Fairfield belongs to the people, not the politicians

By - Friday 15th April, 2016

Andy Hylton opposes the proposed two-year closure of the Fairfield Halls for refurbishment. Here he sets out his objections

Photo author’s own.

When we started the Save Our Fairfield campaign in December 2015, our intention was to collect support from local citizens and keep the Fairfield Halls open and alive during the planned refurbishment. We were keen to make this campaign non- party political. In the same way that members from all parties can support remaining in or leaving the EU, so local voters from all parties can agree that the Fairfield Halls is too important to just board up for the next few years.

On Monday 18th April I will deliver our petition to a Croydon Council meeting. It has been signed by almost 8000 concerned supporters who do not agree with the planned two-year closure of Fairfield Halls.

We have always welcomed an investment from Croydon Council. An updated and modernised facility improves the delivery of events and supports the community in its enjoyment of cultural life. But we cannot sever the community link completely and expect that everything will fall back into place when the refurbished Fairfield re-opens. There will be considerable collateral damage and losses to the town which cannot be measured in monetary terms alone.

The councillor linked us to a Q&A site where he provided both the questions and the answers

I am concerned that Croydon Council may be spending a considerable amount of public money on a project without talking or listening to the concerns of its electorate. We have to consider the voices of those the council serves, and unlike the council, they are singing very loud.

I invited the council and its team onto a panel on Wednesday 6th April, to answer the questions and concerns that local residents shared. The council representatives did not attend and have refused to listen to our collective voice. Instead, Councillor Timothy Godfrey used Twitter to link people to a Q&A site where he provided both questions and answers.

I would like to take this opportunity to respond to the council’s questions so that we can address some of those conflicting details which have so far been buried deep in a publicly-funded consultant’s report.

Q. What is the council planning to do to the Fairfield as part of the £30 million refurbishment?

A. The plans propose closing down the Fairfield for two years, resulting in the loss of work for 220 staff, and breaking its valuable link to the community. Plans and some pictures are available online, but as they stand there are many flaws in the design as pointed out by the advisory body, the Theatres Trust, in its objections.

Q. What else is going to be built in the area?

A. The proposal to add a new college building over the service access yard at the rear of Fairfield represents a serious threat to Fairfield’s future viability. The available space as it stands is already limited and presents operational challenges: reducing it and enclosing it further would severely restrict its ability to serve the building by creating new inefficiencies of layout and restricted vehicle access.

A further proposal for a 2,000 sq.m of gallery space in an underground venue involves the loss of a large number of parking spaces therefore threatening the long term viability of Fairfield. We support the principle of a new gallery, but the design should be developed in unison with the Fairfield scheme and take into account proper dovetailing of interests through discussion with both professional parties.

Q. What is the timeline for the project?

A. At present there is no detailed design and little or no professional end-user input to guide the design process. The council proposes a ten to fifteen year programme for College Green, over three phases, with only two years for the work on Fairfield Halls. There appears to be no time allocated for demolition and site clearance of the old college. Given the scale of the proposed new residential developments on this site, it seems likely that there will be an enormous amount of disruption to the area and a very dirty, noisy and unwelcoming space between Fairfield and the main station access route for a number of years following any re-opening.

Q. When will Fairfield re-open following refurbishment?

A. Croydon council proposes re-opening in September 2018. But without an end operator in place, there are no staff to book the artists and events in time.

Q. Why isn’t the council phasing the £30 million refurbishment?

A. A collaborative and properly managed phased approach would find efficient options and solutions to the range of design problems and present the lowest risk overall. The current Fairfield team has important expertise and, if used in tandem with that of construction professionals, could create a strong, focussed and efficient management structure for the project.

Additional costs of phasing the development are outweighed by the significant and currently unacknowledged costs that will need to be incurred in re-opening after a long closure. The scheme should be designed around the available budget and with the phased approach as a given: that way, the concept of additional costs is eliminated.

There are advantages to phased works, as each element can be properly designed before it is built and the operation can ensure continuity of trading. It is not a question of adding to the programme but rather a question of designing a programme that fits the scheme. There are many consultants and contractors who are used to working on ‘live’ buildings such as schools, hospitals, theatres and courts.

There is also an advantage in having the core audience (the people of Croydon) following the narrative of a building refurbishment project i.e. keeping the local population up-to-date with progress and engaging its interest. The progress of the works should be used to generate anticipation and excitement.

Q. Would phasing mean that the building could be kept open during the refurbishment with no closure?

A. The Fairfield proposal was to shut for the quiet period (summer) and reopen in November (for around eight to ten weeks) for the Christmas season which is an important period for activity and revenue generation, then shut down areas as necessary through the next twelve to twenty-four months. The important point here is that the scheme should be designed around the trading imperatives.

