Where next for Fairfield Halls’ supporters?


By - Tuesday 19th July, 2016

The halls are now closed. Sean Creighton urges those who campaigned for a phased refurbishment to continue to hold Croydon’s decision-makers to account


Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

Although its role as manager of Fairfield Halls ended on Friday 15th July with the council closure to start the two year programme of refurbishment, the charity Fairfield (Croydon) Ltd has a continuing life thanks to the £81,200 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to create an archive in partnership with the Museum of London. It will culminate in a major exhibition and film at the Croydon Heritage Festival in 2017. Staff, audience, volunteers and performers are all contributing to the collection, while volunteers will learn how to support community heritage projects.

Kate Vennell, the charity’s chair, says: “We are delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has recognised the importance of Fairfield’s rich heritage. We are also lucky in Croydon to have some real experts at the Museum of Croydon. In partnership with them, we can create a great legacy for the community“.

Having worked co-ordinating volunteers on two projects that HLF helped fund, I know the complexities involved in such projects and the effects that limitations of time and budget can have on all the avenues that volunteers could explore.

A lot of material about the halls will be in a range of newspapers, journals and magazines other than the local newspapers, the existing material archive, the material already in the museum, especially reviews e.g. across the classical and popular music press, and in national as well as local newspapers. There may also be material in biographies and autobiographies.

Even the grand pianos are now being sold off

There may well be surviving trade union papers on industrial relations at the time the halls were being built. And then of course there will be the material about the halls involving a host of local organisations’ involvements. These may be spread among members rather than in an archive kept by the officers. There will be a host of sources for photographs. What, for example. happened to the photo collections of local photography businesses which went out of business? It will be important to include in the archive the material generated by the South Croydon Community Association initiative on the future of the halls, and the Save Our Fairfield campaign.

With closure pending, the charity is in the process of selling off its grand pianos. It has a number of smaller ones – which it would be helpful to loan to other venues keeping ownership as assets.

Now that the halls have closed, a new phase of the redevelopment of the area is about to begin. I believe that the points we should focus on now are:

  • Recruitment of redundant staff with intimate knowledge of the building as advisors to ensure its functioning and that the proposed changes are workable and will not create operational problems
  • No damage to the acoustics of the concert hall
  • A management contract that is tightly drawn to ensure no erosion of community and educational programming
  • Imaginative ideas for what the halls could deliver e.g. using the experience of organisations like the now-closed Warehouse Theatre
  • Early programming of major figures like Simon Rattle and Nigel Kennedy
  • A new approach to lunch-time concerts so they are more frequent and better advertised
  • The involvement of the Croydon Arts Network in creative thinking about post opening programming and promotion
  • Inclusion of a visitor centre so that the halls become a building where people can gain information about what is going on in Croydon, and thereby become familiar with the halls and its programme
  • A permanent exhibition of its history including audio and recordings of performances
  • Hosting major events in the commemorating of the seventy years in  2018 since the arrival of the symbolic ship from the West Indies, the SS Empire Windrush, bringing 500 Jamaican settlers to Tilbury Docks in 1958

The council did not change its approach despite efforts to persuade it to do so. Supporters of a phased programme now need to re-think their strategy and tactics based on what people want the role of the re-opened halls to be.

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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  • Andy Hylton

    Thanks Sean, there are many important issues raised and we continue to listen to
    residents and community groups who voice their concerns.

    Our campaign to ‘Save Our Fairfield’,has always been to protect the legacy and to ensure that the arts and culture in Croydon is accessible to everyone within the community. Closure does not allow access. We know the building is in need of renovation, but we also know the building could be kept open during a phased- development. The money could have been found through grants, arts funding and investment, but unfortunately despite over 12,000 signatures collected, and against the advice of theatre industry experts and some of the world’s finest musical talents, the Council have decided that closure is best.

