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Co-living and communities: happy bedfellows or mis-understood?

Reflections

Since the 2010s, co-living has become increasingly recognised as a viable option for affordable urban living, targeting predominantly young, working adults.

For those unfamiliar, co-living distinguishes itself by offering affordability, flexible lease terms with a range of communal amenities not commonly available in traditional rental arrangements. Moreover, these developments are designed to foster social interaction, providing a welcoming environment for newcomers to connect with the community.

However, the integration of co-living into the existing urban framework has not been without its challenges. A significant obstacle arises from the lack of specific planning policies governing co-living developments at the council level. This ambiguity complicates the classification of co-living within established use classes, leading to uncertainties regarding its contribution to the overall housing supply.

Despite these hurdles, the benefits of co-living, including its affordability and community-focused design, remain compelling. But communicating these advantages to both local councils and the broader community shouldn’t be underestimated, given the lack of understanding for the tenure in some quarters.

In Luton, working on behalf of Valorem Investment Partners, my colleague Alex Cowley helped to secure planning permission for a co-living scheme in the town centre. This success was aided by a comprehensive support campaign that leveraged social media, direct community engagement , and a pop-up event to inform local stakeholders, businesses, and residents about the project’s potential benefits.

The strategy garnered substantial community support, culminating in the submission of a swathe of letters endorsing the co-living proposal to the council. The broad-based community support was instrumental in framing co-living as a beneficial addition to the community, leading to the council’s approval of the application.

Another city which has seen positive social impact as a result of embracing co-living spaces is Bristol, the place I call home. With over 19,000 people on the city council’s waiting list, Bristol has been experiencing the brunt of the housing crisis in full force.

In 2019, working on behalf of Summix, Meeting Place supported the first co-living scheme in Bristol, which benefited from the value added by spaces to socialise, professional building management and being able to provide Bristol-based key workers a community to call home.

With this project now up and running, city councillors have a live example of how and why co-living works. Walking the corridors, experiencing the communal spaces and speaking to those on the ground managing these communities, gave members an ability to properly understand how similar developments could benefit Bristol. This move helped to secure a unanimous, cross-party decision by councillors to support the development of a second Bristol-based scheme for client Greystar, also supported by Meeting Place.

Together, these projects underscore the importance of proactive communication and community engagement in overcoming policy barriers and establishing co-living as a valuable and recognised housing option.

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