Fairfield Halls’ vested interests fail to offer extra £4.8m

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.

Fairfield Halls: will the council need a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to meet the redevelopment costs?

Those opposing the two-year closure of the Fairfield Halls appear to think there’s a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow

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.

Timothy Godfrey: two-year closure to save the Council Tax-payer £4.8m

Timothy Godfrey: two-year closure to save the Council Tax-payer £4.8m

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.

Paying tribute: The best the Fairfield Halls can offer on stage in January is Ben Portsmouth

Paying tribute: The best the Fairfield Halls can offer on stage in January is Ben Portsmouth

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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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 "Hammersfield", Art, Ashcroft Theatre, Boxpark, Fairfield Halls, Property, Theatre, Timothy Godfrey, Tony Newman and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Fairfield Halls’ vested interests fail to offer extra £4.8m

  1. Peter Rogers says:

    To give Fairfield it’s due they do get a lot of top name comedians these days, sadly they promote them so poorly that audiences are never as good as you might expect. Also Frankie Boyle, as an example, is £27.50 in Croydon but I saw him earlier this year in Leicester Square for £15 and you would kind of expect the prices to be the other way round

  2. Andy Hylton says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your statement that my company has ‘vested interests’ in saving the Fairfield Halls, but they are far from financial. Too many people are quick to point out the costs, but never the value.

    I have been a video producer/director for nearly twenty years and recently created a social enterprise company, Rough Shots Project, which will help young homeless people find professional work experience and receive industry training from me, in order to inspire, create confidence and to give them a voice.

    I produce, direct, write, edit and design, so I am able to spend budgets wisely whilst still keeping production values high. I recently produced two video’s for Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott, the first was filmed in and around Croydon. Using local connections I was able to invite along five vulnerable young adults from Croydon charity CAYSH, to be part of my team. These young learners had a fantastic day shooting in their town and came away having made new contacts, having met some lovely people in the music industry and gained new skills and references for their CV’s, but above all they felt valued.

    Part of the aim of my company is to channel resources into local companies and facilities, and to minimise waste that I feel is often generated by film productions. I also donated clothes from the shoot to the homeless charity Nightwatch, based at the Quaker Hall opposite the Queens Garden. The service I offer is free and without any public or private sponsorship, in order to teach and inspire a new generation of film makers, writers and artists. Next year I am holding a workshop for Crisis and teaching a class in music video production at the newly renovated Fairfield Halls Studio space.

    I am still in an early stage of the company, and until last week I was running this operation from my dining room table. Simon Thomsett had seen the work Rough Shots Project was doing in Croydon and after we talked, he kindly offered me the use of Fairfield Halls Studio as a base for workshops and training. Mr Thomsett waived the hire fee, to allow me to continue the work I do, giving video production knowledge and skills to people who suffer issues of homelessness, and who otherwise may fall through the net. A generous gesture to the community I think, and one that should be lauded not lampooned.

    My intention is to make this a regular class, and to create a Rough Shots Project in other towns nationally and build a brand that will nurture and develop young voices and ideas. Mr Thomsett could see how this project fitted in well with the ethos of the Fairfield Halls, and the way they support culture and community groups, especially in one with so many housing issues such as Croydon.

    This year, Fairfield Halls has reached out to more new groups and individuals to encourage all ages and backgrounds to engage with the arts and the activities and on offer include community projects, schools, outreach, workshops, rehearsals, showcases. If the Fairfield Halls was to close we would lose this valuable hub of the community. I would need to find an alternative workshop space but what about other groups such as Club Soda? An arts organisation for people with learning disabilities who meet for weekly drama sessions. Or The Movement Factory & Fairfield Youth Theatre on Saturdays? Providing dance from ballet to HipHop and help young people learn, improvise and build confidence. Or Kinetika Bloco Croydon, the carnival drumming group cultivating musical and social personal skills through weekly sessions and performances?

    Don’t these children all have a ‘vested interest’ in keeping Fairfield open too?

    I speak as a Croydon resident, first and foremost. I do not intend to politicise the issue or blame Labour. I am a Labour voter. My purpose is to save the building from closure. ALL of Croydon has a ‘vested interest’ in keeping the Fairfield Halls open. The young people of this community deserve to thrive and we should be planning how to harness their creativity, value their passions and to nurture the skills needed to survive the uncertain cultural vacuum years ahead.

    You call me an idealist. I agree, and I am proud to aim a little higher for the benefit of those who have a little less hope than I do.

    • What a lengthy mea culpa.

      Just a pity that you couldn’t be so open and transparent in declaring your interest – receiving free studio space from Fairfield Halls; to what value, we wonder? – on the petition, or on the website.

  3. Rod Davies says:

    Let’s all be honest with ourselves, the Fairfield Halls have been staggering inevitably to this juncture for a very long time. And for an equally long time it has been incompetently managed.
    Having dithered, prevaricated and generally never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity, Fairfield Halls needs a complete overhaul, but sadly now there’s almost no money to do it with.
    However, on the bright side it might just be the catalyst to bring people together to revitalise and promote Croydon as place of culture and entertainment over the next couple of years, with re-opening of the Fairfield Halls as the crescendo to raise awareness of the town across London and the Southeast!

