Coliving as a catalyser for communities in cities
Who are The Collective?
The Collective are in the business of co-living and their mission statement reads:
“We want to build a connected and more inspired world that’s more alive, more together and more collaborative.”
On hand were Ed Thomas, Customer Experience and Insight Lead, and Matt Lesniak, Community Experience Designer to tell us more.
Ed had been working for a start-up in San Francisco that had the goal of creating amazing places to live for young people in the tech industry. Inspired by this, on his return to the UK he was determined to find a company to work for that had a similar mission, only with a greater focus on the delivery and customer experience. Joining the team at The Collective at an early stage, while the flagship project Old Oak, was still in the ground, Ed is not going to stop until at least co-living is a mainstream option for living in cities.
Matt with a background in urban development and urban politics coupled with a passion for alternative sustainable solutions in the housing market, was involved in the start-up, Pure House Lab now known as Co-Liv Lab. Through this he got involved hands on at an early stage in the Old Oak project with The Collective, focusing on strengthening and enriching the community experience. His work now involves research on the community initiatives that are being implemented, input on community experience design and measuring environmental, social and economical impact of the business.
What are the challenges?
Ed: One of the main challenges is at the front end of the business, acquiring new sites and working with planning agencies and regulators. We are committed to ensure that compliances are in place and to do this it is important for us to demonstrate the added value on people’s lives and positive environmental impacts our co-living projects are having. With the Old Oak as a working example, it helps us to prove the case for co-living in this form. This is now reflected in the London plan which is the Mayor of London’s strategic plan for how in the coming years the housing demand will be met.
We didn’t have a guide book for all of this when we started and it has been a steep learning curve with difficult decisions having to be made along the way. That tests what is practical and possible against the mission and values of the business. Our continual iterative approach has enabled us to ensure that we have stayed on the right trajectory.
This iterative approach will ensure that we will always be improving our product and our services. One thing that sets us apart from the existing housing stock is that traditional landlords know that there is the luxury of demand that they can fall back on, whereas our proposition is completely different. We rely on the recurring revenue from our members and because of this we have a vested interest in making the experience for those that live in and around our buildings, phenomenal.
These spaces will really be platforms through which we live our lives, it will not be about just a roof over our heads, but a place where we can become our true selves.
One of the goals is to exceed customer expectations. How is this done?
Ed: We are in the incredibly fortunate position that our members we are only a 30 minute train ride away, so we are able to embed ourselves in the community and understand what is working for them and what isn’t. Observing and listening gives us such a valuable insight and a strong position and ensure that we are delivering 100% to their needs. This is very true to our company story, in fact when we started in 2010, we didn’t start with co-living as the vision, we started as a platform online where students could find places to live. Having iterated the ideas and vision multiple times and arrived at the Old Oak, the common thread is that ultimately we see ourselves as the customer and that means we are in tune with what people want and how they are looking to live.
How is the business evolving?
Matt: One example is that the impact team is continually looking at ways to integrate the impact vision into the business. Another is the global expansion into Germany and the US, plus future sites in london. Having teams in different countries and learning about global expansion presents its challenges but also great opportunities. Continually answering the question “What is the best community experience that The Collective can provide”, is naturally a great driver for the evolution of the business as well. In addition, having more and more focus on the impact on neighbourhoods and the added value that The Collective brings to them is another value proposition and a uniqueness of being a developer / operator.
We want to be catalysers in communities in cities.
Are these type of projects acting as a kind of “injection” of social connection in our cities?
Ed: That’s absolutely right and at a time when we are losing social infrastructure that has traditionally bound communities together like pubs, churches, social clubs, playgrounds, the social infrastructure that has been so fundamental to society, when you lose that, you lose the spaces to meet people. So what we are trying to do is build a business around human connection and create a modern place for people to meet that is more in tune with the times. From there who knows what will happen arounds us, but we want to be catalysers in communities in cities.
Where do you see co-living in 2030?
Ed: One of the things I’ve found most interesting is that initially we were anticipating an age range between 18 to 30. This is not the case, our oldest member is 68. There appears to be no correlation between satisfaction and age. It is all about a mindset for a more communal way of living. So by 2030 I would expect that co-living will be the norm and that we’ll see many variations of it. That is because there are many different kinds of people that come to us and we simply can’t house them because our building has not been designed with them in mind. So I think there is a huge opportunity to integrate families into co-living, innovate with social housing, senior living and intergenerational living. We will end up at a point where we will have a new definition with what home means. These spaces will really be platforms through which we live our lives, it will not be about just a roof over our heads, but a place where we can become our true selves.
Why go to Paris for the Co-Liv Summit on 11th and 12th October?
Matt: Co-Liv is a network and ecosystem of co-living experts, developers, investors, architects and new people that are coming on to the scene all the time. It is in effect an open source offline platform to gather the collective intelligence around co-living. The event will be about sharing approaches and learning from other operators and experts. The workshop I’ll be hosting with Ed is really about understanding from other operators how they are integrating community within their business and how we can build this capacity in co-living spaces.
Super excited to be going to the Co-Liv summit 2018!