We teamed up with The Collective, which has just launched London’s most unique co-living venture, for an Alice in Wonderland party. Meet the company’s founder, Reza Merchant.

Reza Merchant, CEO of The Collective

Reza Merchant, CEO of The Collective

Think back to your uni days. The halcyon days, when you were younger, fitter and money magically appeared in your bank account every few months, no questions asked. Think back to halls, those often messy, cramped spaces, which even though they didn’t have the luxuries of home (e.g. a bath long enough for you to actually lie down in and windows that actually opened more than an inch) were where you founded some of your most influential friendships, and even relationships.

Now, imagine you could live your life, adult-style, in a similar set-up, only this time the furnishings are actually desirable and you’ve enough communal and private space to function. Add on the fact that all your bills (internet, water, electricity, the lot) are paid without you having to even mention them, you have a cleaner and an endless supply of events taking place right at home to help you get to know the neighbours. Sounds pretty tempting, right?

Enter Reza Merchant, the 27-year-old brains behind The Collective, the company that opened the doors to the world’s largest co-living scheme, at Old Oak, just last month. That’s 550 beds inside a residential concept, based on the idea of community. With rent prices in the capital being hiked beyond the top-tier salaries most of us can only dream of, The Collective aims to cater to young professionals between finding permanent residences.

Twodios at £250pw include all utility bills, council tax, wi-fi, concierge services, 24/7 security, room cleans and linen changes. The Old Oak location even includes a gym, spa, cinema, rooftop terrace, games room, library and themed dining rooms. Fancier than your shared house in zone 4? Same. There is also a co-working space which will launch in September this year for 400 entrepreneurs. Need we say more?

Focused on providing experiences, we teamed up with The Collective for an Alice in Wonderland-themed party, headlined by Nic Fanciulli – who has just launched his ‘We Are the Night’ residency at Pacha in Ibiza – and with support from Horse Meat Disco’s Jim Stanton, to meet some of the current residents and Merchant himself.

Nic Fanciulli at the Wonderland x The Collective party (Credit: Cleo Glover)

Nic Fanciulli at the Wonderland x The Collective party (Credit: Cleo Glover)

If we go from the start, where did you get the idea for The Collective?

The idea actually came when I was a young person studying in London. I experienced first hand the struggles that young people face in trying to find any decent accommodation which is A) – good value, and B) – really responds to the way people live nowadays. Experiencing the problem first hand meant that I wanted to go about solving it.

Some people define the housing at luxury and others categorise it as affordable. Where do you see yourself on that spectrum?

I see it as good value and accessible to people earning between £25,000 to £50,000 a year. At the moment that part of the market doesn’t really have any options apart from renting rooms in houses, or going into a flat.

Can you convince me to move into one of your properties? What are the main advantages?

A few things. Firstly, the convenience. You don’t have to worry about getting your bills, getting your internet, you don’t have to worry about your landlord not fixing something. It’s built around convenience, so we include all of the utilities in one bill. You don’t have to worry about coordinating that with your other housemates. It’s a much higher level of service. We change the sheets periodically; we clean the rooms. The aim is to take all of the life admin away from you, even furniture.

You must have done that dreaded Ikea trip with your housemates so you don’t do that. We provide everything from knives to forks, pots and pans so that as soon as you start your contract you can unpack your bag and start living. Convenience factors are changing, the next is we are building a community of like-minded people. We are surrounded by several hundred like-minded people. You have the option to do your own thing but if you want to you can socialise and interact and really have experiences that have potential to change your life.

We want people to meet their future soul mates, their future business partners, their future friends for live. That’s an experience that you can’t put a price on and it’s through the spaces that we have in the building that really allow you to do that. There’s 12,000 sq ft of shared space which has been created specifically to facilitate these experiences.

I read in your interview in the Financial Times that you said the properties are “transitional” living situations, people aren’t going to live there forever. What do you think it is that The Collective might be lacking?

You can’t be all things to all people and if you want to create a very specific, targeted product, then you can’t do that to capture 20 years of someone’s life. People change, people’s preferences and needs are very different from when they come out of university and are in their first or second job, to when they settle down and have kids and so we’ve chosen to target that earlier part of someone’s life.

