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Fairfield Halls closure – end of an era for Croydon arts venue

Fairfield Halls closure – end of an era for Croydon arts venue
Jul 15, 2016 Shaking Hands 0 comments
This post was first published on The Croydon Advertiser on 15/07/2016

Fairfield Halls closure – end of an era for Croydon arts venue

It opened on November 2, 1962 and millions of people have watched thousands of shows at Fairfield Halls since.

Today, the iconic Croydon theatre will mark the end of an area, closing its doors to the public for a two-year refurbishment.

Croydon Council will now begin £30 million worth of development on the arts and entertainment complex included in the proposed cultural and educational quarter of the borough.

The council’s plans have faced criticism since the announcement at the end of 2015.

Fairfield Halls closes on Friday for a two-year redevelopmentIn total, 70 full-time staff and as many as 80 casual workers have lost their jobs at the venue, including some who have worked there for more than 30 years.

These include technicians, admin staff, caterers and programming staff who worked across the three halls and rooms.

Fairfield (Croydon) Ltd, the charity which ran the theatre for 23 years, had called for a phased closure but agreed to the council’s July 15 closure date in February.

Campaign group Save Our Fairfield also believed a staged rebuild, allowing Fairfield to stay open while work took place, would help protect the venue’s future and protect jobs.

 

Protestors have voiced concerns about the halls’ closureBut the council rejected those calls, arguing that such a process would cost an extra £4.8 million, add 12 months to the build time and pose a health risk due to asbestos. However, no new operator for the revamped venue has yet been signed on, but a final decision on which company will run Fairfield is expected to be announced by the end of the year.

After comedian Jimmy Carr played the last ticketed show on Saturday, July 9, the venue began to store away the memories of the last five decades.

Comedian Jimmy Carr played the last ever ticketed gig at FairfieldKate Vennell, chair of Fairfield (Croydon) Ltd, will take her place on Fairfield Arts Board (FAB) Croydon, a new charity hoping to play a part in the venue’s future and preserving its heritage.

Along with Simon Thomsett, chief executive of Fairfield Halls, they shared their concerns over the full two-year closure. Both will work together on FAB Croydon.

Ms Vennell said she “trusted” the council with its plans, but would be “keeping an eye” on the development. She said: “The building is long overdue a refurbishment, so it is exciting. The new designs look good and it certainly is good the council are pushing ahead with putting investment into the building.

Kate Vennell and Simon Thomsett“They seemed to be quite consistent in their statement and contention. From next week they will be starting work so we’ll be keeping an eye on it and looking and monitoring progress.

“That’s something as a community interest group we will continue to monitor progress and engage with the council.”

Ms Vennell said the mood in the venue had been “quite a lot of nostalgia and pride, happy memories mixed with a bit of sadness”.

“Obviously, there’s a little bit of anxiety among some of the staff about what the future holds,” Ms Vennell, who has been a trustee since 2008, said.

“We have been trying to prepare as much as possible.”

An artist’s impression of how the new Fairfield will lookStaff were offered support from both Fairfield and the council in the time of uncertainty, some of them going on to new jobs, retirement or taking redundancy.

Concerns were raised by campaigners and the borough’s Conservative group that the closure of the venue could cause a cultural void, with no other theatre of this size in the borough being offered as an alternative.

Ms Vennell said: “I think all us board and staff were pretty open that we would have preferred a phased refurbishment.

“That was our preference as we wanted to keep the programme open and retain the audience.

“But we’ve come all come to terms with the closure and I think collectively we have worked really hard with managing a professional closure and turning to the future.

“It’s more a reality that people will go elsewhere. They already do, they already go up to the West End so I think that is going to happen as well. That’s just reality really.

“But obviously the more that can happen here in the borough, the better.”

The new Fairfield will include an entrance that opens on to College Green and the extension of the north part of the building to include new cafes and restaurants

There would also be a new pavilion structure and a restoration of facades, windows and lighting.

Fairfield’s redevelopment, alongside 194 flats, will be funded by £12 million from the council, with the rest made up from development of the homes. This is the first of a three-part phase to completely redevelop the College Green area.

Timothy Godfrey, cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport, offered reassurance to opposition and said “of course” the venue will reopen in summer 2018.

However, he admitted that “unknowns” about the asbestos could delay whether the building will be completely finished then. Surveys will begin to establish the extent of the material in the next month.

“Asbestos is one of those things where you can’t take chances,” said Cllr Godfrey. “You can’t do it when the building is occupied.”

Timothy Godfrey, the council’s culture chief, reassured residents and campaigners that the centre will reopen in 2018 as plannedHe added: “Things have been difficult with Fairfield but this is about setting up a new chapter that is more ambitious in different ways.

“We want to change gear and how that finally works out is to be decided, but when Fairfield reopens, it will look fantastic and more importantly the programming will reflect the borough in new and different ways.”

He added the new operator is likely to be a combination of several organisations and that the “door is very widely open to anybody”.

The council is going to be taking guidance in its approach to the future of the halls from the findings of an independent report currently being compiled by The Theatres Trust.

Cllr Godfrey hopes a decision on the operator will be made by the end of October, and Christmas at the latest.

Mr Thomsett added: “We would like to take this opportunity to recognise the achievements of our talented team and their hard work in some challenging times.

“Their phenomenal efforts are reflected in record attendances throughout 2015/2016. We can feel proud that we are going out on a high.”

After it closes today, the National Trust walking tours, created to “tackle the town’s reputation,” will begin for a week including a look inside the empty Fairfield.

The council is also looking to support local arts organisations and events with the introduction of a cultural partnership trust.

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