A website and petition set up to “Save Our Fairfield” are being run by people with vested commercial interests in seeing millions of pounds of public money used to keep the arts centre open during its refurbishment.
The petition and website were launched this month to oppose the Labour-run council’s plans for a two-year closure of the town centre concert hall, theatre and gallery while it undergoes an extensive and long-overdue refurbishment. By closing the venue during the works, the council will save £4.8 million from its costs. It will also mean that around 100 employees will lose their jobs.
Chief among those could be Simon Thomsett, the Fairfield Halls CEO. According to Companies House records, Fairfield Halls has one employee who is paid more than £90,000 per year; it is believed that this is most likely to be the chief executive, whose role during the two-year closure would be uncertain.
There is nothing to suggest that Thomsett has been directly involved in the setting up of the petition or saveourfairfield.org. But two others who work at the Halls are definitely behind the campaign website and petition.
The 38degrees petition was set up by Andy Hylton. Hylton works as a video producer whose Rough Shots Project made the recent Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott video which was filmed in and around Croydon. The Rough Shots Project is based at Fairfield Halls, though no where does Hylton’s “Save Our Fairfield” petition make mention of this.
The petition had 1,700 signatures by this morning.
The petition states: “Whilst wholeheartedly supporting the much-needed redevelopment of the Fairfield Halls, Save Our Fairfield is petitioning Croydon Council to overturn their decision to close the venue for a minimum two-year period … and approve a phased redevelopment programme that has the foundation of a strong operational plan for the venue’s future at its heart.
“This would allow continuity of quality arts programming in the Borough whilst removing huge elements of risk and uncertainty in the council proposal.”
When asked how he would raise the £4.8 million to pay for the additional costs incurred by a phased refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls, Hylton said that he believes the money “can be raised through private investors”. Asked how or who, Hylton suggested crowdfunding – apparently seriously – or that Westfield might sponsor the Fairfield Halls. So clearly he has never had any dealings with Westfield or their like.
“There are many companies would have already sponsored the Fairfield Halls and many others who would be willing to meet these costs through crowdfunding,” Hylton said, a tad idealistically, we would suggest. The Fairfield Halls’ own record for raising substantial amounts in commercial sponsorship has not been great, and certainly not in raising the quantum required to underwrite the refurbishment scheme.
The £30 million project is to be funded largely by a speculative property scheme, in which Croydon College will be giving up substantial land on which to build flats which, if sold, will pay for the long-overdue refurbishment of the 50-year-old arts centre.
Unlike on the petition he has published, Hylton did make some sort of public declaration of his own interests in a Facebook thread:
“I run a company, Rough Shots Project, based at the Fairfield, that trains young, vulnerable homeless people. The venue is constantly used by local schools to provide free concerts for other local children and by the elderly… I think I speak for all the staff and crew that are passionate about their work in the Fairfeild Halls. I personally believe the Fairfield Halls is the soul of the town, and there are some who would sell their soul to the highest bidder. Not us mate.”
Which seems an odd argument from the very person who is also proposing selling sponsorship or naming rights to the likes of Westfield. Hey ho…
A simple whois online check shows that the petition’s companion website, saveourfairfield.org, is owned and operated by Graeme Miall, another individual with a vested interest in adding to the overall costs of the refurbishment, all to be paid by Croydon Council Tax-payers.
Miall is the lead promoter and agent for contemporary music at the Fairfield Halls. Miall was also being considered to run the council’s 2016 arts festival, and is believed to have approached council executive director Jo Negrini about having a role in promoting shows at Boxpark’s 2,000 capacity entertainment venue when it opens next year.
“I know there are arguments in favour of spending millions more of public money in propping up the Fairfield Halls during a build,” one frustrated Town Hall figure told Inside Croydon, “but the commercial self-interest of those who benefit directly from Council Tax money is unbelievable.”
Although the management continues to promote its December 2016 pantomime offering, the Fairfield Halls are expected to close on June 30 next year.
Council leader Tony “Soprano” Newman, who promised to release the Mott McDonald consultants’ report on the redevelopment of the Halls which he has said would explain the necessity for the two-year closure instead of a phased refurbishment, has so far failed to deliver on that pledge.
In several written answers at last week’s council meeting, Timothy Godfrey, the cabinet member for culture, said, “The council has had schemes for the last 10 years to refurbish the Fairfield Halls… None of these schemes ever got funded or past the stage of pretty pictures. In this time, the Halls have deteriorated as a lack of basic maintenance and long-term planning has adversely affected the building…”
He also said, “This is not a decision we have taken lightly. The building is in real need of investment, however the council needs to make a number of tough decisions over the coming years and the wider College Green and Fairfield development offers an opportunity to invest in the Fairfield Halls that will ensure the survival of the building into the future.”
Godfrey went on to state that the “multi-disciplinary team undertaking the design of the Fairfield Halls… advised that it would cost an additional £4.8 million to undertake a phased approach.
“Fairfield (Croydon) Ltd would also require substantial revenue support throughout the period of refurbishment. This would be in addition to the £4.8 million.”
So Godfrey and the council say they want to refurbish the Fairfield Halls.
Dudley Mead and the council’s Tory group – the same people who flogged off the borough’s Riesco collection of historic china for half of the £13 million they said they would get for it – also want the Fairfield Halls to be refurbished.
Even Miall, Hyatt and their petitioners want the Fairfield Halls to be refurbished.
But neither of the latter two groups have ever undertaken a major refurbishment, nor have they offered a realistic way of finding the additional £4.8million which a phased closure would cost.
In the meantime, the Fairfield Halls continues to put on its tired and derivative programme of “crowd-pulling” shows such as an Elvis tribute act (January 15), a Pink Floyd tribute act (January 22), “the Classic Rock Show” (January 26), a Whitney tribute show (January 28), a range of movies which have been shown at the town centre multiplexes, and Richard Digance. And this is “the heart and soul of Croydon” that Council Tax-payers are subsidising.
It would still be a good idea, though, if Tony “Soprano” Newman kept his promise and released the Mott McDonald consultants’ report, so we could all be better informed about the decisions being made in secret on our behalf.
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