My reflection on the Coliving Conference 2023 – Innovation and enthusiasm in the face of challenging markets.
Since returning from the Coliving Conference in Amsterdam last week, I find myself inspired by the opportunities coming forward. The event served as a vibrant hub for like-minded individuals, all of whom share a passion for redefining the way we live and building new communities in our ever-evolving world.
The Coliving Conference was a relatively intimate affair – with under 200 in-person attendees, to be expected as coliving is still in its infancy – and conversation flowed freely around the site tours across Amsterdam on the first day, and throughout the conference event on the second. I found the conference an invaluable platform for networking, forging connections, and engaging with fellow pioneers and innovators in this field. Many of these discussions not only opened my mind up to further possibilities but also provided me with practical insights that we can apply to our own schemes coming forward.
Coliving is a term applied freely to many different typologies across Europe. The lack of a ‘one size fits all’ approach and coliving’s ability to fall between the cracks of planning use classes is allowing operators, architects, developers and funders to continue realising innovative ideas and typologies.
There is a clear merging between living and hotel sectors within this space, with different coliving developments targeted at a range of user groups. Delegates from hotel backgrounds showed lessons from a demanding customer base that want more than just a night’s stay. Others with backgrounds in student accommodation brought lessons we can learn from a well-established sector in the UK. The emerging senior living sector representatives were also keen to understand if there is a possible coliving product for the older age group and what this could look like.
The opportunities across these multiple user groups are huge and could make a big contribution in solving the housing crises currently challenging all age groups and all countries.
One great example of the innovation on display was an emerging scheme by Commune, which is aiming to bring forward a coliving development in Paris targeted at single parents (which represents 1 in 3 households in the French capital), where a shared living ethos can help bring together those people experiencing the same challenges of raising a child on their own.
A recurring theme is that the friendliness of these buildings is a real USP. For example, the demand for coliving tenancies for corporate placements has increased ten-fold as businesses looking to place staff abroad or on location realise that their staff are happier living in a community than a sterile, often more expensive, serviced apartment.
We shared our own lessons learnt too. Assael Director Tim Cavanagh-Chapman discussed our scheme at Sunday Mills in Earlsfield on a panel entitled Experience-Driven Shared Living. He covered the successful community created and the positive feedback we’ve received from the first cohort of residents. Fundamental to this is the Discounted Market Rent studios, which make up 35% of the rooms more affordable and consequently bringing a diversity of tenure to the development – something that the GLA are, confusingly, unsupportive of.
One of the key takeaways from the conference was the emphasis on building communities, which Tim spoke in depth about. Coliving, at its core, is about creating spaces that foster meaningful connections and collaboration. Other speakers and panellists shared their experiences and strategies for cultivating a sense of belonging and inclusivity within shared living environments, and the role that both onsite management and technology can contribute.
I carry with me a renewed sense of purpose and a deeper understanding of the transformative potential of this emerging sector. We all know how challenging the market is currently, but coliving is offering an opportunity for investors and developers to realise the value of complex sites, where traditional modes are not viable, whilst providing tenants with a secure and flexible living arrangement, in a friendly community with great facilities, and in locations that would often be out of price range in a BTR development. Importantly, this is not a short-term fix, but a fluid and evolving market that is going to allow multiple housing types that cater for all types of people to co-exist for the long-term.
In retrospect, the Coliving Conference was not just a gathering of individuals interested in a niche concept; it was a celebration of our collective desire to create better, more connected living spaces. It was a reminder that in an increasingly fragmented world, there is immense power in coming together, sharing ideas, and working towards a common goal.
With Florence Dock at Battersea now open and letting at an incredible rate, and two of our other schemes currently under construction, the demand for these typologies in the UK is clear, but success is not a forgone conclusion. The key to delivering these successful schemes is getting the right balance between fantastic design, locating them in desirable spaces, well-curated on-site management, providing a gradient of public and private spaces, designing for both introverts and extroverts, and, most importantly, imbuing a sense of community ethos.