The Public Gallery: 9 things you need to know about the Fairfield Halls

By - Tuesday 15th December, 2015

Tom Black’s current affairs column – now a monthly show on Croydon Radio – takes a closer look at the Fairfield Halls furore

Whether you’ve been engrossed in the Fairfield saga for weeks, or the news of a two-year closure has comes as a horrible shock, this article aims to give you a full picture of the controversial proposals for the venue’s future. Part of the controversy is that a number of facts and figures – such as exact timetables or costs – are either under wraps or simply don’t exist yet. But what we know, you’ll read below.

1. Croydon Council’s plan is to close it completely for two years

…while refurbishing it. But while that last part is uncontroversial – nobody seriously disputes that the place needs a makeover – it’s the two years of near-complete closure that has caused consternation. I say ‘near-complete’ because at the time of writing, there are provisions in place to temporarily re-open it in order to stage the annual pantomime. The refurbishment is being undertaken by Rick Mather Architects, and the current figure associated with the plans is £30 million. You can see renders of the plans here.

2. The fear is that it won’t ever reopen

Again, nobody really has a problem with doing up the Fairfield Halls. But a two-year closure is, to some, a sign of disaster. Will audiences find new venues and move on? What if the re-opening costs get unworkably high? How will council budgets look in two years? Would another economic downturn mean the halls stay closed, when if they remained open they might have survived? There are far too many unanswered – and unanswerable – questions for many people concerned about this.

3. The proposals do have a lot going for them…

New fixtures for amplified sound will mean Fairfield has facilities for live bands that match its impressive acoustics for orchestras. The stage entrance to the venue has long needed an overhaul, and new hydraulic lifts should mean that big bands and shows with big sets will be more easily able to attend.

4. …but also have a few holes

One example is the impressive proposal for a new side entrance onto College Green that would open up the halls on the Ashcroft side. But at the time of going to press, no detailed costings appear to exist for the complete re-modelling of the inside of the building that would be required to make this new entrance work – you can’t just build a new entrance without a floorplan that actually leads to it.

5. The future of ‘Fairfield (Croydon) Ltd’ is in doubt

That’s the charity that runs the halls. Job losses have been acknowledged as an inevitable consequence of the closure, though Croydon Council has said it will set up a job brokerage service to help those left without employment. But anti-closure commentators predict that the talent will be lost for good, as both junior and senior employees at Fairfield find other jobs.

Dark rumours are circulating that this may in fact be ‘the plan’: ‘squeeze out’ the current charitable set-up and hope for a corporate sponsor to take over the whole building – and, of course, end the currently required local government subsidy. Again, that’s speculation – but it’s not an impossible outcome.

6. The arts aren’t the only thing that might suffer

The two-year closure of the halls won’t just mean no more Dawn French or Avenue Q in the town centre. The Fairfield Halls is used by countless schools and organisations for everything from conferencing to performances by choirs. It’s unclear where they could go during the halls’ ‘downtime’. Furthermore, closure would be expected in 2016, meaning the two years would overlap with the closure of the Whitgift Centre. The loss of two major places to spend time in the town centre could have disastrous effects.

7. The politicians are being predictable

Labour, which is in charge of Croydon Council, thinks the plan is a good idea. The Conservatives, who aren’t, don’t. There’s a bit more to it than that, of course, and I recommend anyone who hasn’t yet seen it to take a look at Robert Ward’s rundown of the council procedure.

8. The alternative is a phased closure

Opponents of the complete closure, including Fairfield CEO Simon Thomsett, favour a phased closure whereby different parts of the building are closed while they are being worked on. The council’s executive director of place, Jo Negrini, has sympathised with the aim of keeping the cultural offering of the halls alive throughout the work, but says phasing the work would increase costs by £4.8 million, and the construction time by one year. Calls for a phased closure remain loud and persistent.

9. Twitter isn’t happy

The Citizen’s own ‘I would make Croydon better by’ campaign received a tweeted response from Gill Burn that said “…by not closing Fairfield Halls entirely for two years before an alternative theatre/venue is available”. It’s proved a popular sentiment, earning retweets and triggering discussion, and Gill is not alone: sparks have been flying as more and more people hear the news and take it badly.

As for ‘pro-closure’ tweeters, let’s just say they’re a little bit harder to find. Labour councillors and tribal Labour supporters have been accusing anti-closure figures of hypocrisy or Toryism (it’s unclear which they think is worse). Of course, as above, local Conservatives seem to be neatly aligning with the opposite position. Most concerning for the council should be the lack of anyone without an agenda publicly coming out in full-throated support of the two-year closure.

On Twitter, or anywhere else.

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

Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Anne Giles

    How right you are!

  • Reena

    The biggest issue here is that there is a report my Mott Macdonald suggesting both options (completed and phased closures) with their associated costs, and Croydon Council does not want to release it under freedom of information. Why?
    And where is the council going to get the money for the refurbishment? at the moment they are relying solely on selling all the flats that will be built on College Green….and why does Croydon need more 1 and 2 bedroom flats? why not family homes? and how many of them will be actually affordable?
    Aah the drama continues.

  • Harley S

    ‘Twitter isn’t happy’? Do you think this adds credibility to what you’ve written? Do you expect readers to take this point seriously? Last time I checked, Croydon Twitter was an echo chamber.

    • Tom Black

      Hi Harley, thanks for reading. Funnily enough, my first draft included an extra paragraph along these lines: ‘stop laughing at the back. Twitter has its reputation for a reason, but it’s still a somewhat useful gauge of public opinion in the absence of polling data’.

      As so often happens, however, the tyranny of word-counts got in the way. While I do know what you mean, I stand by including an assessment of recent tweets in the article.

      Clearly you don’t agree, but thanks again and have a great day!

  • Ally McKinlay

    If Fairfield were to close for 2 years could better use be made of Croydon Minster?

    We saw Hyde & Beast there as part of the Ambition fest & it was a corking venue with incredible sound.

    It’s not as large as Fairfield but holds quite a few hundred.

    Perhaps some improvisation with Segas house could also fill the void (although I’ve no idea of internal state)?

    • Rosie E

      Minster has good accoustics and unique atmosphere but annoying if you’re sat behind one of the many pillars. I think it’s already used a fair bit for classical bits and pieces.

      • Ally McKinlay

        Perhaps tickets could be sold at a reduced price for those in the wings?

    • Anne Giles

      And has horribly uncomfortable seats.

      • Ally McKinlay

        Perhaps you could bring a cushion or use one of the pads that some folk kneel on Anne?

        • Anne Giles

          Not enough. I have a special back support seat which I take everywhere. Very comfortable. I also need to stretch my legs, so normally sit in the front row. I am on the Fairfield Access list, as I am a Blue Badge holder, so only pay half price and have free parking. Not the same at other venues.

          • Ally McKinlay

            I would like to think that any venues filling the potential Fairfield void would consider the needs of Blue Badge Holders Anne.

          • Anne Giles

            I shall live in hope!

          • Ally McKinlay

            That’s the spirit Anne!!