Ruskin Square could include theatre if council refunds £3m

Croydon could get a purpose-built, modern 200-seat studio theatre to replace the much-lamented Warehouse Theatre, provided that the council re-allocates a £3 million grant originally intended for the purpose by private developers Stanhope.

Ruskin Square adverts

Hello future: But does that future include the new Warehouse studio theatre that was included in the Croydon Masterplan?

The news comes as the now Labour-run council cabinet meets tomorrow night to discuss push through spending £34 million on a “Croydon Cultural Quarter” (we know, we know…) which will include a rejuvenated Fairfield Halls and re-developed College Green site.

The plans as laid out in the council officials’ report do not include any arts provision in Ruskin Square, the mixed-use development on the former coal merchants’ site next to East Croydon Station that has been a decade in the planning by Stanhope and their financial backers Schroders.

Work has begun this summer on building the first residential blocks at the Dingwall Road end of the long-derelict site which was once promoted as the “Gateway” to Croydon.

Stanhope have been most patient in their relationship with a borough council of both political hues and which at one point, a decade ago, tried to impose a rival developer on the site, resulting in a series of costly public inquiries.

Stanhope were long-time financial backers of the world-acclaimed Warehouse Theatre, based in a Victorian warehouse that adjoined their site, and they pledged to spend £3million on a replacement studio theatre within their office and residential buildings.

A thriving and successful studio theatre was stabbed in the back by its own local council

A thriving and successful studio theatre was stabbed in the back by its own local council

Ruskin Square, including a new studio theatre, was a crucial part of the “Croydon Masterplan”.

Stanhope have also several times accommodated the council, Transport for London and Network Rail in other ways, such as in adjusting their own scheme to allow for other elements of the overall redevelopment, including the £23 million “Bridge to Nowhere” built at the north end of East Croydon Station.

The Warehouse Theatre was forced to close in 2012, when the then Tory-run council withdrew its annual arts grant, precipitating a financial crisis. The council then activated a clause in the agreement between the Warehouse and Stanhope for the £3 million grant to be re-allocated.

With a Croydon Council Tory leadership including Dudley Mead, the chairman of the Fairfield Halls board, it was understood that the money would be used to build a studio theatre at what was fast emerging as the “Favoured Halls”.

Fairfield opened its own studio theatre in its former Green Room space in the past month.

Tomorrow night at the council cabinet meeting, Timothy Godfrey, Labour’s spokesman on the arts – who is also a Fairfield Halls trustee – will speak to a report which promises to spend £34 million through till 2018 on the “Cultural Quarter”, with a set of plans which might be described as, well, a bit sketchy.

Cultural Quarter drawing

This sketch map has been included in an official council report. Seriously


“Culture is at the heart of the council’s ambitious regeneration and growth plans for Croydon and in this context the College Green area and the Fairfield Halls holds huge potential,” the council report states.

The refurbishment plan for the Fairfield Halls, including the Ashcroft Theatre and Arnhem Gallery, has been on the council’s agenda since at least 2006, but was never actioned under the Tories, leaving the 1960s-built arts venue to become increasingly down-at-heel and a bit sorry for itself.

As well as offering a link through to the Clocktower arts complex and Surrey Street, the plans going before the council tomorrow include a cinema in the Fairfield Halls, although it does not explain how this sits with the existing provision at Grant’s, or the planned multiplex within the £1billion Hammersfield redevelopment.

The previous Tory council laid waste to the borough’s arts programme, axing the annual Mela – for a saving of less than £100,000, or the cost of a single Councillor Steve O’Connell – allowing the Warehouse to close, closing the David Lean Cinema in a badly bungled attempt to transfer its arts house screenings to the Fairfield, and flogging off other precious publicly owned property.

One item from the Riesco Collection that Croydon Council flogged off

One item from the Riesco Collection that Croydon Council flogged off

Led by their deputy leader Tim Pollard, the Tory council raided the borough’s family silver – in this case in the form of the Riesco china collection – and flogged off two dozen of the best examples of the priceless porcelain with the intention of raising £13million towards the Fairfields refurbishment.

After costs and charges, Pollard’s Hong Kong auction eventually raised just £6.5 million, the money going into the council’s general fund rather than being specifically ear-marked for arts spending. A bit like Stanhope’s £3 million arts grant.

This week, sources in the building industry told Inside Croydon that Stanhope are more confident about their scheme’s immediate future than at any time in the past 10 years, and that they would be keen to consider any reasonable proposals that would enable them to include a purpose-built arts venue which complements the offering at the Fairfield Halls and provides the prospect of a “New Warehouse Theatre”.

“It would have to be properly run, and they would probably want the former artistic director of the Warehouse, Ted Craig, to be involved,” our source said.

“The venue would need to earn its keep. It could provide a venue for music, cabaret and comedy as well as fringe theatre – all things which Croydon is crying out for, and which would work really well beside a rail station that’s just 20 minutes from the centre of London.

“They’d certainly welcome discussions with the council about providing something in a Cultural Quarter, but Stanhope’s original £3 milllion grant money would have to be used towards the development.”

  • Read the council “Cultural Quarter” report being submitted to Monday’s cabinet meeting by clicking here: Cultural Quarter report

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4 Responses to Ruskin Square could include theatre if council refunds £3m

  1. The Fairfield have just installed a brand new high-powered digital projector and a very big replacement screen in the Concert Hall, so presumably this is the “new cinema” mentioned in the report. There’s no obvious other space where they can accommodate 600 people, which is more than the Ashcroft’s capacity. Spectacular films and live streaming – often on Mondays – would in some respects complement what the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign are doing at the David Lean, and the two venues have agreed to mostly avoid screenings on the same days. Both attract a similar audience and it makes sense to minimise competition, especially at a time when the future of the David Lean – which is entirely run by unpaid volunteers – is far from secure.

    If the plan is for the Clocktower to regain some of its stature as a cultural centre, it’s worth remembering that the Braithwaite Hall was an important part of the arts offering there, with touring productions, live music, etc. While the Braithwaite is mostly dormant, perhaps the Warehouse Phoenix company could consider presenting the occasional production there in advance of any Ruskin Square development?

  2. davidcallam says:

    What a complete pigs’ breakfast.

    If the council is determined to waste public money trying to revive the Fairfield, it would surely make sense to incorporate a studio theatre on site, or to renovate Braithwaite Hall properly. But please don’t establish what could easily become a third loss-making arts site in the town centre. For all Ted Craig’s grandiose talk about The Warehouse, it closed immediately the grant was withdrawn, suggesting that council money would be essential to re-open it on the same site.

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