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.
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.
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.
“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.
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
Coming to Croydon
- Soul Symphony Community Choir sessions, Sep 16-Dec 23
- Police question time, LNK at Centrale, Sep 17
- David Lean Cinema: Chef, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: Remembering the Great War, Sep 18
- The Complete History of the BBC – Abridged, Spread Eagle, Sep 19-20
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Sep 20
- South Croydon business breakfast, Sep 20
- Open House London weekend, Sep 20-21
- David Lean Cinema: A Night At The Cinema in 1914, Sep 22
- Activity to Work back-to-work workshops, Sep 23
- David Lean Cinema: Jimmy’s Hall, Sep 25
- Streatham Common 6M race, Sep 27
- Fancy dress family funday, Sep 28
- Ukrainian choir concert, St John’s Shirley, Sep 29
- Tree Sides, Spread Eagle Theatre, Oct 2-4
- The Goon Show, Spread Eagle Theatre, Oct 8-11
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Oct 18
- South Croydon business breakfast, Oct 18
- This Was The World and I Was King, Spread Eagle, Oct 23-25
- Albert Einstein – Relativity Speaking, Spread Eagle, Nov 12-15
- South Croydon business breakfast, Nov 15
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
- Choose Your Own Documentary, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 21-22
- The Last Sense of Sudden, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 27-29
- Ghost Stories for Christmas, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 3
- Fog Horn Funnies, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 6
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
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