Save Our Fairfield… from a slow and agonising death

By - Thursday 14th April, 2016

The director of Croydon Popchoir isn’t reassured by promises of a secure post-refurb future for the Fairfield Halls. Here she explains why

In the current arguments over the future of the Fairfield Halls, there are those who assert that we need have no fear: there is every intention for the halls to re-open. But even on the FAQ page of the council’s website the wording is “should re-open in 2018″. In reality, the plans for the regeneration and refurbishment of Fairfield, whilst broadly to be welcomed, are incomplete and flawed and there is EVERY chance that failed funding and lack of forward planning mean that they may never open again.

Planning consent is not yet in place and funding is subject to a risky development strategy. With the ongoing building site that will still be in place for several years after the supposed completion of the Fairfield phase, the area will be dirty, noisy and inaccessible: hardly the best scenario for trying to relaunch the venue. Closure will mean the loss of audience and artists which will take many years and a great deal of money to encourage back, even without a building site all around. And since there is no new operator in place, the end user cannot be part of the project and therefore, as is already clear from the plans, the venue may not even be fit for purpose.

£30 million is a huge amount of money to spend in just two years and since the project doesn’t yet have approval or detailed plans, it seems highly unlikely that it can possibly be brought to conclusion within this time frame. (It seems unlikely even be able to start on time). Meanwhile, staff at the Fairfield Halls are being made redundant, not only a foolish loss of expertise and dedicated employees, but ludicrously premature and frankly unnecessary.

This course is beset with problems and the council seems blind to the facts

The council has rushed into this, riding roughshod over professional advice, the wishes of the Fairfield Board, and the opinions of other people who really know what they’re talking about, and now seems to be simply ploughing ahead to prove a point. But the very point is that this course is beset with problems and, once closed, the venue may struggle to reopen through lack of funds and lack of planning for re-opening (which should already be underway if indeed that is to happen in two years time). The council seems to be blind to the facts repeatedly laid in front of it from every professional corner, that here is a venue which couldn’t be more suited to a phased refurbishment.

Instead it has quoted figures ranging from £4.8m to (suddenly) £8m as the extra cost involved in phasing. But this is simply not the case. Currently there is no provision for the costs of re-opening, which will in fact cost a great deal more. The costs of recruiting, hiring and training the new staff, marketing to promoters and artists to try to book out the venues, advertising to the public, trying to win back the old audience or find a new one, and the years that it will take to do that, never mind the loss of revenue for the length of the closure or the total knock-on cost to the economy while the venue is shut, will be vast. And I wonder how many other businesses in the town centre will struggle or even fail without the trade from the Fairfield patrons.

The Save Fairfield campaign is not misleading people. It is opening their eyes

The people of Croydon should know this, and council cabinet members should take these concerns very seriously. We all want Fairfield to be refurbished and for it to live to see a new era, but in order for it to do that, the council must accept that there are many unanswered questions and missing pieces in its grand plan. No-one expects councillors to be experts at everything, but that is why they should be taking specialist advice, not ignoring it.

The Theatres Trust has voiced many concerns, along with those of people who understand the running of such venues. Surely it would be in the council’s best interest to hear and address the concerns and either prove to us that they are unfounded or to see where improvements can be made so that we all come out of this with the very best end result.The phased option is still the one which could deliver the best outcome. It would maintain the audience, the hirers, the key staff, the volunteers, the charity, the users and the continuity, and would allow for spending to cease if at any point the funding came unstuck. This would be the surest way of not wasting tax-payers’ money.

Contrary to the accusations of some, the Save Our Fairfield campaign is not misleading the public. Rather it is opening their eyes to the real risks of the course that Fairfield is being set on, and to the understanding that with closure, temporary or otherwise, go years of history, dedicated people who cannot be replaced and potentially the venue itself. We are trying to save Fairfield from a slow and agonising death. Nothing would please any of us more than not being able to say: “We told you so”.

Helen Hampton

Helen Hampton

Helen Hampton is the founder and Director of Popchoir and runs part of her business in Croydon. She is a professional singer, having worked with such artists as Robbie Williams, Michael Jackson, Queen and Chris de Burgh, and has sung on numerous film soundtracks from Harry Potter to How to Train Your Dragon. Having performed on stage at the Fairfield Halls many times as a singer, she has since become a regular hirer and promoter of the venue for Popchoir concerts involving several hundred singers from all over London. Popchoir has been an active part of the community in Croydon for the last 6 years, taking part in many community and charitable events, including the Christmas Lights switch on, the launch of the new rear entrance to East Croydon station, the South End Food Festival, the Riot Recovery festival, and the Ambition festival.

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  • Robert Ward

    From last night’s meeting of the South Croydon Community Association, at which Jo Negrini and Stuart Collins were present, Jo Negrini stated that one objective of the recently hired Paula Murray is to have an operating model confirmed for the new Fairfield by the end of this calendar year.

    • Save Our Fairfield

      …Which should really have been sorted out BEFORE closing the building and making all the staff redundant.

  • Helen Hampton

    Yes, I was flabbergasted when I heard that – that’s 8 months away! Talk about cart before the horse. The operator should be on board NOW – in fact – why can’t Fairfield Ltd continue to be the operator during and after the refurbishment? The fact that that’s in question suggests that there are other plans that we aren’t being told about and that they will go with a commercial operator just for the quick buck. What’s worse was Negrini’s suggestion that there might be more than one operator. How on earth would that be a good thing? It’s the Fairfield Halls – plural – the building in its entirety. You couldn’t possible have decent programming in all venues without collaboration, for sound reasons alone never mind anything else. I also have a new suspicion which is that they’re going to give part of it to Croydon college (or all of it) – why else would they be compromising the back of Fairfield and the get-in by building block 7 so close and why, on the plans, is there an unexplained walkway linking the two when no-one, not even the architect seems to know what it’s for. I feel more concerned daily.

  • Kate Vennell

    Current charity will pitch to be the operator……..potentially ‘hybrid’ models could work but complicated and no-one has shown me yet an working case study – anywhere in the world. In my view, community arts trust is the best answer – can get philantropy and grants plus appoint expert partners to support (including commercial where best solution). Seems to work at Sage, Roundhouse, Brighton Dome, Southbank…….

    • Helen Hampton

      Everything crossed for this outcome, but since sense hasn’t prevailed in this fiasco to date, it’s going to be a long fight..