x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Al Reef neighbourhood

This neighbourhood near Yas Island and Abu Dhabi International Airport offers value for money and a tight sense of community, residents say.

Alicia McKeogh, left, plays at the park with Zia Temple, three, and Indi Temple, five.
Alicia McKeogh, left, plays at the park with Zia Temple, three, and Indi Temple, five.

Residents of this neighbourhood near Yas Island and Abu Dhabi International Airport say they enjoy a tight sense of community, value for money and quick access to the city, writes Sarah Nicholas

It's a pleasant October evening and close to 200 people have gathered in celebration at a small park in Al Reef. The sounds of laughter and chitchat fill the air at this informal weekend social where adults share food and children play.

Look closely and you'll see Alicia McKeogh, an Australian expatriate, running around with a pen in hand, filling out name tags to help residents become familiar with one another.

Given the strong sense of community on display tonight, it's remarkable to think that Al Reef was almost a ghost town less than a year ago.

McKeogh and her family were among Al Reef's first arrivals, moving into the development in December. She made a point of getting to know each newcomer, saying hello to everyone as they moved in. But she didn't stop there. Soon she was also producing a residents' newsletter, which she posted through the doors of any house that looked as if it was occupied. Then she, along with other new residents, started a walking group, staged coffee mornings and evening socials, formed a book club and organised regular quiz nights. Alicia's husband, Shaun, also started a running group.

Such drive has earned McKeogh the nickname the Mayoress of Al Reef and it's no surprise to find out that she is responsible for this night's well-attended get-together.

The Mayoress has also set up an Al Reef Facebook page, which now boasts 458 friends and hosts a lively discussion board where residents share information and wall postings to publicise the latest local events. You can find a babysitter here or get contact details for anything from the local laundry service to pizza delivery companies.

Louise Steyn Northcote, from South Africa, is a "friend" of Al Reef. "I joined the Facebook group as we are thinking of moving to Al Reef. I wanted to see what the residents had to say."

The neighbourhood can be found by following the highway to Al Falah. It is about 40km from downtown Abu Dhabi and, via a recently opened link road, just a short distance from Yas Island.

The development is being built by Manazel Real Estate in four phases: Al Reef Arabian Village opened on time last year, while Desert Village is nearing completion. These will be followed by the Mediterranean and Contemporary phases. Each area will include houses ranging from two to five bedrooms.

Manazel's marketing slogan, "Building communities together", seems particularly apt on the night of one of the Mayoress' socials. Census, the development's management company, is keen to become part of the community, too, and Fahad Hareb, the company's general manager, has come along to meet the residents.

"Being here is important for us. We are trying to do things differently and we want to work for, and with, the residents here. Our aim is to become like a residents' association. We are constantly looking to change and improve the way we work. Our team of maintenance staff are doing the same."

Al Reef is the first development in Abu Dhabi where expatriates or overseas investors can purchase their own homes, either to live in or to let out.

Jacqueline Platt, an estate agent who founded Pink Property UAE, has sold many of the Al Reef homes. So impressed was she by the development that, after 12 years in the capital, she and her husband bought a villa here and moved in late last year, also during the ghost town period: "We bought off-plan and ended up with views of Yas Island and Ferrari World," she says. "It's excellent. Fantastic. Great."

The pavement-lined streets of Al Reef are wide. Each villa has car parking and outdoor storage space, along with two bins - one for recycling, the other for general household waste. Additional car parking is integrated into the middle of the streets.

Inside, the properties are light and airy. Open-plan kitchens and living rooms provide good space on the ground floor and glass doors give access to the garden. Larger villas have their own pools. Upstairs, bedrooms have en-suites or share family-style bathrooms. The design is universally modern and functional with ample plugs, switches and internet points.

Each of Al Reef's four sections will have its own community facilities. Arabian Village already has a swimming pool, a smaller shaded children's pool and a gym. Kiosk shops are expected to open soon, while the community park has swings, slides and a grassy area for children. A tennis court is under development.

Stephen Vickery, from the UK, and his family recently rented a five-bedroom villa. They relocated from Sas Al Nakheel, where maintenance had become an issue for them. He cheerily asserts that "moving to Al Reef has far exceeded our expectations and the family is really happy here".

Steven Armstrong, a seven-year-old from Canada, has lived in Abu Dhabi, Canada and Dubai and along the way has become a bit of an expert on expatriate life.

He says he's happy with the move to Al Reef: "I have my own back yard and a garden shower." He adds, "My friend from Dubai has moved here with his family. This means I have one friend, but I think I'll make lots more soon."

Al Reef has cleverly positioned itself as a mid-market option for both renters and buyers. Where once finding somewhere affordable to live was difficult, residents say the development's reasonable rents and facilities make it a good value for money.

Kativa Brown, from Northern Ireland, moved with her husband from an apartment block on the Corniche to Al Reef in June, a month before their first baby was due.

"We wanted cheaper rent, more space, parking outside our front door, outdoor space and leisure facilities. I always knew there would be lots of benefits but the downside would be that I'd increase the distance and time I was driving." However, Brown has been pleasantly surprised by the commute: "It's a straight road with no traffic lights. I find it easier than driving in town and it's not busy."

Sheikh Khalifa Highway and the recent opening of other new roads give drivers a straight run to the Corniche, although there is some debate between residents as to whether or not it is easier or better to go to Dubai for shopping.

If there is an obvious flaw in all of this, it is that Al Reef sits next to Abu Dhabi's expanding international airport. In fact, the new runway can be seen from some of the houses, although most residents seem unperturbed by this looming development. They tend to focus on the positives of living in Al Reef: the strong sense of place and the affordable housing stock - rather than getting bogged down by any negatives.

Al Reef could have been just another place where people live. It isn't - it is something far more substantial than that. It is a proper community.