Plans to redevelop the Fairfield Halls are expected to be submitted formally for approval later this week, Inside Croydon understands.
But with the borough’s biggest arts venue set to close this summer for a two-year, £30-million refit, the Fairfield Halls management has yet to hold any meetings with their staff or their unions over potential lay-offs.
More than 140 people are in full or part-time employment at the Fairfield Halls, in addition to the many volunteer stewards and ushers who work there.
Croydon Council, which is funding the refurbishment of the half-century-old concert hall, Ashcroft Theatre and Arnhem Gallery, has offered £500,000 to the management of the independent company which runs the venue towards meeting redundancy obligations to its staff.
Yet according to Yvonne Green, the Unison regional convener for Greater London, the future for Fairfield Halls staff “has not been discussed in any way with the union or the staff members”.
Green said today that Unison had been in touch with Fairfield Halls management before Christmas and again a fortnight ago. “There’s been a lack of consultation with the staff. We’ve not been invited to any meetings to discuss the closure with the Fairfield Halls management,” she said.
“We would expect there to be some meaningful and purposeful consultation with the union and staff,” Green said.
The Fairfield Halls management, led by the chair of the board, Kate Vennell and the £90,000-per-year chief executive, Simon Thomsett, have opposed the council’s plan to close the Halls completely for two years while the refurbishment work is undertaken. They prefer a phased programme of works, but this would cost £4 million more than the council is prepared to spend. The local Tory opposition on the council have backed the Halls management, suggesting that once closed, the Fairfield may never open again.
Croydon Council already subsidises Fairfield Halls with nearly £750,000 per year. Despite operating with a £5million per year turnover, the Halls’ commercial management has failed to attract significant funding from commercial sponsors or Arts Council or Lottery grants, and have consistently been making a trading loss in recent times.
No planning permission is required for the internal works at the Halls, but some changes to the 1960s-vintage building, including creating a new entrance on to College Green, will require approval. The first details of the scheme, which includes rebuilding Croydon College, demolishing a multi-storey car park and building hundreds of flats – whose sale, the council hopes, will help fund the overall project – were announced four months ago.
The council, which owns the building, has to push through its planning applications and secure some key contractors for the work before June 30, the date it has given the Fairfield Halls for closure.
The council leader, Tony Newman, has rather rashly boasted that “We are really aiming to outdo the South Bank” with the refurbished arts complex; the greatest similarity, perhaps, is that Croydon Council is using Rich Mather Architects, the same firm which supervised the refit of the similar vintage Royal Festival Halls.
At Monday night’s Town Hall meeting, Newman promised an announcement this week from his cabinet member for culture, Timothy Godfrey.
“There has been significant progress,” Newman said, “enabling us to crack on with the redevelopment and to ensure everyone concerned is treated properly and fairly.”
Fairfield Halls staff must be hoping that their management gets round to consulting them, “properly and fairly”, and sooner rather than later.
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