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
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.
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.
- Read Croydon Council’s dirty deed by clicking here
- The Warehouse, since being placed in administration, is continuing its campaign for survival; click here for details and make a donation
- Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
- Post your comments on this article below. If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Bashford suspected of greedy grab for Stanhope’s £3.5m (insidecroydon.com)
- Warehouse Theatre closes, thanks to comedians on council (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon Council and the cuts: playing a numbers game (insidecroydon.com)