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Lease agreement only option to save hall

Historic hall: Nanneella Community Incorporated chair Brett Gledhill is on the verge of signing an agreement with Campaspe shire to take full responsibility for the operation of the town’s hall. It has been a long, and tiring, negotiation for him and his committee.

Two years of back and forth between Campaspe Shire and Nanneella Hall’s management committee appear certain to end some time before the end of winter as the small community bows to pressure and accepts full financial responsibility for the hall’s operation.

The incorporated body for the historic farming community’s most identifiable building (alongside the tiny school only a few metres to its right) is expected to sign a one-year lease to operate the hall — after successfully attaching several conditions to the almost inevitable handover contract it will enter into with the shire.

Last year the Nanneella Hall celebrated 100 years of service to the community, originally built by farming families of the small rural township that is located between Campaspe Shire’s three major population centres — Echuca, Rochester and Kyabram.

“Before irrigation arrived at Nanneella the community started having meetings at people’s homes,” Nanneella Community Incorporated chair Brett Gledhill said.

“Then irrigation arrived in 1911 and they decided a meeting place was needed in a central position.

“Landholders from the area purchased the land, as they did with the school and the reserve, but when Rochester Shire was engulfed by Campaspe (Shire) it was handed back to local government ownership.

“Now we appear to have come full circle and they (Campaspe Shire) want us to take it back.”

Mr Gledhill’s extended family has a five-generation connection to Nanneella, his grandchildren Zach and Ethel Froon count among the school’s dozen strong school population, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, father, himself and his daughter.

His devotion to the community is probably the major reason for his dedication to providing it with the best outcome in the hall lease agreement with the shire.

His wife and daughter have served on the hall committee, but like several others have been forced to concentrate on surviving the COVID-19 period and no longer count among the round table members of the facility’s incorporated body.

Mr Gledhill said the “writing was on the wall’’ even before COVID, when the Labor government directed shires to abolish section 86 committees.

“That impacted us, we became caretakers of the hall, although the shire continued to be responsible for all costs,” he said.

“We had no insurance costs, no public liability, all we did was pay the power and manage hall activity.”

That is all about to change as the group is on the verge of signing what is essentially a commercial lease agreement to use the hall — paid for by, among many others, Brett’s ancestors.

Nanneella Community Incoporated is the management body responsible for co-ordinating use of the facility, and Mr Gledhill has been the man at the pointy end of negotiations with Campaspe Shire.

The outcome, while not perfect, is probably as good as any organisation will do — in relation to the intricate detail Mr Gledhill has managed to tick off in an attempt to protect the hall’s future.

While the hall has a 101-year history, it has been refurbished and remains in good working order.

It is among more than a dozen, including similarly sized communities at Strathallan, Wyuna, Girgarre and Koyuga, that are being forced to accept similar responsibilities — or bid farewell to their meeting place.

While several of these committees are rolling over under the pressure of the $80 million Campaspe Shire advice, others — like Nanneella — are trying to get the best result they can.

Mr Gledhill has lost eight people, from a dozen-strong contingent, since COVID-19 struck more than two years ago.

The hall’s operation has been “stalled’’ during 2020-21, but the decision to move forward with the lease means that the use of the hall becomes vital.

“In order to pay the two or three thousand dollars required to run the hall we will need to ensure we are attracting groups, both from the immediate area and outside Campaspe, to use the hall,” Mr Gledhill said.

Representatives of the school, Nanneella Timmering Heritage Group and several other community groups also have a seat at the table — when it comes to hall activity.

“We were a fairly healthy organisation, numbers wise,” Mr Gledhill said.

“The groups are still represented, but people are not as keen as they play catch up post-COVID.”

Nanneella Community Incoporated will have financial support from the council for the initial 12 months of its hall “ownership’’, but the concern is funding its operation post 2023.

“That money will all be gobbled up in power, insurance and public liability. We are worried about how we will find the money to pay for these things going forward,” Mr Gledhill said.

“I’ve been stalling it for two and a half years because I wanted to find out more about the situation and get the best possible result for the community.

“This agreement hands us the hall, but we still need to report back to them (council).

“I’ve been able to get them to agree to be responsible for several areas, but we still haven’t signed that agreement.”

While management committees of several halls have said this is too hard, there are examples of groups which have taken up the gauntlet — as Nanneella is — at Wyuna and in the case of Rochester senior citizens.

“In some areas they (the halls) won’t survive. The shire has forgotten we are volunteers,” Mr Gledhill said.

“I am on a farm and I run a cropping business.

“We enjoy doing what we do with the hall, but we don’t want a second business.”

Mr Gledhill said the hall, in essence, belonged to the Victorian public.

He said without the hall, groups like a Campaspe disabled group, which is charged a weekly fee of just $20 to use the hall, would have nowhere to operate

“We are encouraging more people to use the hall,” he said.

“It has a long history of hosting major events, we’ve had Kevin Sheedy, James Blundell and Ron Iddles appear here, but we will need to attract more people to ensure the future of the hall.”

Mr Gledhill said his group was motivated to host events, and groups, at the hall — to ensure it remained available to the community, which has hosted weddings, funerals, birthday parties and many holiday celebrations inside its four walls.

“This hall is a bit unique. There is nowhere else people can use as a meeting place, which is close to where they live,” he said.

“People deserve this facility and while I agree there are (shire-owned) buildings and halls that may have to close, this is not one of them.

“We’ve just put in a new pipeline to provide stock and domestic water to the school, hall and general store, along with nearby residents.”

Mr Gledhill and his group are hoping the “requests’’ they have made of council prior to signing the lease agreement receive shire approval.

In the meantime the management authority is promoting use of the hall and has dropped fees accordingly — to attract interest.

“If we can’t pay the costs the hall will go back to the shire and probably be sold. So, it really is a case of use it or lose it,” he said.

The group has requested a year-to-year agreement for its lease, the final draft expected to be presented to the group in coming weeks.