    In just a short time, and by applying pressure through social media, our campaign
    mobilised a large number of passionate people who support our Fairfield Halls and
    have joined with us to write letters, send emails and even sing in protest to the closure. Despite the Council initially ignoring our worries, our message has finally got through and the Theatres Trust has echoed our concerns. Croydon Council has now accepted that they must listen and this has lead to an advisory review, which I understand they will be publishing soon.

    We accept this decision fits into the council’s rebranding of Croydon, but with no operator on board and the Fairfield charity now in administration, the future viability of the venue is not so certain.We have always tried to keep the party politics out of our argument, but it is a political issue in the town. Croydon has an appalling history of cultural vandalism from both sides of the political spectrum for many, many years.

    It is this lack of care and maintenance throughout the last 20 years, which has lead us to this situation. Fairfield Halls has been shamefully neglected by Croydon Council.

    Brexit throws up many possible potential difficulties with regards to funding for
    building developments in the town and for the funding of arts generally. More than ever Croydon deserves and needs not only a first class venue, but also any large venue, which can be utilised for the arts. This includes space for events, conferences, rehearsal spaces as well as larger performance spaces for music and dance.

    ‘Save Our Fairfield’ have spoken with some of the affected community groups and the larger school organisations are worried that the alternative venues being offered are not viable for the sheer size of audiences and performers involved with their events. Fairfield Halls was the perfect venue to bring together the diverse community, which makes Croydon so unique. We will continue to engage with the Council to help find new homes for these groups during the planned two-year closure, which may also include a new temporary theatre venue.

    Working in a theatre can be wonderful experience and many theatres become like
    one big ‘family’. I have worked in so many theatres that have been closed down and left to rot and the staff turned out to find new work. The younger ones move on, but to the older staff it can be a very diffcult time and a change of life which some never recover. I feel privileged to have served at this fine venue and personally very proud to be part of the Fairfield family. I can see how those who do not understand what this building represents to the town will never understand what cutting off access to it really means. I have been inspired by the dignified way the staff have accepted the closure without it ever affecting their professionalism. I hope that the redundancy process will be quick.

    The Council are very aware that the money paid to Fairfield (Croydon) Ltd was never going to be used to pay the redundancies of the staff, and I think the way it was reported at the time was completely misleading and frankly scandalous.

    There now appears to be a conflict of interests between the new Fairfield charity archiving the history, and the administrators who have no interest in the history, just the value of the fittings. The administrators Herron Fisher have been quoted as saying “There are things we can sell, possibly intellectual property as well as physical
    assets remaining.’ Does this mean that the remaining heritage and assets of the Halls will be stripped and if so who is watching over this process?”

    Our campaign’s immediate concerns are for the removal or preservation of the Henry
    Bird painted Ashcroft Theatre safety curtain and the maintenance of the valuable concert hall organ. We are concerned that now that the administrators are inside the Fairfield that anything not screwed down may be sold off to pay creditors.

    There is still a lot of work to be done,especially regarding the interim plans for the displaced community groups and school children.There is most definitely a long way to go before we can be certain that ‘our Fairfield’ is saved. Whilst there is money on the table I have confidence that the Council have the best intentions but sadly they lack empathy for the people and the arts. The CAD designs all look lovely, but what is the good of those award winning pictures without the people to back it all up, the managers, the staff, the musicians, the artists and the audiences.

    We will be watching over the progress of the Fairfield Halls and voice our concerns if they arise in the future. There are no other venues which can equal the Fairfield Halls in the South-East, and the loss after closure will be felt by the many local schools, community groups, musicians and lovers of theatre and classical music from all around the world. Hardest hit will be the young and the old. For many, this is the end of an era for Croydon; with the closure of the town’s last post-war concert hall and theatre venue. The sad and honest truth is that some of Croydon older residents may never see the Fairfield Halls re-open.

    • Anne Giles

      Very sad, although it won’t affect myself or my husband much, as we both dislike classical music. We go to East Grinstead, Bromley, Sevenoaks, Crawley, Redhill, the Croydon Folk Club and others.