What’s in a name? For Croydon Council, about £3m

According to PIGGY ASHCROFT, our council wants to make a crisis out of a drama, with designs on the Warehouse Theatre‘s name and hard-won reputation as well as its multi-million pound endowment from developers

A thriving and successful studio theatre has been stabbed in the back by its own local council, according to Piggy Ashcroft

Croydon Council wants to go into the theatre business.

Having reneged on the final installment of a promised grant, thus sending the Warehouse Theatre into administration, Croydon Council is now looking to buy the theatre’s name and reputation – though not its debts, of course.

The Warehouse Theatre had worked hard for decades to develop an international reputation as one of the country’s top studio theatres. The converted warehouse, adjacent to East Croydon station, sits next to a long-vacant site which developers Stanhope plan to turn into Ruskin Square, a mix of offices and homes, and with the promise of £3 million towards a new 200-seat studio home for the Warehouse company.

As Inside Croydon reported in May, when the council cut the lifeline of a grant, the Warehouse’s management had little option but to call in the administrators.

Now, in a move of the utmost deviousness, in order to extract its pound of flesh, the council has approached the administrator, dangling a paltry £10,000 to acquire the name of the theatre which they stabbed in the back just a few weeks earlier.

Is it just coincidence, or was it intended as a twist of the knife, that the amount offered is exactly the same £10,000 that the council decided not to pay as a public arts subsidy?

The Warehouse Theatre is, of course, by no means the same animal as the very large, architecturally challenged building within spitting distance of the Town Hall, what we might call “The Favoured Halls”.

The Warehouse is and always has been a theatre which encourages and commissions small, original productions. In theatrical parlance, it is a producing theatre.

In contrast, the Favoured Halls, favoured by the likes of council deputy leader and Halls board member Dudley Mead, produces little or nothing of its own, instead choosing to stage lurid shows featuring Roy “Chubby” Brown, male strippers, and the “lady boys of Bangkok”, all for a large bill for £750,000 of your money.

Ruskin Square, or the Croydon Gateway project as it is also known, involves two large public companies who have been most supportive of the idea of a small independent theatre. These companies have been wholeheartedly and consistently supportive of the Warehouse for a number of years, even to extent of providing a free (repairing) lease for the Warehouse Theatre.

In March, a Deed of Agreement was drawn up between the council and the two other parties, Croydon Gateway GP Ltd and Croydon Gateway Investments Ltd. This deed (a public document) falls under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1990 – what the developers promise to do on the site in return for planning permission from the local authority.

On March 29 this year, shortly before the council scuttled the Warehouse Theatre, the deed was put to the Gateway developers. You can see pages from the document here.

Section 19 of the agreement relates to “Theatre”, and says that the “Owner” – the two development companies – shall within 12 months engage with and consult the Warehouse Theatre Company about building and paying for a new theatre, the cost of which shall not exceed the sum of £3 million, index linked.

The really interesting bit comes in paragraph 19.5. It says that if the Warehouse is unable to produce a business plan showing that it can run the theatre on a viable basis, then the three million smackers go to … the council! And they can spend that money on (guess what) … “as a contribution towards improvements to Fairfield Halls or as otherwise agreed between the parties…”!

The Trustees of the Warehouse Theatre were not involved in nor had any knowledge of the deed at the time it was signed. It was, effectively, their theatre’s death warrant.

By going into administration, there is a very slim possibility that a viable business plan can be produced unless the Warehouse’s considerable debts are settled.

The Warehouse Theatre: supporters convinced that the council forced it into administration to access Stanhope cash

Am I being cynical or, having more or less scuppered the Warehouse Theatre, is this all part of the council’s cunning plan?

Why do they want to spend £10,000 on a “name” which apparently has little or no cash value?

Perhaps it is because if the Warehouse Theatre no longer exists, it cannot qualify under the Section 106 agreement.

Let’s be charitable and consider that perhaps the council that loves the theatricals of the council chamber would like to be as creative with a theatre project as it is with its “no libraries will close” pledge or its “no incinerator in or near Croydon” promises. Oh! How we laugh at their jolly wheezes!

The Warehouse Theatre – in administration – acknowledges it is in that position because it has not been able to generate sufficient profits to meet its financial obligations – not helped by a particular local sponsor headed by a bloke with an ermine-trimmed red gown turning the financial tap on and off without warning for some time.

Part of its “dream”, much delayed by the hiatus over the property development, was that by having a new 200 seat auditorium – the original theatre has half that capacity – the Warehouse could get closer to being self-supporting.

The physical assets of the company are sparse but its history and reputation in the arts is large. It is conceded by an ad hoc rescue committee that it is unlikely that a truly altruistic rescuer will come along, but there are other options.

What really makes me angry is the apparently deliberate and mean-spirited way that the theatre’s distress is being used to try to boost a crumbling edifice of fiscal ineptitude and artistic puerility by snatching away that long-promised £3 million. This is the same grasping philistine, anti-arts council that has shafted the David Lean Cinema, and then “transferred” that “brand” to the Favoured Halls, with such underwhelming impact.

