Fonzie Flats are the key to Happy Days for a growing number of women

On a quest:: Fountaindale Group director Jennifer Macquarie speaking at an Illawarra Women In Business lunch at Centro CBD. Picture: Greg Ellis.
On a quest:: Fountaindale Group director Jennifer Macquarie speaking at an Illawarra Women In Business lunch at Centro CBD. Picture: Greg Ellis.

As chair of the Illawarra/Shoalhaven chapter of the Property Council and Fountaindale Group director, Jennifer Macquarie loves seeing new projects and investment in the region.

But ask her what kind of project excites her most, a glamorous hotel or beachside apartments are not first on her list.

"If you were to ask me what my most passionate project would be it would be a small co-housing project for single women. Each would have their own little cottage and there would be a shared space so they could come together and a communal vegie garden. The planning system doesn't make it easy. But if passion and determination count for anything I am going to make it happen."

Mrs Macquarie was telling her story at an Illawarra Women In Business lunch when she spoke of some single women she had met during her three decade career, and how their stories had moved her to do something to help others like them who find it so hard to buy their own small home.

She started working towards that goal a decade ago when she and her father Neville Fredericks and brother Lawson Fredericks became equal partners in a new entity called the Fountaindale Group.

"We love being innovative and identifying niche markets that are under-supplied," she said.

Mrs Macquarie said Tullimbar Village was an example of architecture and urban design being distinctly different. It was while working in the sales office that she started seeing an increasing number of single women over 50 looking for a home.

"They were often coming out of a divorce, their family assets had been split and they were struggling to find a home they could afford. We had been developing cute low maintenance cottages on 300m2 blocks at the time which appealed to this particular market group. But some had less to spend and I didn't have anything for them."

Mrs Macquarie recalled one lady in her early 60's who couldn't find anything to match the small amount of capital she had. She had come from a middle class family and always worked hard to support herself. She had never married nor owned her own home despite saving hard. And she wanted to use that and a small amount she inherited to buy a small home so she could feel more secure as she grew older.

"She had looked everywhere with no luck. I didn't have anything in her price range either and I asked her if she would consider renting."

The lady said every single dollar she spent on rent eroded her capital and reduced her ability to buy.

Mrs Macquarie said she understood what she was saying and would contact her if anything came up. While walking the lady to her small car she noticed it was carrying all her possessions.

Mrs Macquarie was so moved to do something to help she called a meeting with her father and brother the following day.

"We had been talking about building small apartments above garages in Tullimbar's back lanes. They are often called Fonzie Flats. If I had one of these at the time it would have met this lady's budget. And she inspired me to push harder to get them designed and built," she said.

"It is not easy to get this kind of housing approved because they don't fit most councils' planning controls. But fortunately at Tullimbar we had planning controls that were quite unique and approved by Shellharbour Council," she said.

"Many property people thought we were crazy for building one bedroom apartments in a back lane of a new subdivision. But I suspected that my inspirational lady was not alone. I was right. Those little apartments were the fastest selling homes that we have ever developed. They were small but affordable and comfortable and hit a price point that was available nowhere else. The majority sold to single older women."

Mrs Macquarie said people cried openly with relief when she showed them something new and nice they could afford. She said she was also inspired by another lady she met while on The Housing Trust Board. During a visit to the Brisbane Housing Company to look at some of its housing she was invited into a small one-bedroom home by a tenant who told her how grateful she was to live there and how it changed her life after being homeless.

"While it looked quite small she said it had taken her a while to get used to because it felt too big to her. The first two nights she slept in a fridge space because it was the same size as the doorway she had slept in when she was out on the streets.

"Meeting these women and hearing their stories has created a passion in me to develop good quality, small housing options where the planning codes allow it. And to push for changes to planning controls when this kind of development is prevented."

Thank you: Suzi Albert receives flowers from Sharon Wingate and TIC president Graham Lancaster at the Novotel Wollongong Northbeach. Pictures: Greg Ellis.

Thank you: Suzi Albert receives flowers from Sharon Wingate and TIC president Graham Lancaster at the Novotel Wollongong Northbeach. Pictures: Greg Ellis.

Changing of the guard

There was a special moment at The Illawarra Connection this week when president Graham Lancaster invited executive officer Suzi Albert forward to thank her for her work in the role in such a difficult year.

"Suzi joined us in January this year and has faced some pretty extraordinary and challenging circumstances to say the least," he said.

After the April dinner was cancelled Ms Albert organised the July meeting under the COVID cloud which included having to find an alternate speaker when the original was unable to travel from Melbourne because of border closures. She is now going to focus on her work with charity Dress For Success and will be replaced at TIC by Sharon Wingate who has held the role before and is presently secretary to the TIC Board, operations manager at RDA Illawarra and vice-president of Illawarra Academy of Sport.

John Kollaras

John Kollaras

Dare to Cure

On October 23 John Kollaras will be participating in Children's Cancer Institute's CEO Dare to Cure.

The Institute is the only independent medical research institute in Australia wholly dedicated to curing childhood cancer and pioneering safer treatments.

During COVID-19 children are still fighting cancer and more are being diagnosed during the pandemic. But with weakened immune systems any infection is life-threatening.

Mr Kollaras knows finding better, safer treatments for children is more important than ever but COVID-19 is having a drastic impact on the amount of funds being raised to find new cures.

He will be on "Team Nixon" for the fundraising event. Nixon was born with a tumour on his head the size of an adult's fist. Barely one week old, he underwent a five-hour operation which revealed he had a rare and aggressive tumour. He then endured 30 weeks of harsh chemotherapy and six surgeries.

Today, thanks to medical research, Nixon is now a healthy, happy boy and has become a CEO Dare to Cure ambassador.

Movers and Shakers is a new weekly feature of people doing significant work in or for the Illawarra community. Do you have an interesting business story you would like to share? Email grellis@austcommunitymedia.com.au.

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This story Fonzie Flats are the key to Happy Days for a growing number of women first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.