Co-living is probably something you've read about recently, one of those trendy words associated with the millennial generation who – restricted by high house prices and difficult buying conditions – have turned to bespoke urban rental homes to give them a feel of high-end city living.
But what exactly is it?
Shared accommodation for our times
People sharing homes is nothing new, of course – it's been done for years, by students, young professionals and those eager to spread the cost of rent, and has been the inspiration behind a number of cult TV programmes, from Peep Show and Friends to Fresh Meat and The Big Bang Theory.
Communes were also a popular trend in the 1960s and 70s, with a group of people – often sharing common values and beliefs – living together and sharing property, possessions, resources and responsibilities.
Co-living has elements of this ethos, but aims to offer a higher-quality, more tailored living experience – often with prices to match. The Collective, one of the biggest exponents of this new trend, describes co-living as a 'way of living focused on a genuine sense of community, using shared spaces and facilities to create a more convenient and fulfilling lifestyle'. It aims to be a new way for people to live in cities, prizing convenience, quality and the sense of the collective above all else.
How does it work?
Residents rent their own private apartments in co-living spaces, often modern, stylish skyscrapers or new-build blocks of flats in trendy or desirable areas. However, they share communal living spaces, while collaboration, openness and social networking are actively encouraged. People live, work and play in the same environment, with a connected network of individuals coming together to create – and then maintain – a 'genuine community'.
The desire, it seems, is for home and community to become one – to create the sort of community spirit that often exists in tightly-knit villages and small coastal towns rather than major fast-paced cities.
A number of perks are included, too, in a similar way to the bespoke rental experience offered by the booming Build to Rent sector. This includes all-inclusive bills, a gym, flexible contracts, no fees, laundry facilities, bi-weekly cleaning, communal spaces, a 24/7 concierge and superfast broadband.
Its main target market seems fairly obvious – young, single, tech-savvy professionals looking for a more intimate renting experience and, if they've recently moved to a new city where they know no-one, the chance to make connections and forge friendships.
Co-living spaces, which pack in residents looking for something better than your average rental home, also often include work spaces, to reflect the modern trend for areas where people can come together to connect, collaborate, create and share ideas. Co-working spaces are increasingly popular in an era where the way people work and live is changing rapidly thanks to advances in technology and the slow but steady move away from rigid office structures.
Think Apple Macs, coffee on tap, hot desking, wooden benches and tables, minimalist interiors, pot plants, and light, airy décor – that's what these co-working spaces aim to offer.
How much does it cost?
Taking The Collective's Old Oak co-living space in North West London as an example, the cost is certainly at the pricier end of the market, with studios (including a private bathroom and private kitchenette) starting from £290 per week, while an ensuite with a kitchen shared with one person would cost renters from £245 per week.
This is certainly not accommodation for the cash-strapped or those operating on a budget, and critics might point to the small living spaces on offer as evidence of people not getting very good value for money.
Supporters, meanwhile, would point to the services included – on-site maintenance, free WiFi, all-inclusive bills – and the sense of community on offer, with access to events, community clubs and community outings, as evidence that tenants are in fact getting plenty of bang for their buck.
Safety and security is also prioritised – with features like secured door entry and 24/7 security guards – and all rooms come fully-furnished, while outdoor space and an on-site grocery store and restaurant are on offer. Still, though, paying well over £1,000 for a single room does seem to go slightly against the goal of creating a mixed, vibrant community with people from all walks of life – won't less affluent people be denied the chance to live in these spaces?
Is this the future of renting?
While co-working spaces have really taken off in recent years, co-living spaces are still very niche. The Collective, for instance, only has one building currently in operation, with 546 people living across ten floors at Old Oak. Plans, though, are in place for further co-living ventures in Stratford and Canary Wharf.
Other than that, housing that combines private living space with shared communal living facilities is fairly thin on the ground outside of student accommodation blocks.
There is Co-Living Spaces, which aims to re-imagine shared living for working professionals in Brighton & Hove, with self-contained serviced apartments, luxury co-living areas and self-contained flat and office units all on offer.
There's also an over-60s co-housing scheme – brick mews homes arranged around a communal garden – in North London, and seven co-living properties in Noiascape's growing London portfolio, aimed squarely at Generation Y.
Across the pond, WeLive – a start-up providing flexible, furnished rental apartments in New York and Washington DC – also aims to offer a new way of living based around community, while there are also co-living spaces in Bali, Shanghai, Seoul and Barcelona, but none with the scale or size of The Collective Old Oak Common, which is billed as the world's largest co-living development.
It's not fully caught on yet – perhaps hindered by the growth of Build to Rent, which offers something similar but without so much emphasis (and some might say that's a good thing) on communal spaces and community. There is certainly an argument that this is rather shoved down your throat by the co-living visionaries, which makes the attempts to create new communities feel more manufactured than naturally occurring.
There will also be those who say that the co-living spaces are aimed too squarely at millennials – and well-off millennials at that – and aren't anywhere near broad enough to solve the housing crisis. The young entrepreneurs driving the growth of co-living, though, clearly believe it is the future – but it remains to be seen whether they will be proved right. Will it be a flash in the pan or something more long-lasting?