So what if Fairfield Halls closes for two years – I’m glad


By - Thursday 7th January, 2016

Jonny Rose refuses to eulogise the potentially departed Fairfield Halls


News that the Fairfield Halls is due to be closed for two years of renovation has seen many in Croydon enter into paroxysms of grief reserved usually for dead relatives and relegated football teams.

My own response is less “Oh no”, and more “So what?”.

Rather than being a death knell for Croydon culture as we know it, the next two years present a wonderful opportunity for industrious, proud Croydonians to support smaller culture-forming players in town and perhaps even start their own cultural ventures.

I mean it’s not as if there aren’t enough acts and activities to fill the deficit left by a closed Fairfield Halls…

Theatre

Matthews Yard is home to a community-crowdsourced independent studio theatre (now known as Theatre Utopia) where you are now just as likely to catch a Pinter play as to stumble upon a life-drawing class or a slam poetry night or a theatre festival which could one day rival Edinburgh.

The Spread Eagle Pub has been putting on theatre since 2013 when it took a cultural leap forward with the staging of its first live production under the guise of the Spread Eagle Theatre: a 50-seat studio theatre on the top floor.

In West Croydon, The Barn is opening up, bringing the joys of independent theatre to the area with a 220-seater arts centre which will house a theatre, live studios and rehearsal space, and will stage drama productions, live music and educational events, and offer accredited arts courses for young people.

Live music

There are myriad venues you can go and see bands and artists play, every night of the week in Croydon. These include live jazz at Green Dragon, metal acts at Scream Lounge, folk and blues at Ruskin House, opera at Little Bay, and rock at The Air Balloon. Sure, you’ll never see arena-bursting acts like Status Quo playing at Oval Tavern, but if you have any taste in music you’ll know that that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

And even if you want the grandiose spectacle of a full orchestra, well, you should start going along to Croydon Minster, which has shown itself to be amenable to everything from Bach choristers to dubstep nights.

Art

In the space of a year, Croydon has found itself home to three new art galleries.

Rise Gallery in St George’s Walk has seen Croydon become host to Banksy and Damien Hirst exhibitions. Hyper Hyper is another design-focused gallery just opposite. Fantastically, even more galleries are coming to St George’s Walk later this year.

Turf Projects on Keeley Road houses a collective of local artists, filmmakers and architects who stage free art events and exhibitions around Croydon. descART.es in Matthews Yard is a micro-gallery which puts on regular curated events, and even All City London also has a gallery at the back for those of you who like your mounted artwork a little more ‘urban’.

Croydon will go on just fine without Fairfield Halls

The above is but a mere snapshot of all the various events, venues and cultural offerings in Croydon. This is a town that hosts fourteen major festivals a year. There’s lots for any discerning ‘culture vulture’ to do, and lots of spaces to do it in.

Despite being largely unmoved by the news of Fairfield Halls’ closure, that’s not to say that I don’t recognise its many merits. This is why I’m very excited by what Fairfield Halls will be when it reopens in 2018.

The closure of Fairfield Halls presents a challenge and an opportunity for those who profess to be lovers of Croydon’s arts and culture

Of course, there are compelling cases to made about the loss of jobs (and less compelling cases to be made about schoolchildren being deprived of pantos). I also agree that the obfuscation and secrecy regarding the information that led to the decision is less than ideal.

However, ultimately, we’re in a time of central government-imposed cuts: difficult choices have to be made by Croydon council – I’d rather Fairfield Halls took the brunt than, say, the homeless.

In the same way that the riots forced Croydon to realise that it couldn’t rely on government or business to rebuild the area economically, culturally and socially – and instead needed the community to come together and do it for themselves – the closure of Fairfield Halls presents the same challenge and opportunity for those who profess to be lovers of Croydon’s arts and culture.

Also, be honest, dear reader: it’s not as if you regularly patronised Fairfield Halls when it was open, is it?

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training and a Linkedin lead generation service. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  • Robert Ward

    Wide of the mark Jonny. Your incurable optimism again. :-)

    These are different scale venues and different audiences. It is not an either/or choice.

    Great to have a new Fairfield because without upgrade we are faced with terminal decline. The question is how you manage the upgrade, with or without a total closure.

    A total closure of the Fairfield might bring a minor and short term difference to these smaller venues but brings a much greater cost to the short, medium and perhaps even long term benefits of the Fairfield and the wider Croydon economy. That said, if a full closure happens we will have to make the best of what we have.

