August 6, 2020
A new community group will be formed in a bid to take over the operation of Nanango’s historic Ringsfield complex.
The main Ringsfield House building has been vacant since the last commercial operators left and there have been fears expressed by some Nanango residents that the complex could be sold by its owners, the South Burnett Regional Council.
Council is currently reviewing its asset register but there has been no indication Ringsfield has been earmarked for disposal.
The decision to form a “Friends Of Ringsfield” group was made at a meeting of residents and local businesspeople held at the Old Masonic Lodge in Gipps Street, Nanango, on Wednesday night.
The meeting was called by the Nanango Tourism and Development Association (NaTDA) over concerns about the building’s future.
NaTDA president Gloria Kirkness opened the night by inviting former Nanango Historical Society secretary Clive Lowe to provide a thumbnail history of the property.
Ringsfield House was built in 1908 and served as a private home until 1942. It then became a maternity hospital – thousands of babies were born there – until Lifeline took it over as a women’s refuge in the 1970s.
After the building fell into disrepair, Nanango Shire Council bought it and the Nanango Historical Society set up its headquarters there in 1995.
The group and community volunteers then renovated the property and converted it into a museum, a process that took about five years.
When the new-look Ringsfield eventually reopened, it went on to run as a successful museum and cafe for about 15 years.
During this time the former Nanango State School house and Presbyterian Church were moved into Ringsfield’s grounds. Both buildings were soon put to use by some of the town’s other community groups – one as the home of the Nanango History Room, the other as home of the now-defunct Ringsfield Film Society.
Meanwhile, ownership of the building and its grounds passed to the South Burnett Regional Council in 2008 during the council amalgamation process.
Clive said things proceeded well until 2016 when the former Nanango Masonic Hall became available.
Nanango Historical Society developed a plan to move that building into Ringsfield’s grounds with the aim of ensuring all Nanango’s key historic buildings were stored in one location.
But this plan failed when Council said it believed the Lodge would be an unsuitable addition to the complex.
Disagreements between the Nanango Historical Society and Council over the future of the Masonic Lodge and other matters then escalated to the point where the Nanango Historical Society voted to dissolve in 2017, returning Ringsfield to Council.
After this, the Council called for Expressions Of Interest to run the complex, and leased Ringsfield to a commercial operator in late 2017.
Much-needed renovations led to repeated closures and the cafe ceased operating in early 2020.
Since then the complex has been closed.
NaTDA secretary Jane Erkens said NaTDA had called the meeting to assess interest in returning Ringsfield to its original role as a community hub.
She said NaTDA was concerned that if a new community use wasn’t found for the building, Council could put Ringsfield on the market.
Gloria said she believed it would be possible for a non-profit group to run the complex and return it to being a museum if sufficient volunteers could be found.
She also believed there were many opportunities to broaden the building’s uses that had yet to be tapped.
These included adding an art gallery, reopening the venue for externally catered weddings and functions, and encouraging other groups to use Ringsfield as a venue for meetings and gatherings.
There was a discussion whether a new not-for-profit incorporated association be formed or whether the Nanango History Room could serve as the umbrella group.
Ten people offered to be part of a new committee.
A second meeting will now be called to look at incorporation and draw up plans for the complex’s future before a formal approach is made to Council to take over Ringsfield’s operation.
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