When Tjalling van den Burger accepted a job in London, he needed to find a place to live – and like a growing number of young people faced with sky high rents, he turned to co-living. So what’s it like sharing a communal space with more than 500 people?
“Searching for a flatshare in London while still living in the Netherlands was almost impossible,” says Tjalling van den Burger. He had accepted a job with a tech company in London and was faced with the daunting prospect of arriving with nowhere to live – until a friend recommended he try The Collective.
A sleek 10-storey tower in Old Oak, west London, The Collective claims to be the world’s largest co-living scheme, with about 550 residents. It aims to give tenants, whose average age is 28, a communal life, with every aspect – from utility bills to entertainment – taken care of. It’s much like a university halls of residence for young professionals, albeit a very luxurious one.
Van den Burger moved into one of its tiny rooms, most of which have en-suite bathrooms and shared kitchens, in September 2016. “It’s not for everybody,” he admits. “You don’t get much personal space, and it’s tough at times when you don’t want to be with other people. But the sense of community more than makes up for it.”
The Collective’s 1,115 sq metres (12,000 sq ft) of communal space, including a library, a garden hangout, a co-working office, a bar and a cinema, is its biggest attraction, along with the activities organised by its dedicated events team.
“The events are brilliant – we’ve had everything from standup comedy nights to art classes and an astronomy session, which taught us how to stargaze,” says Van den Burger.
“Residents also organise their own, so I held a wine-tasting, which was fun.
“I’ve made so many friends, which I’m really grateful for because I know how difficult it is in a city like London to meet new people. It’s always a buzzy atmosphere here. The residents are generally very sociable and interesting people, like the guy I share a kitchen with, who’s a marine biologist at the London Aquarium and has become a good friend.”
Although Van den Burger pays £1,100 per month, which is expensive given the size of his living quarters, he believes it’s better value for money than renting an ordinary flat.
“I wouldn’t be able to afford a one-bedroom flat in central London at that price, so I’d be sharing anyway, and at The Collective everything’s included: all my bills, gym membership, Netflix and even cleaners, who come every fortnight. It takes so much of the stress out of everyday life.
“And it’s much less of a risk than going on Gumtree and finding somewhere where you might not like the people you have to live with. There are so many residents here that finding people you get on with is never a problem.”
Van den Burger has signed a contract to live there for another year; after that, he says: “I don’t know where I’ll be with work, so not committing too far ahead gives me the flexibility I need.”
In the meantime, he’s happy to be one of a growing number of co-living pioneers.
“London can feel lonely at times, but here you’ve got a whole community under one roof,” he says.
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