    • Anne Giles

      Well we shall be going to the Churchill Theatre in Bromley and various other places that we can drive to. The Southbank in London is great. I get half price tickets and free parking and don’t pay the congestion charge. However, there is no way that I am going to go anywhere else in Croydon and sit on uncomfortable seats. We do go to Ruskin House occasionally, but it means finding a parking space and taking my lumbar support to make the chairs slightly more comfortable.The Stag in Sevenoaks is good, the Chequer Mead in East Grinstead, the Hawth in Crawley and the Harlequin in Reigate/Redhill.

  • Anne Giles

    No Jonny. I must disagree with you on all of this. The facilities at the Fairfield Halls are far superior to any other. You cannot compare this with smaller venues. The Spread Eagle is completely unsuitable for disabled people, as there is no lift. The Fairfield has an excellent car park and disabled people can park right outside the front entrance. There are plenty of lavatories, and areas where one can eat or drink. I normally pay half price for a seat. All seating is comfortable, whereas the chairs in some of the other places you mention are very very uncomfortable. And you are wrong – many of us have been using the Fairfield Halls. The Ambition Festival had several acts there and I attended two of them. Many large bands would refuse to go anywhere else. Please think again!

  • Y Bachgen

    Spot on. Well done Jonny!

    I agree with you on supporting a more home-grown arts culture, on the trade-offs – the poor and the homeless or the middle-class, and, most importantly, with your last comment. On that, I wonder how many of those who signed it, have actually booked for an event in January and February.

    • Tom Black

      Out of interest, do either you or Jonny have a link to what the Council are apparently doing for the homeless with the money they might save from closing the Halls (the refurbishment of which, I understand, will in fact *cost* the Council no small amount of money)?

      I’m all for public spending priorities being in favour of those who need it most, but I’d appreciate some evidence that this is what’s happening. Thanks in advance!

      • http://idioplatform.com/ Jonny Rose

        Fair question: I don’t have a link – the homeless comment was more a case of picking something emotive-but-inarguable from a hierarchy of public services.

        “I’d rather Fairfield Halls took the brunt than, say, cemetary maintenance.” just doesn’t sound as sexy.

        That said, I, too, would be interested in seeing a cost-benefit ratio for all the various permutations of Fairfield’s renovation: and where savings made by the council would or would not go in light of each of them. Perhaps something for Cllr Tony Newman’s next piece :)

        • Tom Black

          Thanks for the reply – I hope we get that kind of data at some point this year. The current administration has taken some good steps on transparency, I would hope this is deemed a case where that example can be followed.

          • Robert Ward

            I am part way through analysing the available data on people living on the street. Not homelessness I know, but again a question of definition.

          • Robert Ward

            Also agree on the need for cost-benefit analysis of options. Less footfall at the Fairfield is less people on the streets spending money on other things which can generate revenue from business rates as well as jobs.

            You should also not forget that the wider Fairfield development is already subsidising a great deal of social housing.

        • Serena Alam

          I think it’s a fair question too! (pun not intended as always). I once got mistaken for a homeless person #awkward… so *I* empathise with the homeless.

      • Y Bachgen

        No, I don’t. It would be useful I agree. However, I suspect the question is: how much less are they cutting the services for the poor and vulnerable as a result of reducing the Council’s middle-class subsidy.

        • Tom Black

          Thanks also. I suspect you and I will have to one day have a separate discussion about your misapprehension that only middle-class people go to the theatre or concerts, though!

          (I would also recommend you take a look at the string of tweets here from Gabriella Bush: https://twitter.com/98rosjon/status/685086613504962560 The Fairfield as a building offers lots of facilities to vulnerable and worse-off people, including many schoolchildren of all backgrounds.)

          • Y Bachgen

            that I agree with. However, I don’t believe that this form of indirect subsidy, which mostly benefits the middle-class, is an optimum way of supporting the poor. Surely a better way is to make sure Fairfield charges prices which reflect the actual costs and then subsidise poor schoolchildren directly?

            I am a great believer in transparency for subsidising different sectors of society because that provokes debate about relative choices. Opaqueness doesn’t.

          • Tom Black

            Can’t disagree that the limited Council pot – especially in this time of deep local government cuts – probably shouldn’t go towards ticket subsidies. But these things do need to be subsidised, otherwise we need only look to the Warehouse to see what comes next. Good art needs subsidies, as it by its nature cannot be produced for maximum profit-making efficiency.

