Rethinking retirement living

He’s developed two retirement living villages, and both have taken home national property awards. Find out how managing director of Mbark, Adam Somerville, is rethinking retirement living.

Wivenhoe Village, a semi-rural retirement living development on the outskirts of Sydney, achieved national recognition earlier this month at the Property Council of Australia / Rider Levett Bucknall Awards.

Taking out the GHD Woodhead Award for Best Retirement Living Development, boutique developer Mbark was applauded for a new housing model that delivers a significant social dividend.

Located within Camden’s Kirkham Rise development, Wivenhoe offers more than seven kilometres of walking trails and cycleways through picturesque bushland, woodland parks and onsite dams.

Created through a joint venture with the land’s custodians, the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, Wivehoe Village provides new housing options for people who are accustomed to life on the land or larger lots, and want to downsize without losing privacy and space.

This isn’t the first win for family-owned Mbark. In 2014, Somerville and his team took out the same award for The Arbour, Berry.

Somerville says he likes to think the second award “is a reflection on our philosophy rather than our product”.

“It’s more than one good project now. It’s great encouragement to keep innovating”.

More than market research

Mbark’s approach is a deeply consultative and customer-led process.

“We take our customers on a very long journey. Effectively, we are engaged in a co-design process with our early responders,” Somerville explains.

“For years before we even broke ground we engaged with the community and evolved our ideas after talking with potential customers”.

Mbark took “countless” busloads of prospective residents to The Arbour to showcase their retirement living philosophy in action, and to “spend three hours on a bus talking to them about what they wanted – and what it would take to get them to try something different”.

And Wivenhoe is certainly something different.

As the village sits adjacent to 120-hectares of Cumberland plain woodland, Mbark made a sizeable financial contribution to restore and conserve critically-endangered habitat. This required “complex and enduring negotiations” with all levels of government, Somerville explains.

A trust was established and funded to support the ongoing conservation work, land care groups established and environmentally-sensitive design principles adopted. The result? “Extraordinary environmental outcomes,” Somerville says.

Wivenhoe delivers a rich social dividend too. Mbark restored an historic local villa operated by the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, while building capacity at a local special needs school, which is now able to accommodate an additional 75 students.

While these are undoubtedly “three big ticks” for the community, Somerville says the project has also been a financial success and is “full of people living out the best years of their lives in an environment that supports them”.

One Wivenhoe resident argues it “shouldn’t be called a retirement village, it should be called a ‘live longer village’.”

Telling a compelling story

Mbark’s next project is with the Federal Golf Club in Canberra, which is currently looking to build 125 retirement living units on its land in Red Hill.

“The recognition for Wivenhoe certainly signals to the Canberra community that we deliver exceptional pieces of infrastructure that will service not just current but future generations.”

Somerville says his company’s goal is to partner with social organisations, “whether that is sporting clubs, religious groups or other not-for-profits who see an opportunity to enhance their mission by working with an expert retirement village owner and operator”.

Where does Somerville see the industry heading?

“There’s no secret around the demographics we will face over the next 10 to 15 years. It’s certainly an opportunity – but we need to get better at serving this demographic with flexible, customer-led service models.

“If people don’t have choice in how they downsize, they won’t do it. But if we get it right, we have a really great story to tell.”

The National Retirement Living Summit 2018 will be held at the Hyatt Hotel Canberra on Thursday 29 and Friday 30 November. Super early bird registration is now open. Save up to $300 when you register by Friday 15 June.