  4. Phil Myers says:

    There are some notable omissions in this piece so its not a very balanced representation. I am a member of the Croydon Symphony Orchestra, one of several local community groups that use Fairfield regularly to put on concerts. Our concern with the refurbishment lies with the lack of consultation with groups such as ourselves and the potential for us to be priced out of a redeveloped venue. Additionally- as you do note, the financing of this project is risky at best- if not careless, and certainly puts the sums required to keep Fairfield open in the intervening period into perspective.

    Croydon has a rich and established cultural heritage built up over the last 100 years. We and many other local Croydon arts societies consist of Croydon citizens, have Croydon citizens in our audiences and promote the arts in the community. The members of the societies and organisations in Croydon are the ordinary working people of Croydon. Irrespective of whoever set up the 38degrees petition- we are the ones signing it! My appeal to those who are meant to represent us is please don’t forget us in your grandiose schemes.

    • farmersboy says:

      No disrespect but where were you when Scream Studio or Warehouse Theatre disappeared? Neither could support a symphony Orchestra but both supported acts who could never afford, or indeed fill, any of the ‘spaces’ in Fairfield Halls.
      At the moment the self styled Croydon cultural quarter consists of a coffee shop and some graffiti. Oh and the downtrodden Fairfield Halls

    • Pleased to hear that your group has continued to be able to afford to hire space at the Fairfield Halls for your performances in recent years. Everything we have heard from community arts groups has suggested that they have been priced out of performing there, making the line about “from village hall to Festival Hall” sound like empty rhetoric.

      Unless or until those who have the Fairfield’s continued existence at heart come up with a viable alternative – and over the last 10 years we have heard nothing from the pervious Tory council administration or the current Fairfield Halls management about major grants from the Arts Council of National Lottery, because of our Town Hall’s pariah status in the national arts community – it seems that the present plan is the best, and only, one we’ve got. Otherwise, the Fairfield Halls face continued, slow decline to demise.

      • farmersboy says:

        I know where’s got a large performance space and ample free parking. The Whitgift School. Or Trinity.

        Such bad timing that they no longer have an MP who could pull some strings for them.

      • Phil Myers says:

        i think I am on side with both these responses- we ought to be able to in Croydon to have a venue which we can all use. However, I don’t subscribe to us having to to go with the only plan on the table, especially given its flaws. I’d like to think we can work out the common ground – but how can we do this if numerous of us are not in the conversation?

        • We’ve already had 10 years of stasis and steady decay at the Fairfield Halls (even if Dudley Mead maintains that more than £1 million was spent in that time, it did not provide the thorough-going upgrade required). What you are suggesting would cause further delay, since no one who argues for a phased development has come up with a single proposition for paying for it.

          And clearly you are “in the conversation”, as you’ve demonstrated here.

          • Phil Myers says:

            Financing the project on flats yet to be built hardly constitutes a robust plan- in fact far from it. Fairfield have proposed plans for phased development- but this seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
            I do wonder what the vision for Fairfield is in terms of performers. A look at the Fairfield programme reveals a great deal of community use- from Croydon schools, Churches, various types of music from a range of groups, in fact a great deal of diversity. It seems there are calls for this diversity to be priced out in favour of duplicating a London model. Why should Fairfield be another Barbican or RFH? We risk losing alot and gaining very little all because of the council’s lack of vision.

          • Have you had access to a Fairfield Halls programme denied to the rest of us?

            Community groups were priced out of performing at the Fairfield Halls long ago.

  5. farmersboy says:

    Maybe we should just wait until 60’s decor and architecture becomes the new art deco? Knowing Croydon they’ll knock it down the same week

  6. This £4.8m seems to be a sticking point. How reliable is that figure? Which individual/s in that “multi-disciplinary team” calculated it?

    • The late David Callam long ago on this site suggested that the time had passed when good public money after bad should no longer be chucked down the black hole that is the declining Fairfield Halls.

      We took a different editorial stand-point from David then, but there is a need to draw a line somewhere. There’s a limited amount of money for the refurbishment, and not enough to pay for a phased closure. Given the option of a closure to enable the refurb, or nothing, we’d plump for the former.

      Those opposing the closure comprise a large number of Croydon Tories, including Dim Pollard and Dudley Mead, who between them advanced the refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls not one step between 2006 and 2014, but managed to flog off the family china, the Riesco collection. There also appears to be opposition from the Fairfield’s £90,000 pa CEO, Simon Thomsett.

      I don’t think we can question the integrity of Mott McDonald, the consultants who put together the report on the project, as they are a firm with a reasonable reputation. But it is hard to judge the true value of their work on costings when, despite his public promise to release the Mott McDonald report, council leader Tony Newman has still failed to do so.

      • Thanks. If Tony Newman would be kind enough to let us see the Mott McDonald report, then we can have a more informed debate than is possible at present.

        • There’s about as much chance of that happening before the closure and works begin as there is of the details of the Fisher’s Folly contract and why it cost Croydon £100m over the odds being put into the public domain – another of Tony Newman’s bold promises of openness and transparency.

          But the real common denominators between the lack of the Mott McDonald report, the BWH details, and the real costs of demolition of Taberner House (remember that one?), are the six-figure salaried officials at the top of the council organisation and in charge of its legal department.

          It’s almost as if they have something to hide…

  7. tonycroydon says:

    Hopefully/Regrettably we will only find out when the Fairfield Halls re opens whose argument is correct.

    None of us has a crystal ball but both sides seem to be convinced of their arguments. Only time will tell.

    I and I am sure everyone else only wants it to reopen and be a resounding succeed.

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