One final note: I was unhappy to overhear a throwaway remark by a senior official of Bromley Council that he dreaded the “Croydonisation” of Bromley. What a sad, sad impression the town of my birth is giving.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Addiscombe, Art, Cinema, Croydon Council, David Lean Cinema Campaign, East Croydon, Fairfield Halls, Jon Rouse, Property, Ruskin Square, Sara Bashford, Theatre, Warehouse Theatre and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to What’s in a name? For Croydon Council, about £3m

  1. Thanks for this report. I’ve donated 10 quid. Their appeal is nearly halfway to the 10K mark they need! I hope it gets all the way there.

  2. I have written the following letter to Gavin Barwell MP:

    Dear Gavin

    The evidence shows that it is quite likely that someone in the Council masterminded a plan to shove the Warehouse Theatre into administration in order to obtain £3m for Fairfield Halls.

    This is an abomination, and I think you have an obligation to find out who was behind this scheme because it shows that someone with a lot of power has a very sordid imagination as well.

    To withhold £10K and then offer it again for a name? Grotesque and tacky. It smacks of someone gone mad with personal power.

    £3m is not a lot of money in comparison to how much the Halls already receive from the Council, so I can’t but help but think that this was someone’s personal vendetta against the theatre. Certainly this cannot be tolerated at the Town Hall.

    Yours sincerely

    Susan Oliver

  3. anncreighton says:

    The fate of the Warehouse is desperately sad and an indictment of this Council’s policy to such an innovative and exciting venue. We’re sending a donation and hope that as many people as possible will do the same to meet the funds needed to save this theatre and put a spoke in the wheel of this mean and short sighted Council.

  4. Actually, Croydon Council did not fund Fairfield Halls for years and has only recently provided the money for the rennovation of the building (which is falling apart!) – which still isn’t enough money. It still does not actually fund the running of Fairfield. Also, Fairfield Halls DOES in fact produce and co-produce a number of plays in the Ashcroft Theatre – usually week-long runs – such as Billy Liar, Long Live the Mad Parade, Lysistrata, To Kill a Mockingbird and more… (I notice that only a few 1 nighter shows have been picked out in the article above). That of course does not excuse the council for treating the Warehouse in such as way, which is terrible…

    • Actually, Croydon Council has been providing funding for Fairfield Halls for many years. Until 2005, it was in receipt of £1m per year from the council. Grants since then have varied, although it also benefits as the preferred venue for many council-run events.

      Fairfield Halls remains a private, not publicly owned, venue. It remains a significant regional arts facility, and as such surely needs some local authority support. But should that be done to the exclusion of funding to virtually all other arts programmes in the borough? And in the culture of cuts, is it right that that is being done with millions of pounds of public money, when mere tens of thousands would often be enough to support other venues or projects?

      And the point regarding productions: the Ashcroft dramas are not Fairfield productions. The Warehouse produced many of its own plays. The Fairfield usually simply provides the shell of a venue, for outside companies to come in with their touring productions.

  5. spicerdavid says:

    Whilst I am not in a position to comment on most of what you say, regarding the politics, status and funding of the Fairfield Halls, I feel compelled to correct you with regard to one point. Whilst not every play at The Ashcroft is produced in-house, they DO produce their own plays. They are producing the World Premier of my play LONG LIVE THE MAD PARADE for 6 performances next month. This is not a co-production, nor are they simply acting as a receiving house for a tour.The play was written as part of Fairfield’s FRESHLY FIRED season of readings of new plays earlier this year, which was an initiative to actively encourage new writing for the Ashcroft stage.

    The Warehouse may have been treated badly by the council (and reading what you say, I have little doubt it has been) and whilst it will never replace that late, lamented theatre, please in the interests of accuracy and fairness, give the Fairfield Halls some credit for being more than just Chubby Brown and Ladyboys.

    • David: In the interests of fairness and accuracy, while giving a plug to your play, please do not misrepresent our report.

      Our report clearly states: “…the Favoured Halls, favoured by the likes of council deputy leader and Halls board member Dudley Mead, produces little or nothing of its own”.

      This is entirely the case. Even though they have two stages – the main hall and the Ashcroft – your play is a rare departure from the usual Favoured Halls offerings.

  6. verapotts says:

    What Croydon Council have put the Warehouse through is appalling and I applaud the support you are giving them.

    I feel very strongly about the importance of The Warehouse and welcome passionate pieces of journalism like the above. I also agree that current funding systems and allocations are fundamentally flawed.

    Whilst I’m not a fan of all the programming at Fairfield, we mustn’t let this issue overshadow the fact that there are a small number of very dedicated people working extremely hard in order to make in-house and co-productions viable at The Ashcroft. These productions are being produced on tiny budgets and deserve support in order to facilitate their continuation. I think this is the point to be taken from what Rob and David have said.

    I can safely say that those involved with each venue would like to see both themselves, and the other, producing regularly and successfully.

    Moreover, thank you for highlighting the plight of The Warehouse.

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