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Shared vision: We visit one of the world’s biggest co-living spaces

Blocks and shares: The Old
Oak block in Willesden
Junction holds 546 units

HAVING problems with your flatmates? How about swapping them for around 500 new ones? You’ll find them in London, over at The Collective’s Old Oak — reputed to be the world’s biggest co-living space.

The Collective has more than 500 units available for rent — the vast majority of them small studios with an en-suite bathroom — with the building’s shared facilities proving a major attraction.

Each floor of the ten-storey building has a different shared space — including library, spa, games room, cinema room and roof terrace — with other communal facilities including gym, bar and workspace areas.

Urban outfit: The Collective building features shared living and kitchen areas (below) but all bedrooms are en suite

Contracts start at £245 per week for a 12-months, or £280 per week for four months. And with many flatshares in London costing a similar amount or more, it is easy to see why The Collective is an attractive option for people looking for somewhere to live — and why they’ve had a 97 per cent occupancy rate since opening in May 2016.

‘We’ve tried to eliminate the pain points you have in a flatshare,’ says Ed Thomas, The Collective’s Head Of Community Experience. ‘Shared bathrooms are usually one of them, so every room here has its own en suite.

‘People bicker over bills, so here it’s just one payment per month including rent, utilities, council tax and use of the gym.’

The rooms measure 8.5 sq m, so they are hardly palatial, but they each have their own TV and tenants can use a local storage facility for no extra cost. The kitchenettes, each shared with one other person, include two-ring hob, fridge and microwave — with a bigger communal kitchen on each floor. For young urbanites who can’t face the hassle of dealing with the pitfalls of houseshares, The Collective seems like a handy solution — and 75 per cent of tenants are aged 22 to 35, although people in their 40s, 50s and 60s also live here.

And while 20 per cent of tenants work in tech — unsurprisingly, since some of the first co-living companies were opened in San Francisco catering for tech workers — people from all backgrounds live in the building, including PhD students, key workers, lawyers and florists.

It’s also popular with the self-employed, we’re told. ‘Rather than pay rent for a co-working space we provide that here as standard,’ says Ed. ‘People move here because it’s an easy place to run a business from.’

But The Collective is more than just somewhere to live if you’ve had enough of nuisance flatmates, and Ed is keen to place emphasis on the company’s community ethos.

There are events laid on each week, with free booze on Fridays in the co-working and entertainment space, The Exchange. ‘We have seen gigs, stand-up comedy and karaoke events in here,’ says Ed, ‘but we push people to put on events themselves.’

Community assets: The Collective is keen to place emphasis on community with shared eateries, laundrette and gym

When we visit, the display board reveals the choir event has been cancelled but the canal clean-up morning and steel drum workshop are still going ahead.

And Ed says the place is also all about personal development.

‘One of our company values is growth — we want people who move in here to develop personally and on a professional level,’ he says. So they’ve developed a skills-swapping programme for residents and a £1,000 prize for ideas as to how tenants can help the local community.

The Old Oak building has been a success and now The Collective has plans for expansion. A new Collective building will be opening in Canary Wharf next year, and after that they want to go global.

‘We want to open multiple operating buildings on multiple continents,’ says Ed.

‘The problem we’re trying to solve is the lack of good quality, affordable housing in cities and the problem of increasing social isolation.

‘There’s a lot of potential to benefit people’s lives in other cities around the world where it’s hard to find a place to live and feel like you’re part of a community.’

‘This place inspired me to start my own business’

Aden Eyob, 30

I HAVE been here for a year and I’ve signed up for another year. I had been renting a one-bedroom flat with my ex-boyfriend. I couldn’t afford a one-bedroom flat by myself and didn’t want to do a flat share again. I would be paying around £1,000 a month for a room in a flatshare but then you all have to go through all the bills on top. With this I know I’m paying a set amount each month.

I can step out of my room here and there’s a plethora of things happening. That hasn’t been the case with flatshares, where I’ve had to stay in my room or there are unspoken rules about where you can hang out — like ‘I own the TV from this hour to this hour’ — and I don’t need that stress.

This place inspired me to set up my own coaching business. I used the skills exchange programme which helped me get my website and logo done. For me, it’s not just a place to live — I have access to lots of resources for my business and also I have a community I can rely on.

Dan Sayers, 27

I’VE been here for two years. I moved from Sydney to London. I stayed in a hostel for a few days then was in a flatshare where I was sharing a bedroom with one other tenant for a few weeks, which wasn’t what I wanted. I found this place through an advert on a flatsharing website. I thought it was too good to be true because there are so many scammers out there, but I came along and had the tour and thought it was the best of both worlds — the privacy of my own studio and the community to make loads of friends.

When I first moved in, I went to loads of the events. My favourite was ‘Goals, Beers And Ideas’. People came along each week, had a beer and talked about their long and short-term goals. You came back the next week and said if you’d achieved your short-term goal, and people would help each other with their longer-term goals. I’m a personal trainer but I have online clients, too. Some people here work in online marketing and helped me build up my client base.

It’s a great place. I was one of the first to move in before building on the shared spaces was completed. I had high hopes, and they haven’t let me down.