Meet the Collective: Ed Thomas

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Impression had a chat to the Head of Community Experience to discuss one of the many new trends to hit the world of hospitality

Please tell us a bit more about The Collective and the co-living / co-working scene?

The Collective has been around since 2010 and has evolved according to the changing needs of the people that we serve. We now design, build and operate co-living spaces. Prior to that, we were a website at one point, helping students to find places to live in London. We then explored serviced living, and now do co–living and that’s based on our learning from previous offerings. Co-living comes in many different forms – but it’s essentially a shared living experience that tries to bring the idea of ‘community’ back into the heart of home.

The co-working scene is targeting people who work by providing spaces for people to come together around shared interests. By doing so, a community is formed. And that community provides wellbeing, entertainment and opportunities for networking and shared learning. It’s our fundamental belief that we need to exist within a community to be happy and that’s why we offer a hybrid of the two.

What prompted this exploration into a relatively new market?

If you look at the millennial generation, the macro level trends are forcing their behaviours to change. For instance, it takes a Londoner an average of 68 years to save for a deposit, so the likelihood of owning a home in this city is small. Then there are other societal changes at play, including the proliferation of technology – which means we’re plugged in all the time – as such, we’re becoming more and more individualistic. Loneliness is at record levels. There’s a really interesting statistics’ which is that 60% of people that are aged between 18 to 35 report feeling lonely sometimes or often. And that’s significantly higher than the previous generation. And loneliness kills people; it’s the psychological state most associated with suicide. So we want to try and tackle these challenges that are facing young people today by providing not just somewhere to live, but somewhere to become alive.

How is the emerging co-living / co-working market impacting the hospitality sector?

People are recognising that community is needed and that the millennial generation is now taking up a bigger proportion of the global population, and that their needs and wants are massively different. A great example is the rise of Airbnb – it owns no rooms but it’s the most popular hospitality company in the world. The way that people interact is different to the traditional models offered within the hospitality sphere, so the hotel industry is having to respond to the fact that people are willing to share, and they’re willing to share because they’ll get more for their money. People are more interested in the experience that comes with sharing… so we’re starting to see hotels evolve and offer more suitable services to their potential guests. But you’re also seeing some of them exploring co-living as well, so it’s an interesting time for hotels.


In light of that, what are some of the hard truths and immediate opportunities for the sector?

The hard truth of co-living is that it’s a completely new product; we’re trying to innovate in a very undisrupted market. Real estate has not really changed at all so we’re the only people doing it on this scale in the UK. We’ve had to work very hard to innovate within the sector, which traditionally shies away from innovation. It’s been tough; we’ve had to work closely with the local government to show that it’s not just a fad and it’s the way people will live in the future. That said, the opportunities are huge. At the moment, we primarily target a young audience but community is not just needed for that demographic. Elderly generations need to have community; they need that support – families, too, they need support – so I think in the future the biggest opportunities will be targeting the different demographics.

What have been some of the biggest disrupters this year?

Airbnb, for me, is probably the biggest disrupter – it shows the power of bringing together groups of people who want to offer services and experiences. It’s forcing companies to completely re-write their business models through the power of technology. Technology democratises and that’s a very powerful thing.

Is there still an appetite from investors to the hotel sector?

Yes, hotels will never go altogether. I think they will be forced to respond to the changing ways that people want to engage with hospitality. But I think we’ll see them evolve – maybe they’ll offer some co-living within their spaces, alongside shorter stays. They’ll still be in demand.

What are you looking for with the designers and architects that you engage with?

We’re looking for an openness and a willingness to take risks. We are learning how to build the best co-living spaces and we need to take risks on that journey in order to build the best places for our members; the best places for communities to thrive. We need to work with architects and designers that are aligned with that vision, and who are also willing to take risks – and work with us to breathe life into a community.