Building new communities with a tried, true recipe, Rory Costelloe

Building communities and fostering community spirit are real articles of faith for Rory Costelloe. His philosophy is a personal one, born of a country upbringing where people are often closely connected, but it’s also a professional code he instils in new urban developments.

Rory Costello on his electric Bike

As a proud Newtown resident, he’s focused sharply on replicating the best of Geelong’s community attributes into the residential projects he develops. Rory is executive director of the multi award-winning Villawood Properties. He relocated from Bendigo with his wife Katrina and four daughters 16 years ago.

“At the time, our kids were between four and 12 years old. When we were looking where to move, we observed a fairly significant difference in the advanced street-wise nature of kids in Melbourne compared to kids in Bendigo. We preferred to let the kids be kids longer, in a less fast-paced environment. We decided Geelong was the best place in Victoria to raise a family within commuter distance of Melbourne.

“I love water sports and Lake Eppalock at Bendigo was virtually dry in 2003 so the attraction of Geelong – with a river, the bay and the ocean – was overwhelming.

“The kids started school at the local Fyans Park Primary School. Within six months of being here, I asked: ‘Do you want to move back to Bendigo?’ They all emphatically said: ‘We like Geelong’.

“One of my favourite topics is to ensure people are active. I try to model things on my own lifestyle. I do a Sunday road bike ride with a group that leaves from Waurn Ponds and goes to Barwon Heads, enjoying the spectacular views along 13th Beach Road. I head out riding in the You Yangs. I go out on the surf ski at Ocean Grove with the local clubies and go jogging around the Barwon River.”

Rory’s Villawood works hard to foster a real community spirit through various means including the unique clubhouse model it has pioneered as part of its masterplan communities, and he has the awards to prove it.

“In 2017, we won the Urban Development Institute of Australia’s Victorian Award for best Master planned Community for Armstrong Creek and in 2018 we won the Community Engagement Award for the same project,” he says. Part of that master planning and engagement is getting people outside, moving about and connecting with others through activity – especially kids.

“In our communities, we try to get kids off their iPads and devices and out to the playground to use some energy and get some fresh air. We create challenges for kids with really cool parks. It’s about physical health and also about their mental health.”

So, what exactly is the clubhouse model and what makes it so special?

“We build a residents’ clubhouse with pools, gyms, tennis courts. Some additional features are a community garden, parents’ lounges, men’s sheds, and the whole thing brings people together. Everyone is connected through Facebook groups, so it’s easy to start a new group inside the community (e.g. running group, book group).

“Because of what we do with our clubs, 90% our buyers are owner-occupiers, and 60% are second-home buyers, so people know their neighbours are going to be there permanently. It all makes for a really happy community with everyone looking after each other.”

Rory is also passionate about Villawood’s contribution to the wider community.

“I believe corporates need to have a strong sense of social responsibility. We support lots of small, local groups, especially community groups that have trouble attracting funding themselves. Besides that, our big community project is The Royal Children’s Hospital. We’ve raised over $6 million in the last decade through the Good Friday Appeal. We are also proud sponsors of the Humans in Geelong Expo 2019 as this community project aligns with our own values.

So, what’s the next challenge?

“The challenge of creating happy new, sustainable communities is constantly evolving. Our next innovation is to really step up attention to the design of homes as well as supplying solar panels and batteries, to ensure future communities are far more environmentally sustainable.”

Story: Jacqui Bennett

Photo: Erica Moloney. Rory on his electric bike, his preferred mode of transport, but that is literally another story.