We want to build a product that is perfectly suited to people starting their working careers. At the moment you meet someone and you want to settle down and have a family, then other accommodation forms are going to be more suitable. You couldn’t be child friendly and create the perfect experience for a 25-year-old creative professional, because it’s so different. People’s priorities are so different, there’s two different stages. We can’t be all things to all people.

Obviously we’re amidst a wonderful housing crisis, nobody’s got any money, do you imagine that in the future you might be able to do anything that’s even cheaper? Or is that not your priority – is your priority more value rather than lower cost?

At Old Oak twodios are at £250pw for some units, bearing in mind that it’s all inclusive of your utility bills, your internet and everything, that’s equivalent to about £160/£170 a week, and that’s actually very affordable. That’s very much in line, or slightly cheaper than what you’d pay to rent a room in the area. So I think our price point is affordable from that perspective, but we’re able to offer a high quality, and in some ways luxurious, product but that doesn’t mean that it’s unaffordable.

What was your home like growing up? Did you take anything from where you grew up and put it into The Collective?

We want to create a welcoming family environment that many people experienced growing up. So, I think there was definitely inspiration from taken from the home – we want to create a place people can call home and not just a soulless place where people live. We also have communal kitchens on every floor in addition to people’s kitchens within their personal space. When you’re growing up, friends and family tend to congregate in the kitchen and we can see that continuing in Old Oak.

The inspiration is like that even in our f&b offering – the ground floor has a restaurant called The Common and it’s very much based on communal dining. You pick bowls of food and everyone is sharing and interacting with each other in that experience. We think that will really encourage people to build bonds with their housemates.

Nic Fanciulli at the Wonderland x The Collective party (Credit: Cleo Glover)

Now, you’re a business man with a business plan and you’re trying to make a profit, but how much time does the human experience side take up in your schedule?

We want to create a long-term brand based around the core principle of creating memorable experiences for residents that last a lifetime. Factoring in the human experience side is so important to our business. We have created an exceptional product firstly, which will be the driver for a profitable future.

Who do you admire in business?

You know, let’s just look at someone like Apple. They’ve transformed people’s lives, they’ve transformed the way people use technology, interact with technology, by just creating really high quality products and it’s in the intricacies and the detail. You could say the Macbook is just a laptop, anyone can make a laptop, but there’s so much thought that goes into it that makes it impossible to recreate.

In the same way, we spent years designing The Collective Old Oak with the end-user in mind. I visited it this week and there are around 375 people living there now – you can’t put a price on the feeling and atmosphere you get when you enter a room or space. We have some really special spaces in the building that create different moods.

It’s all very meticulously planned

Oh of course. We have a full in-house design team that do all of our interiors which is unheard of for a business like ours but that’s how much emphasis we place on our product and the quality of it. Each little detail in every room down to the colour of the wall finish, down to the colour of the lighting and everything is thought through just relentlessly.

How big is your team now?

We’re now at 35, so we’re growing very quickly.

What’s going to be the next step for you guys, I’ve seen that you’re supporting entrepreneurs and business spaces as well as the living spaces?

Yeah so we have workspaces in a lot of our buildings, flexible co-working space for start-up businesses or independent businesses. That will continue when we launch the workspace in Old Oak in September for 400 people.

What made you want to publicise your efforts through events?

We think that creating experiences is a key part of our offering – we feel that doing an event like this gives people great experiences which are representative of our brand and what members can expect from living in Old Oak.

Lastly, do you not think that it should be more responsibility put on the government rather than businesses to create affordable housing?

You’ve got to have the government and the private sector working together. The best partnerships are where people work together collaboratively, because there are obvious synergies between the public sector and the government. It’s really about the public and private sector working together, rather than trying to shift the responsibility to one another. You need each other completely.

Nic Fanciulli at the Wonderland x The Collective party (Credit: Cleo Glover)
Nic Fanciulli at the Wonderland x The Collective party (Credit: Cleo Glover)
Nic Fanciulli at the Wonderland x The Collective party (Credit: Cleo Glover)

All photos of the Wonderland x The Collective party (Credit: Cleo Glover)

For more information about The Collective, visit thecollective.co.uk

The Collective is also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


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