Can Co-Living Spaces Solve Millennial Loneliness?

Hannah Tomes
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Do co-living spaces offer the perfect solution for young people experiencing loneliness and increasingly expensive rental prices?

With research from Opinium showing that a staggering 83% of young people (aged 18-34) living in Britain feel lonely “sometimes”, “regularly”, or “often”, it seems that we’re living in an age of social exclusion like no other.

The research was conducted by asking people how often they interacted with others. Opinium found that, on average, adults in the UK spend only 48 minutes a day interacting with others. Equally, a third of people said they don’t know how to go about making new friends.

Now, combine this with soaring house prices and a fierce rental market, and it’s no surprise that some young people are turning towards co-living spaces as a solution.

communal living offers an alternative to conventional forms of renting. Photo by The Collective

Strength in numbers

The return to communal living might bring back horrific flashbacks of university accommodation for some – paying extortionate amounts of money for the luxury of a cramped, damp bedroom – but for others, particularly in London, the popularity of shared living spaces is on the rise.

Co-living companies such as The Collective, which became the UK’s largest co-living space when it opened in 2016, give residents their own space within a larger building that houses shared kitchens and communal areas.

In addition to living space, they also offer ‘networking events, guest speakers, live music, classes, community dinners and spur-of-the-moment BBQs’, and even wacky exercise classes like disco yoga.

A testimonial on their site from Marcus, 29, says: “Co-living feels very similar to travelling. I enjoy talking with people from diverse backgrounds from all over the world. This brings more adventure to everyday life. Co-living appeals to the adventure & connection seeker in me.” Clearly, this form of cohabitation with strangers works for some people.

All-inclusive living, and the opportunity to meet people outside of work, might sound like sensible solutions for the feelings of social exclusion and loneliness that currently affect millions of young people, but of course, it’s more complicated than that.

The Collective CEO Reza Merchant. Photo by Max Lacome

Incidental acquaintances

Rooms in a place like this don’t come cheap – for The Collective, that’s anything from £200 pw and go up to £340 pw – and it’s something that many young people simply can’t afford.

One of the biggest criticisms of co-living communities is the lack of private space. In an article for the BBC, Markaiu Mason, who left The Collective in 2017, said: “At the end of the day, you’re stuck between a cupboard and a door.”

Selling co-living as a cure for millennial loneliness seems optimistic at best, reductive at worst. Human friendships are made up of more than just a physical closeness – living in the same place as hundreds of other people, doesn’t ensure meaningful friendships, any more than living in a busy city means you’re bound to meet like-minded people.

The bubble-like, often insular community of such living spaces has echoes of some newer companies’ tactics to keep employees on; Brewdog offers puppy leave when you get a new pet, and it’s not uncommon for hipster start-ups to boast beer fridges and ping-pong tables. Google are well-known for offering their employees every ‘perk’ under the sun to keep them happy at work, including free meals, showers, a gym, sleep pods, and far more – but ex-employees have said the perks are nothing more than a ploy to keep them at work.

A roof terrace at one of The Collective’s co-living sites. Photo by The Collective

In a similar way, as co-living spaces organise events, provide your meals, give you exercise spaces and gig venues, they may actually restrict the urge to go out and meet new people – and why would you, when you’re the perfect captive audience?

Yes, collective living spaces might be a short-term solution if you’re a lonely millennial moving to a new city. Yes, they might suit some personalities to a tee. But to form real connections and up your meaningful communications, living in a suspended state of acquaintance with hundreds of others could provide the opposite of real company – it’s all getting a bit High-Rise.

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