There is growing concern for the well-being of which ever member of the Fairfield Halls staff has been placed in charge of the venue’s official Twitter feed, as they have been issuing messages with a near maniacal-zeal, claiming that the next three months will be the venue’s “final season”.
The Fairfield Halls is to close temporarily in July, as it is to undergo a £30million modernisation, due to re-open in 2018.
The Fairfield Halls Twitter account is usually a fairly demure and subdued marketing tool.
But following a few initial faltering attempts yesterday evening, whoever was at the keyboard for an hour or so after lunch today managed to send more than 100 tweets, all with the same message, tagging a range of cultural venues and personalities, ranging from “glamour” model Katie Price to the Royal Albert Hall, from Peppa Pig to the Osmonds, from The Who to David Walliams, in what appeared to be a fairly desperate attempt at starting a last-gasp social media campaign to derail the refurbishment project.
The messages said: “Croydon’s iconic #FairfieldHalls closing on 15 July. Join us in our 54th and final season. Please RT” (meaning re-tweet to the celebs’ followers).
The Twitter activity has not gone down well with Croydon Council, which is funding the long-overdue multi-million-pound refit, as well as stumping up £800,000 for the Fairfield Halls management to be able to meet its obligations to its 150 staff over redundancy arrangements.
Senior Town Hall figures have been openly expressing their frustration with the Fairfield Halls management over their failure to promote adequately this Sunday’s celebrity comedy night, featuring a stellar line-up of stand-up acts, in what is supposed to be one of the biggest set-piece fund-raising events for the Mayor of Croydon’s charities at the end of Patricia Hay-Justice’s year in the role.
It has even been suggested that the Fairfield staff have under-sold Sunday’s charity event – which features Reginald D Hunter, Kevin Day and Mark Steel – in an attempt in some way to “get back” at the council.
“There’s a lot of staff at Fairfield Halls, many of them young and passionate, and of course they are unhappy that the temporary closure of the venue means that they will be losing their jobs,” a Katharine Street source said.
“But some of the stuff coming out of there is unprofessional and petulant. That it has been allowed to happen at all demonstrates a failure of the senior management.”
Some at the council believe that carrying a large part of the responsibility for this attitude is Simon Thomsett, the £90,000 a year chief executive of Fairfield Halls.
Thomsett and his management staff failed to hold any meetings with the Halls staff for months, until early this year, thereby allowing uncertainty and resentment to fester. Some at the Labour-run council believe that the Halls management – including Thomsett, who looks set to lose his juicy salary – encouraged staff to direct their ire at the council, while offering false hope of a “phased redevelopment”, which would cost the borough’s Council Tax-payers an additional £5 million.
Last week, Thomsett played an active part in a Save The Fairfield Halls rally, which was enthusiastically backed by the local Tories.
The chair of Fairfield Halls, Kate Vennell, is now being referred to by some at the Town Hall as “Kate Venal”, after she accepted the council’s lump sum towards her organisation’s redundancy payments, but has refused to allow details of the deal to be made public.
Last year, according to Companies House records, Fairfield Halls made a modest £100,000 surplus on a £6 million turnover, only after receiving a significant subsidy from the venue owners, Croydon Council. Such financial figures, and a hefty pensions liability, suggest that the Halls will not have been able to pay redundancy had the council not stepped in.
Last week, “Venal” told Inside Croydon that “discussion about phasing is no longer a useful one”, which discomforted the Tory-led Save Fairfields campaign, whose “non-political” meeting at the Halls saw Conservative councillors – including those who had blocked significant refurbishment work since 2006 – given a platform to speak against the redevelopment plans.
“Where were these Fairfield Halls campaigners from 2006, when refurbishment plans were put on hold by the council and the Fairfield was allowed to slowly rot, suffering an agonising demise?” the Town Hall source asked.
“Vennell’s options were clear: she could accept the council’s money to pay her redundancy bill, or she could resign as chair and continue to argue over a phased redevelopment plan for which there is not enough money available. She chose the former. Perhaps she should be reminded of that?”
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