This post was first published by Croydon Advertiser on 09/01/2019.
First look inside Croydon’s Fairfield Halls during huge revamp
It’s being called the ‘Southbank Centre’s younger sister’ and it’s on track to re-open in September 2019.
The countdown is now well and truly on for the re-opening of Fairfield Halls.
So, how is it actually looking? We went behind the scenes to see.
Walking into the massive venue, first we hit the foyer… a vast space currently packed with scaffolding.
Venue director Neil Chandler, from operators BH Live, says this will be an open plan area with a bar which will host free events throughout the year.
It will be known as the Arnhem Foyer – a nod to Croydon’s twin town in the Netherlands. The two have been linked since 1944.
Mr Chandler wants the revamped Fairfield Halls to be the “younger sister” to the Southbank Centre.
“It must look and feel like South London’s biggest arts venue,” he added.
The foyer will also host exhibitions, the first from Jim Grover, a South London photographer, with his portraits of the Windrush generation.
From the outside it doesn’t look like much is going on but inside is a hive of activity with 200 workers on site every day.
The venue was initially supposed to be open already but when the 60-year-old building was stripped, a lot of asbestos was discovered.
Project manager for construction company Vinci, John Christmas, said: “There was so much asbestos which is why the beginning took longer than expected.
“It has taken a long time and there have been issues but the right decision has been made. We couldn’t have refurbished it in bits.”
So, what will be new?
When reopened, the venue will be more eco-friendly with LED lights and modern insulation and heating systems.
Access will change. There will be a new second entrance to the venue from Barclay Road to the side which was called the Arnhem Gallery.
Mr Chandler had previously said that this would be named the Croydon Rec. But now it has a new name… The Recreational.
Including a new extension, it will be a live music venue.
And at Christmas time it will be transformed into an ice rink.
There are also changes planned for the main concert hall.
It will have the same 1,759 seats as before when it reopens, but it will be known as the Phoenix Concert Hall after Phoenix Pianos supplied the seven pianos, worth £500,000, for the venue.
The Sevenoaks-based company will provide a concert grand piano for the main hall along with a series of upright pianos for around the venue.
The new pianos will join the original organ, which is currently in storage and set to be brought back along with original chandeliers.
A Phoenix Piano Academy is also set to be launched in September with registration starting this year.
A new Yamaha Music School will also be based at the venue which will accept pupils from the age of four.
Above The Recreational, a new 200-seat performance space is being built which will be used for dance and theatre performances.
Right now, this is a big open space on the roof. But walls are expected to start going up next week.
Behind the stage, there will be a mirrored dance studio suitable for classes and rehearsal space.
When plans for refurbishment first came about, it was thought this space could be used for unloading sets for touring performances. But Mr Chandler said with other big theatres nearby such as Wimbledon, and being so close to the West End, the decision was made not to pursue this.
What about eating and drinking?
As well as bars in the foyer, there will be a new bistro on the second floor with access to a small courtyard-like roof terrace.
A new addition will be the Fairfield Lounge for business people to use from 9am to 5pm daily, with membership costing £550 a year.
The 200 memberships up for grabs will go on sale next month.
In the evening, the space will be used by people who want to pay a bit extra when coming to a show.
An extra £15 on top of the ticket price would give you access to the area before and after the show, with a drink and canapes included.
Mr Chandler said the money made from this will go back into putting on free performances at the venue.
He also confirmed that for 90% of shows, ticket prices would start at £15.
In the next few months as the opening day, September 16, approaches the building will start to take shape.
There are already a handful of tickets for comedy shows on offer, with a fuller programme set to be announced before the end of the month.
“People are already buying tickets and what they are going to get is nothing like they’ve had before,” said Mr Chandler.
“It is really important for us to get people excited about the opening,”