by property consultants JLL found that tenants living in build-to- rent accommodation pay, on average, 11% more than the local rental market rate. This could explain why plans for a new co-living development in Manchester were halted last December. Manchester Council’s head of development, Eddie Smith, said, ‘We do not believe that co-living is required, or appropriate, to address affordability pressures in Manchester in the same way as it is in London.’

While co-living may not be solving the UK’s housing crisis any time soon, its aim to make residents feel less alone seems to be more of a success. If I were moving to a new city where I didn’t know anyone and I could afford the rent, I’d consider it, at least while I found my feet. In just one night’s stay at The Collective, I see groups of friends laughing over prosecco in the restaurant, chatting on pink flamingo floats in the pool, and chilling in the den watching Netflix.
‘I never thought I’d make friends for life here,’ says Zack. ‘But I have. That’s pretty amazing, when you think about it.’

READ MORE: Report Confirms What We Already Know: The Housing Crisis Is Really Bad

READ MORE: Meet The Young Women Beating The Housing Crisis By Living In A Van

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us