The council appears to be listening on technical concerns about refurbishment of Fairfield Halls

By - Wednesday 23rd November, 2016

A phased closure didn’t happen, but other issues are being addressed

Fairfield Halls.
Photo by John Gass, used with permission.

Although it rejected the campaign demand for a staged refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls, it looks as if the council has been listening to detailed concerns particularly about technical issues.

As promised a year ago, the council’s scrutiny committee considered a report on the progress being made with the refurbishment at its meeting on 1st November.

The work on Fairfield Halls is part of phase one of the wider College Green Development. The council’s development company Brick by Brick is handling the refurbishment, the initial residential development, the enabling works for the college facility and some public realm works, the delivery of the new college building, the redevelopment of the existing college land, and the remainder of the public realm works.

“An extremely useful and timely exercise, the results of which have already been fed into the design work and effected a number of changes”

Because of his working knowledge of the building, the project technical team (Mott MacDonalds) has retained the former General Manager of Fairfield Halls.

The Theatres’ Trust peer review of the refurbishment scheme “was an extremely useful and timely exercise, the results of which have already been fed into the design work and effected a number of changes”.

The report summarises the main features of the design, and also sets out the changes that have been made especially as a result of the Theatre’s Trust peer review.

Competitive tendering is also underway to appoint an operator to manage the venue when it re-opens

The stripping out work should be complete in March. The tender process for a building contractor is beginning and should be complete in April. Competitive tendering is also underway to appoint an operator to manage the venue when it re-opens by May 2018.

Tenderers will have to show a balanced programme across different art forms, and space for community and locally driven events. They must also show they can provide a welcoming environment with excellent customer service, undertake audience development, and public engagement before and after the opening.

Rob Callender, a former technician at the Fairfield Halls, submitted questions to the scrutiny committee. The officers handed councillors a written response to them. Rob was also able to make a verbal statement raising important points, which were responded to positively by the officers.

The simpler design solution for the get in is not just the existing goods lift but a solution that involves the creation of a window into the back of the building

The thrust of Rob’s concerns is the need for people with the technical knowledge of how venues work (for example in relation to sound and lighting) to be influencing the design. The officers stress that one of the roles of the appointed operator will be to bring their expertise into helping the council as a client to have technical operational issues taken into account, as the design approach is flexible.

In one of the written responses they explain: “The design team working on this project are looking at the entire refurbishment as a whole – there are a range of things that have come in and out of scope as we finalise which areas are more of a priority than others – cost and risk are also major factors. The simpler design solution for the get in is not just the existing goods lift but a solution that involves the creation of a window into the back of the building and the installation of a pulley system. Other elements of the design will be future proofed so that further phases of improvements subject to future fundraising could be made”.

In relation to the future of the Ashcroft safety curtain, the officers state: “We are currently exploring options on the fire curtain and there is at least one organisation locally that has expressed an interests in taking on the preservation of the curtain in its entirety. Any preservation options would need to be costed carefully and realistically. If there is not an affordable solution to preservation in the its entirety, we will have to consider detailed documentation and recording instead as part of the archives work”.

The committee chair expressed disappointment that it had not been possible for the members to visit the Fairfield Halls to see work in progress

Another of Rob’s questions related to why the council was “so eager” to close the Halls in mid-July as the works did not start immediately. As we would expect the response was that the works such as stripping out the old mechanical and electrical systems and asbestos “could not have been done with the building in operational mode”. “Undertaking this in a closed building is the safest and quickest way to do this as the first phase of the refurbishment.”

Rob also pointed out that there had been very little help from the Croydon Works job brokerage scheme to help those with specialist skills and apprentices with help to find alternative work places. He asked “does the committee understand that these apprentices were failed by Croydon Council on this matter?”. The officers of course said “this is a matter of opinion, our officers and the representatives of the DWP offered support that was not taken up”.

Committee chair councillor Sean Fitzsimons expressed disappointment that it had not been possible for the members to visit the Fairfield Halls to see work in progress, and made it clear he would want this to take place. He also made it clear that he considered that the committee should review progress again in twelve months time. He reminded the cabinet member Timothy Godfrey that the cabinet had promised to consult the scrutiny committee in the period when tendering documentation was being prepared.

While it would now appear to be too late in terms of the fact that the first stage of the tendering is nearly complete, it should be possible for the committee to look at it and express a view to influence the detailed discussions with tenderers as they are whittled down to the one to be appointed, even if it has to be in closed session due to “commercial confidentiality”.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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  • Anne Giles

    They will need to be accessible to disabled people and also have a good car park.

  • Andy Hylton

    Our campaign’s intention was to ensure that the Fairfield would stay open during the refurbishment, saving 150 jobs and maintaining access to the arts for schools, charities and arts groups. Now our objective is to make sure that Fairfield can reopen as a viable business in the future. It would be wrong to assume that our campaign was merely about the building, Fairfield is our community.

    It was never going to be a quick-fix. After many years of neglect at Fairfield we expected problems and delays along the way. Two years was never a realistic time scale for such a refurbishment. Our concern was that the town would be left without a major venue and that the town would be without these valued facilities for much longer. The Council’s proposal was that the development would be swift and we only needed to wait two years, but the opening date is not getting closer it is moving further away. I would be quite happy if ‘The Team’ would look us in the eye and say ‘We told you only two years’. but its looking like they will be starting the clock again in January.

    Our first public meeting panel included theatre professionals, a local music promoter, community groups, a structural engineer and the technical manager from Fairfield Halls and a representative from Theatres Trust. It would have saved a lot of time and money if the invited Councillors would have turned up to engage with the community. It has been a struggle to even have our emails responded to, but they are now filtering our ideas through, even if we don’t get any credit.

    Many of our concerns were echoed by the Theatres Trust which were fed into the Advisory Review in June 2016. We opposed the idea of a costly truck-lift. They have scrapped that plan and shaved off a staggering £4million. We made a lot of noise about the Concert Hall organ and Cllr Godfrey has accepted this needs to be included into their plans. It is such a pity that the Council didn’t take on board our concerns, before closure.

    Although Croydon Council has never publicly engaged with Save Our Fairfield I have bumped into the Creative Director on a couple of occasions and expressed our concerns, One of my suggestions was that the Council should keep the public informed about the building works. My idea was project video content of the progress onto the side of the Ashcroft from the College. This was suggested by the Creative Director at the scrutiny meeting, so it is heartening to know that our ideas are getting through.

    Apart from delays to re-opening, our main concern is that there are still no solid interim arts plans for the community and young people. The opening festival at Boxpark was not a replacement for the Ambition Festival. It was an excellent event, but sound systems and gigs should be the norm in Croydon as they were at Fairfield Halls, and they don’t replace the cultural events and community groups lost when Fairfield was closed down. I can’t imagine Boxpark hosting the Croydon School Dance Association or School Music Association concerts any time soon.

    Croydon Council, it is time to deliver promises, and to produce a clear Interim Arts & Culture Programme which will be inclusive of everyone. Show us how wrong we all were for doubting your promises to deliver for Croydon, on time and on budget. I hope to see this suggestion appear in the new year.