The whereabouts of asbestos is documented and managed at present, and asbestos removal works are generally short projects of a few days at a time, carried out in isolated areas as necessary. There is one major removal project needed which is confined to one space and the rest of the building would be easily usable while this took place.

Q. Why aren’t other funders helping to fund this refurbishment?

A. There is funding available for capital works programmes but they require security of tenure from the client and respond only to professional end-user clients. At present the council insists on being both funder and client. Normally the operator/client would create a scheme and go to a number of different funders to build the budget sum needed. This was never possible at Fairfield because the council would not grant a proper lease term which is a fundamental condition of all major funding bodies.

Q. What will happen to the Croydon community organisations that currently use Fairfield?

A. Many of the community groups will struggle to find the facilities to accommodate them. Two examples are the Croydon School Music Association and Croydon Schools Dance Association, in both cases due to the large numbers of children attending rehearsals and performances, coupled with the audience of parents, siblings and grandparents. The valuable experience of performing together on a world class stage will therefore be stolen from our children. There are no venues even close to replicating the facilities that the Fairfield Halls has. These facilities are at the heart of what makes the venue unique and without these, some of the groups may close down too. That is a fact.

If we have to accept that a closure is unavoidable under Croydon Council, we need to ensure that suitable facilities are made available to the community and for the children of the borough. The overwhelming response from the meeting was how unhappy local residents are with the council’s replies to their questions and how those we elected to serve us refuse to engage in a discussion about what we feel is the most important decision that has been made in Croydon in the last fifty years.If Croydon Labour won’t champion the voices of the young, the disadvantaged or the vulnerable who will lose their community home in July, who will? I hope that those behind the planned closure are prepared to stand next to me in a council meeting and defend their proposals in person. We will fight to save OUR Fairfield. That’s the one that belongs to the people, NOT the one that belongs to the politicians.
Andy Hylton

Andy Hylton

Andy Hylton is a visual artist, writer, filmmaker and runs Rough Shots Project which provides paid work experience and music video production workshops for young homeless and disadvantaged groups. He lives in South Croydon and also works as a casual technician at the Fairfield Halls and leads the Save Our Fairfield Campaign.

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  • http://idioplatform.com/ Jonny Rose


    For what it’s worth, I wish both sides of this debate the best in coming to a satisfactory resolution on this matter. However, I’d be disappointed if the Save Fairfield Campaign were to impede the incredible opportunity for an underground gallery in Croydon.

    By all means agitate for better treatment of Fairfield Halls, but please don’t do it to the detriment of other awesome culture-forming opportunities and ventures :)

    • Sean Creighton

      Jonny, the Underground Gallery is a separate issue from the refurbishment of the Halls. Kevin of RISE Gallery made it clear at the public meeting on 6 April that it will be run as a commercial business paying a commercial rent. If approved it can go ahead as a project in its own right..There is a danger that it will be googlie distracting from the issue of partial or total closure of the Halls. As a proposal it also detracts from the much or important task of ensuring that SEGAS House is not converted to residential but becomes Croydon’s Museum/Gallery., which Kevin tried to buy but the price was too high.

    • Save Our Fairfield

      Hi Jonny. We fully support the idea of the art gallery – it is just the location which needs a re-think. At the public meeting held recently we highlighted the large workshop space under the Fairfield Halls which is under-utilized in the current plans and could fit the large bulk of the gallery into, plus the adjoining section of car park which would use up less spaces. This space could be incorporated into the plans and still linked to via the side extension on College Green. Or, as Sean says, somewhere like SEGAS House would be even better. There is also the question of the funding for this aspect of the gallery plans (construction) – is this extra money? Or is it part of the £30m?

    • Andy Hylton

      Jonny, I was at Kevin’s seminar last night and fully support everything he has done in Croydon both for local artists and for the community through his Art Halo project. He knows I support him. As I understand the plans are at an early stage and could adapt to make better use of space. It’s important to take into account certain boring aspects of planning such as parking (yawn) and planning aspects that affect the viability of the Fairfield as an arts venue. My comment is in no way detrimental to the suggestion of a large underground gallery. On the contrary, I work in the visual arts, so why would I wish to do anything except support the cultural offerings of Croydon? The large workshop in the basement of Fairfield is a fantastic space and has more of a mini-Turbine Hall vibe than being a low ceiling car-park. You have to understand that our whole approach to the Fairfield Halls issue is to make
      sure ALL music, arts and culture are continuously supported and do not suffer by mistakes/missed opportunities at the planning

      • http://idioplatform.com/ Jonny Rose

        I’m glad to hear that you’re supportive of Kevin’s work and also that the Save Our Fairfield campaign has a wider purview than just the preservation of FH.

        Thanks for taking the time to respond, Andy.

  • Anne Giles

    Wonderful article!