Fairfield’s Vennell: The phasing argument is ‘no longer useful’

Kate Vennell, the chair of the charity board which runs the Fairfield Halls, has today dismissed any further calls for a phased redevelopment of Croydon’s arts venue, which is due to close in July to allow a £30 million council-funded refurbishment programme to begin.

The Fairfield Halls, with College Green top left of picture, is about to be changed forever

The Fairfield Halls, with College Green top left of picture, is about to be changed forever

“The discussion about phasing is no longer a useful one,” Vennell told Inside Croydon.

Vennell was speaking following a meeting of the Tory-backed Save Our Fairfield organisation which was staged at the Halls on Wednesday – two months after the charity which Vennell chairs accepted £800,000 from the council towards the costs of the redundancy programme to allow the long overdue refurbishment to get underway.

The meeting organisers, who still try to claim to be apolitical,  made much of the absence from the meeting of anyone from the council. What they failed to mention was that no one from Fairfield (Croydon) Ltd, the charity which actually runs the Fairfield Halls, had been invited to speak at the meeting.

The Save Our Fairfield campaign has opposed the closure, calling for a phased redevelopment – as favoured by Dudley Mead, a former Fairfield trustee and deputy leader of Croydon Conservatives, and by Simon Thomsett, the Fairfield Halls’ £90,000-a-year CEO who is among the 149 staff (according to Charity Commission records) who will be seeking new jobs.

Those proposing a more costly phased redevelopment have expressed the fear that the re-opened venue would struggle to re-build its audiences.

None of those arguing for a phased redevelopment have suggested any reasonable scheme to fund the additional £5 million, at least, that it would cost to keep the venue open during the refit.

Kate Vennnell: Fairfield board chair who has bowed to inevitable

Kate Vennnell: Fairfield board chair

The Fairfield Halls is owned by Croydon Council, who lease it to the charitable trust to operate as an arts venue and convention centre. Plans to refurbish the venue have existed for almost a decade, but were stalled after the Conservatives took control of the Town Hall in 2006. Labour included a refurbishment pledge in its 2014 local election manifesto, and began negotiations with Vennell and the trustees more than a year ago (as is clear from the company records).

Vennell says she “deeply respects” the depth of feeling by the Halls’ audiences who “hugely value what we’ve offered”. But she signalled that it is time to get on with the work of upgrading the 1960s-built Fairfield Halls to be fit for the 21st Century.

“My focus for the charity is now moving forward in constructive conversations with the council about the vision for the future, our potential to be the operator and our interim activity,” Vennell said.

Vennell welcomed the arrival of the council’s new culture director, Paula Murray, who formally began her secondment with Croydon last week. “I’m pleased with the good engagement I’m getting from the council on this from both Timothy Godfrey…” the Labour councillor and cabinet member for arts, culture and sport, “and Paula Murray.

“For us the discussion about phasing is no longer a useful one.”

Details of the council bail-out for Fairfield Halls staff have not been published – Town Hall sources suggest that the Halls directors won’t allow it – but some of the more lurid misinformation discussed at Wednesday’s meeting, such as the Halls having to sell its two Steinway grand pianos to meet its redundancy bills, have been dismissed.

Claims by the Save Our Fairfield campaign that it is apolitical are somewhat undermined by the photo shoot featuring numerous Croydon Tories which appeared on the local Conservatives' website

Claims by the Save Our Fairfield campaign that it is not politically inspired were somewhat undermined by the photoshoot featuring numerous Croydon Tory councillors and which appeared on the local Conservatives’ website

The issue of the Halls’ £4.6 million pension liability remains – the business is technically insolvent, according to its own accounts – but a modernised venue offers the prospect of a more more commercially successful future.

“I’m pleased the council has bailed out the Fairfield Halls with a cash injection,” Godfrey said today. “This ensures that they are in a better financial state than they have been in years, pay all their suppliers, and give confidence to audiences in the coming months.

“Such a major project is never easy. However, choosing to complete the £30 million project in as short a time as possible ensures the Halls are reopened in just two years as well as saving tax-payers £8 million in the extra costs involved in phasing the works.”

The council says it has set out its position fully here, while the planning applications for the various works proposed around College Green are available here, presenting a whole set of other questions about the associated developments.


About insidecroydon

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
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3 Responses to Fairfield’s Vennell: The phasing argument is ‘no longer useful’

  1. Wendy Wigger says:

    Have to disagree with this article, I was at that meeting, it was not political at all…until one gentlemen in the audience started to mention different councillors and their parties and was politely told that it wasn’t political. And there was no public discussion about Fairfield having to sell their pianos to pay for anything.

    • The very calling of the meeting – and the deliberate exclusion of anyone from the board of the Fairfield Halls – were calculatedly political acts, encouraged by the local Tories.

      You must have missed the party political speech given by Sara “Book Token” Bashford, the deputy leader of Croydon Conservatives, no less, which spoke of her and other Tory councillors’ support for the campaign “from the start”.

      Funnily enough, Bashford’s new-found enthusiasm for the arts in Croydon saw her forget to mention her record of assisting with the unlawful flogging off of the Riesco Collection, the axing of the Mela and the closing of the Warehouse Theatre.

      And now the Tories, who had eight years in which they did next to nothing to refurbish the Fairfield Halls, find it politically expedient to try to sabotage a £30m scheme.

      Yeah, really non-political.

  2. davidjl2014 says:

    Here lies the problem. Local Councils shouldn’t get involved in National Party politics. This is the exact cause of most of the problems in Croydon, and other Local Councils up and down the country. A Local Councillor should be elected to serve his/her community, not Cameron or Corbyn’s ideologies. In days gone by people stood for Town Hall positions as “Rate-Payers”. Those people had an interest how to spend our money. Today, the Councillors couldn’t care less. The people of Croydon are just Cash Cows to their politics whether Tory or Labour. The elected Councillor’s (and there’s no qualification required) ignorance of what’s best for the local community consequentially becomes influenced by their own political ambitions and beliefs.
    It’s sad really, because Local Councils were never originally set up for this purpose. The creation of Inner Cabinets, over-paid Councillors and party politics have turned the whole thing into a farce. Fairfield Halls opening in 1962 was built to serve a community, and those who now make a political issue out of it should hang their heads in shame.

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