Oak Lodge Futures – a feasibility analysis

Oak Lodge Futures is a business feasibility plan prepared for the Coal River Valley Historical Society Inc and the Richmond and Coal River Valley Community.

Published in September 2013 by Martin Farley B.Ec, M.Ec. and Tony Roberts of Creating Preferred Futures, the research and analysis on behalf of CRVHS was funded through the support of the Hon. Lara Giddings MHA, Premier of Tasmania.

Executive Summary

”Oak Lodge” is a treasured community asset. The community is affronted by what is perceived as the National Trust taking a windfall gain to address previous management shortcomings at the expense of the local community.

Although there is a strong preference to keep Oak Lodge in community ownership, there are also concerns relating to the community’s capacity to pay for its upkeep unless a viable use and revenue stream can be attached to the building.

There is strong support for Oak Lodge playing a broader role than it currently does in tourism and product promotion and from this, visitor and yield conversion within Richmond and the Coal River Valley. It is considered important that the Richmond and Coal River Valley tourism offer be reinvigorated to arrest decline in the proportion of visitors who include Richmond as part of their visit and in accommodation “bed night” measures. Oak Lodge could play a significant role in addressing the lack of a compelling heritage narrative, interpretation and heritage visitor experience that is currently within the Richmond and Coal River Valley visitor offer.

Within the context established above, Oak Lodge’s role is to:

  • Introduce and orient visitors to Richmond and the Coal River Valley and its evolution;
  • Demonstrate this within the house;
  • Develop visitor interest in experiencing this and in seeking a deeper understanding and keenness to experience what the village and valley have to offer;
  • Support visitors to experience this through strong narrative and interpretation and provision of visitor services such as tours, to enable further engagement;
  • Provide a mix of visitor information services; and
  • Encourage visitors to spend longer in Richmond and experience its heritage and commercial offers.

Review of other Australian historical houses indicates the potential for a viable revenue stream from this entry and service mix when using comparable pricing structures.

There is a market opportunity and need for Oak Lodge to play a key role in repositioning the Richmond and Coal River Valley tourism offer by providing of a sense of place, its evolution and as a visitor services hub to connect visitors to the area, its attractions and businesses and to provide an authentic heritage experience consistent with Tourism Tasmania positioning.

The development of the proposed operations is considered outside the role and contribution of the Coal River Valley Historical Society Inc. in isolation and should be integrated into the wider business community structures that exist within Richmond.

Retention of Oak Lodge in community control then becomes a key strategic issue. While a number of purchase options have been considered, success in the short run is considered improbable. An alternate strategic option is to develop an “Oak Lodge model” that enables the retention of the building in National Trust Tasmania ownership while allowing the Richmond and Coal River Valley community to securely operate it for the benefit of the community.

The Oak Lodge Model could be based on:

  • Integrating the property with the culture and economy of the place in which it is located;
  • Creating a partnership model between the National Trust and communities within which properties are located;
  • Separating ownership from operations (and ownership and operational costs) by securing a binding agreement with a community entity to manage and operate the property and associated services;
  • Engaging community groups and entities such as the Coal River Historical Society Inc and local schools to provide specific expertise and support to the tourism and cultural offer based in Oak Lodge; and
  • Creating a broad benefit/cost relationship between the property owner and management and operational entity.

While this model is considered feasible in the Richmond/Oak Lodge context, it may not work in all communities.

The benefits that Oak Lodge could offer National Trust Tasmania within this model could include:

  • Removal of the fixed cost responsibilities associated with Oak Lodge from the organisation;
  • Promotion of the National Trust and its properties to a large cohort of visitors ;
  • A ‘licence fee” to the National Trust reflective of the use of the brand and the means by which the property came into Trust ownership;
  • Rebuild some of the image, moral standing and positioning lost as a result of the decision to sell Oak Lodge; and

Provide an alternate model by which historic houses are retained as part of a community and by which to establish sustainable beneficial use.

This combination of strategies is designed to provide significant benefits to the Richmond and Coal River Valley community, the National Trust Tasmania and, in particular, the tourism sector, by enriching the visitor experience. It provides the local tourism association and Clarence City Council with a vehicle and focus within which to enhance the local tourism offer and to engage with Destination Southern Tasmania.

These benefits would accrue by Oak Lodge becoming the hub from which a revitalised Richmond and Coal River Valley visitor offer emerges, one that is consistent with contemporary visitor expectations and increases length of stay and satisfactory revenue conversion. The formation and operation of this hub would occur through a community partnership comprising business and interest groups, schools and with the support of the Clarence City Council.

As a consequence of the construction of the “Heavy Vehicle Link Road”, by-passing Richmond, the key positioning of Oak Lodge in relation to the village entrance enhances the role of Oak Lodge as an introduction to Richmond.

For more details:

Read the full 23 page Oak Lodge Futures report.

Or contact:

  • Martin Farley (creating Preferred Futures) 0418 122 783
  • Michael Wadsley (CRVHS President) 0418 572 772
  • Lois Green (CRVHS Secretary) 03 6260 4153