Renting in London: co-living is the capital’s new rental trend with yoga classes, book groups and mentoring offered in exchange for less private space


The wraps will come off The Italian Building, a stylish new rental block in Bermondsey, early next year. Its residents will rent a room, rather than a flat, and buy into a carefully crafted lifestyle with group activities, events and a nutrition programme. 

It is the latest offering in the “co-living” craze that has exploded in London. Co-living is a global housing phenomenon born out of the rapidly increasing demands of young professionals who find themselves committed, for now, to city living. 

Thirteen million more people are expected to flood into Continental cities over the next 10 years. In London, unprecedented house price growth since the Nineties has put home ownership out of reach for many of today’s twenty- and thirty-somethings and single tenants in the capital are spending 46 per cent of their earnings on rent.

Increasingly, landlords are carving up run-down period properties, with tenants prepared to sacrifice, for example, a living room, to reduce their weekly outgoings. 

In response, blocks of bedrooms are being built with shared spaces such as libraries or games rooms.

“Co-living is about the densification of our cities, affordability and the rise of Generation Rent,” says Richard Lustigman of property company JLL. “We need different types of housing for different demographics.”

How much does it cost?

The Italian Building, an 8,000sq ft converted Edwardian office block, is at the luxe end of the British co-living market. 

Run by Mason & Fifth, and funded by the ethical investor FORE, it is a cross between a large, chic shared house, a private members club and a wellness retreat. 

The furnished bedroom suites, which have a bathroom and kitchenette, are 170sq ft and monthly rent starts from £1,650 per room. 

The average cost of privately renting a one-bedroom flat in Southwark is £1,444. Residents of The Italian Building might get less space but they have more amenities on their doorstep. 

The monthly rent includes daily yoga classes in the pavilion and use of Peloton bikes, breakfast, a supper club, a weekly clean and events such as book clubs and lectures, and all usual bills. Visit mason-fifth.com to register an interest.

There are cheaper co-living buildings such as The Collective in Old Oak, North Acton, which costs £1,083 per month for a 12-month stay. It includes all bills, gym membership and events.

At the 550-bedroom site the average age of a tenant is 29, with a median income of around £28,000 a year. Visit thecollective.com for more information.

In Earlsfield, The Collective has secured planning consent for the transformation of a former scrap metal yard into a co-living block, to include some affordable rooms for those earning above £18,000, along with accommodation for foster care leavers.

Building new communities 

Every co-living scheme attempts to foster a meaningful community through design, amenities and shared events. A co-living resident is paying to meet and live with other people — and supporters claim it tackles loneliness.

“We don’t get the same chances to form social connections, whether it’s because we’re too busy with our own lives or distracted by our phones,” says designer Amrita Raja of Woods Bagot architecture/design consultants.

“It’s therefore becoming more important to create those opportunities for people to gather, socialise and build up support networks,” she adds. 

According to Raja it’s not just about the shared space but also what’s in it. A lounge is just an empty room without books, board games and children’s toys that trigger conversation.

The library at The Collective in Old Oak has become “a sanctuary” in the building.

“When we opened there were very few books. However, over the years, the community has contributed to it, leaving books when someone leaves or when they have finished with one. It’s the books that bring the space alive,” says Ed Thomas of The Collective. 

Personal trainer Adam Saez, 28, has moved from Sydney to London. An apartment would give him privacy, he reasoned, but it would be difficult to make friends, while a house share felt too intimate.

“I hadn’t heard of co-living but it was just what I was looking for,” he says. Saez, who runs fitness company fitmego.com, has now moved from The Collective Old Oak to The Collective Canary Wharf.

“I love having all the expenses covered and having everything I need under one roof.”

The flipside 

There’s a flipside to this vision of a harmonious community. A resident who struggles to fit in with the others may feel isolated, avoid the shared space and spend too much time alone in their 170sq ft room. 

Another concern is over what steps management can take to deter antisocial behaviour.

With people living at close quarters and sharing communal space a “robust management structure” is vital, warns JLL’s Richard Lustigman. 

At The Italian Building, the team carefully selects residents. “It’s self-selecting and will only appeal to certain people who would hopefully share a similar desire to live well with others,” says founder Ben Prevezer.

“We have a code of conduct, too, that everyone is taken through by our community manager. For example, ‘sleepovers are sexy, squatting isn’t’ — and a three-strikes system for antisocial behaviour,” he says.

Flexible rentals for digital nomads

Some co-living schemes and micro suites are meant to serve as flexible, short-term rental space for digital nomads and international workers who relocate frequently. 

Outsite is a network of co-living spaces which attract techies, creatives and entrepreneurs in cities including Lisbon, Los Angeles and Brooklyn. Travellers can arrive knowing that there are yoga classes, bikes and surfboards all available, the bed is made and dinner is served (outsite.co).

Professionals can stay as little as two months at Gravity in Finsbury Park, N4, on a rolling contract. There is high-speed wi-fi and 24/7 tech support, co-working space and events such as entrepreneur mentoring, vocational classes and networking. 

The smallest bedroom, with a fridge and built-in wardrobe, based on sharing a bathroom, is £265 per week (gravitycoliving.com). 

Although the typical target is a millennial, it doesn’t have to be. In Barnet, also in north London, the Older Women’s Co-Housing project — OWCH — has built a collection of 25 flats, all occupied by women aged over 50. They are committed to participating in a community that shares space, resources and support (owch.org.uk). 

Will co-living solve the housing crisis?

Still in its infancy in London, co-living is not one of the solutions to the housing supply crisis, as is sometimes purported.

It does, however, give wider choice to renters who might want to pay for more than just a roof over their heads. And it has the potential to do much more.

“Currently a developer of a co-living block pays the local authority a lump sum in community contribution. It’s unlikely that’s spent on social housing. It would be far better if the company created affordable rental rooms as part of the scheme,” says Lustigman. 

He believes putting a block of 250 young professionals on a struggling high street could do wonders for retail, and that co-living schemes could be the answer to keeping key workers in central London. 

Watch this shared space.



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