How Fairfield can face the future and thrive

By - Thursday 17th December, 2015

Fairfield has an exciting future. Let’s get the whole community behind it, says the chair of the Fairfield Halls

Artwork by Matt Bannister for the Croydon Citizen.

When the ambitious and controversial building programme is completed at Fairfield, we need a future cultural offer that excites ever more people, builds on our impressive participation programme and promotes Croydon’s dynamic culture. A charity is the best operating structure to deliver these goals.

There are challenges. Public funding for culture in the UK is being cut, bringing in an era of cultural austerity. Operators will consider whether they can offer high quality events that cost more than ticket sales generate. Offering high art in Croydon, in competition with heavily subsidised venues, creates further challenge. For example, London’s South Bank receives £17m a year from the arts council, enabling it to offer great art with subsidised tickets.

Fortunately, as the operator of the halls, we have much to build on and we can thrive despite the challenges. Let me start with why I believe a charity is the best model and has advantages over a commercial operator.

A charity is accountable to our audience and community rather than to shareholders. Instead of funding dividends, profits can be recycled into better programme, participation, apprentice training, access for community groups and civic occasions like the annual remembrance service. Unlike commercial operators, a charity can get grants from foundations and donations. This support is essential for more risky programming and high levels of participation. In contrast, commercial operators tend to provide only mainstream programme, which looks the same across the UK.

Fairfield’s programme offers something for everyone. Simon Thomsett, Fairfield’s CEO, has done a huge amount to improve the programme and increase participation. The Stand! series has brought gigs into the Arnhem gallery and gained a new audience. During last summer’s Ambition Festival, Fairfield had sell out crowds for Soul II Soul, and Tinariwen attracted a whole new audience. Fairfield excels in family shows and receives high quality theatre from the best producers in the UK. With the council’s support we built a new studio space for events like stand up comedy, and a digital cinema to show live transmissions from the West End and Opera House. Our 2014/2015 annual report shows the scale: 400 shows (36.5% for young people), 659 performances, 185,000 tickets sold.

Few people see all the facets of Fairfield. Here is my personal snapshot from the last fortnight: 1000 excited children attending a performance gala; throngs of teenagers at Terriers, a drama on the consequences of joining a gang; beautiful Indian classical dance brought by Subrang Arts; a rock group rehearsing; a young girl sharing her excitement at the photo of Elton John; a side-splitting evening at the Comedy Cabaret. For the Christmas season, I am eagerly anticipating the romance of the ballet Giselle, a party with St Etienne and the magic of Cinderella.

The Turtle Song projects allows people with dementia to create songs and lyrics

Fairfield has a wide reaching education and participation programme. Around eighty community partners regularly use the Halls to offer performance opportunities for people of all ages. Last year 11,376 young people took part. Participation not only provides pleasure, it provides life-long learning, the opportunity to make friends and to improve physical and mental health. Partners delivering these outcomes include: Club Soda, creating performances led by the ideas of people with learning difficulties; Kinetica Bloco, a carnival drumming group helping young people to develop musical and life skills; the London Mozart Players, who encourage musicians of all abilities to join professionals; Turtle Song, a project enabling people with dementia to create songs and lyrics.

So, what are the opportunities for the future cultural operations?

The refurbishment programme should create a more economic venue to run, for instance with an efficient boiler and LED lights. Shows with large stage sets will be able to get in easily and quickly. Commercial food and beverage revenue will increase with better spaces in better locations.

Fairfield has a platform of funding from which to build more support.We have twenty-five corporate/foundation supporters and 650 individual donors. Ahead of the re-launch, we will pitch programme packages to sponsors and funders. We can support Croydon’s cultural ecosystem with funding applications for joint projects. We can push for Arts Council support to be spread outside of central London.

Fairfield’s major asset is our beautiful hall

Croydon’s culture has renewed energy. Matthews Yard has a growing reputation as a hub for emerging talent. The recent CroydoNites Festival of New Theatre wowed audiences. Thornton Heath’s amazing rappers Stormzy, Krept and Konan, Section Boyz and Faith Child cleaned up at the MOBO awards. Bringing Croydon’s talent into the Fairfield will benefit local producers and create something quite different to the offering in central London.

Fairfield’s major asset is our beautiful hall and music heritage. We will offer all kinds of music for all kinds of people in a venue that attracts leading acts. We can provide rehearsal space and build on our participation activities. Curating themed festivals and series will allow us to combine mainstream acts with more risky programme and reach new audiences.

Fairfield’s future programme will succeed only if it is developed in partnership and supported by our community. Have another look at our programme and register online so we can update you about events. In the new year, we will survey our audience. We will also run a consultation for community groups and if you would like to register your interest for this, please email . Finally, please help us to keep offering great activity by donating through our website. Your ongoing support is critical to developing a cultural offer that the refurbishment deserves.

A petition has now been started to keep the Fairfield Halls open during its planned redevelopment. Click here to find out more.

Kate Vennell

Kate Vennell

Kate is Chair of the Fairfield Halls (since November 2014) and has been a trustee for over 6 years. Originally from New Zealand, she has lived in Croydon since 2001 and is passionate about her UK home town and the Fairfield Halls. Kate is a businesswoman who plays the violin in her spare time.

More Posts

  • Harley S

    “Fairfield’s programme offers something for everyone.”

    I would be interested to know the demographic profile of your audience and if it reflects Croydon. From what I have been told, the majority comprises of older people, but I am happy to concede this point if you can provide evidence.

    For me, Fairfield Halls is a tired building with a less than inspiring programme of events. However, for some, it seems to hold some sort of appeal, perhaps it’s nostalgia or simply reacting to the fact that it is to close to go undergo much needed refurbishment.

    I’m curious as to why this site seems to be leaning in favour of publishing articles that oppose the two-year closure, or by individuals who are opposed to this, such as Kate Vennell? Under each article there is also a link to a petition, which opposes the closure.

    Please, let’s have more balance in the debate. Whether you agree with the long-term closure or not, this week of articles on Fairfield Halls should carry a range of views.

    • Jonny Rose

      As I understand it, The Croydon Citizen only publishes the articles that it receives from its contributors. If it hasn’t published an article with a certain bent/view I imagine it’s because no such article has been submitted.

      In light of this, perhaps you could redress the balance of views by writing a detailed counter-argument yourself :)

      • Harley S

        That’s a very kind offer, but I prefer to read and comment. Even though I’m not up for writing myself, I imagine that it’s in the interest of all to read a range of views on this matter. As a

  • Kate Vennell

    To be very clear Fairfield is very much behind refurbishment. I hope you picked that up from my article.
    Here’s more of a flavour of the 36% of programme for young people: Panto which gives children their first taste of theatre – our’s is getting amazing reviews, Momentum Youth Conference in Oct 15, Croydon’s Got Talent, Into Film Festival for 5-19 yr olds in Nov, lot of drama linked to GCSE curriculum e.g. Our Country’s Good. Also supporting Croydon Youth Arts Collective – 100 young people giving their ideas, Croydon Music and Arts a major partner.
    Very welcome to come to the National Children’s Orchestra Concert on Sunday 7pm or in Jan to bring any youngsters to Shakespeare 4 Kidz “Romeo & Juliet – The Musical” (key stage 2 and key stage 3), the Gruffalo’s Child, or Horrible Histories……

    If you’re a Dub fan, then how about Stand! Dub Pistols in March.
    Let me know when you’re coming and you will be our welcome guest.

    • Harley S

      Thank you for responding. I’m still non the wiser about the full breakdown of your audience: Age, gender, ethnicity etc. Do you have this? Who visits Fairfield Halls?