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Co-living may on the surface appear to be more vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic than regular living options, but flexible models are providing much wanted social benefits that are seeing spaces like The Collective thrive. Tough times might create the first megabrand in the urban living scene.

Cushman & Wakefield forecasts the co-living market potential at $550bn across Europe and the US once the sector matures, possibly over the next 10 years. Cooking together, socializing in shared spaces, and connecting at events is at the heart of The Collective’s model. This is a combination which you’d think would spell doom for a business right now, but there is more under the hood than simple proximity benefits. Despite the government guidelines slapping a firm ‘not right now’ on many of co-livings benefits, there’s no mass exodus and the ‘members’ (residents) have never been more ‘together’, according to Reza Merchant, founder, and CEO of The Collective. The model is – at its heart – adaptive. When people are isolated and have their usual social rugs pulled from under them, having a live-in community is a unique selling point.

Based in the US, UK, and Germany currently, The Collective is still expanding while the company evaluates the next steps post-lockdown. Speaking with members, the mood is positive and they have access to large amounts of resources and online events to help improve their mental and physical wellbeing. Several of the members mentioned that they weren’t sure how well they would be coping if they weren’t at The Collective, and referenced the Facebook and WhatsApp groups The Collective uses to keep the community connected.

Merchant is realistic about the future: “We’ve learned a lot that has shaped future plans – COVID-19 has prompted us to try out new initiatives, and experiment with evolving the offering, and we’re stronger because of it. The need for connection and togetherness will be even more important over the next few years as the after-effects of this period of social isolation are felt. The fact that members have stayed and are flourishing is proof the model works. We’ve learned so much from the past few weeks and months. I actually think we will look back at this moment in 20 years from now and say that our future as a business was forged during this challenging time.”

Charlie Seligman, 42, an IT Consultant staying at The Collective Canary Wharf, told me: “There are lots of us staying at The Collective Canary Wharf during this lockdown because of its community. I’m staying with The Collective because of the ‘family’.”

In a way, The Collective is a micro-ecosystem that provides a unique cocoon to COVID-19. The global nature of the network Merchant and the team has meant that the virtual events program isn’t your usual yoga at 9 am affair. Instead, members have benefitted from experiences like tantric storytelling, sleep-inducing sound healings, live DJ sets, and philosophical discussions with global leaders and authors. All while the contact-free room delivery service offers meals from the on-site restaurants. The members themselves have also rallied together to provide online activities like an improvisation club, and weekly group mental health check-ins, as well as doing shopping trips for other members in self-isolation

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