            What I would prefer is Croydon’s relationship with the Arts Council, allegedly (perhaps scurrilously) very poor, to be repaired to the point that the Halls (or its new iteration) receives Arts Council funding to subsidise more groundbreaking work that all Croydonians can attend. That, after all, is what the Arts Council is for – they don’t also have homeless people, children, and all manner of other vulnerable groups to look after.

          • http://idioplatform.com/ Jonny Rose

            Another point which I’d love to see eked out by someone else is what the value of publicly-subsided art is.

            We all assume that art is a Good Thing™ but it’d be great if someone could make a cogent argument why this is the case and then why councils should support (subsidise) art. In Croydon, or in general.

          • Tom Black

            Perhaps a Guardian link was inevitable, but as I couldn’t find the excellent Stewart Lee article on this very subject, here’s an equally good explanation of the inherent value of art, and the reason it must be funded without commercial consideration, from David Edgar: http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2012/jan/05/david-edgar-why-fund-the-arts

          • Y Bachgen

            You may be surprised to know that I agree with you. I’m more than happy for recognised funding pots to be used to subsidise these activities (although I really do question some of the things subsidised but that’s another story for another time!).

      • Rob ‘Newcrosslad’

        With the council funding of Fairfield, their annual report claims that for every £1 in subsidy they get there is £6 back in benefit to Croydon. Partly, one assumes, because Fairfield isn’t just for Croydon people. It attracts people from a large catchment area outside of Croydon. These visitors, some of them at least, will spend money elsewhere in Croydon when they visit…

  • Rob ‘Newcrosslad’

    Jonny, as others have already said, you are missing the point on the scale of these venues. There is no way these small places can in any way replace or be an alternative to the venues at Fairfield Halls – with the exception perhaps of the Studio and the various meeting rooms. The size of the Fairfield venues and the professional equipment, staff and facilities they contain are far superior to that of a small fringe venue. For that is what the alternative Croydon venues are. They can suppliment and compliment the provision of Fairfield but cannot replace it.

    Additionally, closure means the loss of the current experienced and skilled Fairfield staff – a loss not just to Fairfield but Croydon as well, for they will have no choice but to go elsewhere for similar employment in what is a specialist field. It is unlikely they will return in two years, meaning higher recruitment costs upon re-openning to get already skilled replacements or to train people up. Fairfield also has various apprenticeships which provide training and nurture new careers – these apprentices will be kicked out two-thirds into their training if the council get their way with an end June closure date.

    Certainly there is nowhere for orchestras to perform during a two year closure and it is far from just ‘posh’ people that benefit from classical music and the arts. The popular Arthur Davison Family Concerts show this. Many schools will be denied the opportunity to perform in a professional venue during that period. There will be no touring plays or musicals.

    Finally, you poke fun at chidren missing out on Panto but fail to acknowledge that panto is often the first professional live performance or full stage production many children experience. Additionally, panto (especially Fairfield/Evolution pantos) has very high production values, far better than can be achieved in smaller venues which further enhances the experience for those who rarely visit the theatre.

    Much more than meets the eye with this issue.

    • Anne Giles

      Well said.

  • Serena Alam

    J’Ro – what about venues for those who want to further their publishing knowledge or network with fellow publishers/literary types, but don’t want to have to trek to Kensington Olympia (or don’t even have the time)?

  • http://www.croydonradio.com/ Steve Lawlor

    Hi Jonny,

    I don’t fully agree, but you made some good points.

    The problem is something you didn’t even cover. While you mentioned Matthews Yard and others which is great for events that can attract 50+ people, how about bands that regularly get thousands at their concerts? They aren’t gonna book a venue that can’t even hold 1,000 people let alone 2,000 plus. These bands are just gonna go elsewhere, and so will the fans for these bands. Towns which still have a venue with at least the capacity of Fairfield Halls which gain and Croydon will lose out. One suggestion that I and others have spoken about is having a temporary venue, I don’t know if that is problematic, but had their been an empty space that could have been used until Fairfield Halls, that could have at least kept the staff on without having to end their jobs.

    I’m not knocking small venues, in recent years I’ve seen the value of attending small venues. Attended quite a few in the past few years and it taught me just how much local talent there is here in Croydon. There is room for venues of various sizes. Croydon will cope, but the moment a band gets bigger than the venue limits, they will have to travel further away, and so will the fans.