The council and BHLive, the venue managers appointed to run the Fairfield Halls, have been accused of “crass cultural vandalism” over secretive plans to change the name of the Arnhem Gallery when the town centre arts venue re-opens.
The arts centre is to be “transformed” (in the tawdry marketing speak being utilised by the BHLive), apparently into a venue for Rollerball, while an “exclusive business club” is also to be installed, with access only for the borough’s high-rollers.
Inside Croydon broke the news yesterday that the Fairfield Halls will not now open until September 2019 at the earliest, as its £30million refurbishment is running at least 15 months late, and forcing the postponement of the planned royal gala re-opening concert.
The refurbishment, which is being overseen by the council’s own house-building company, Brick by Brick, was supposed to take just two years, due to have finished in June this year.
Now, it has emerged that when the Fairfield Halls finally does re-open, BHLive wants to drop the Arnhem Gallery name, and retitle that part of the venue “The Croydon Recreation (Rec)”.
This is to be a 750 capacity standing live music venue which, according to BHLive, “for one month of the year, will transform into an indoor ice rink and during the summer months will be home to roller-disco events”. Because that’s the kind of cultural revolution that the people of Croydon have been calling out for, obviously.
No announcement about the change of name from the Arnhem Gallery has been made by Croydon’s Labour-run council. The details of the proposed name change and use of the venue were leaked in the past week following private tours of the site conducted by something calling itself “Croydon Constructing Excellence Club”.
The Arnhem Gallery has been an integral part of the Fairfield Halls since it opened in 1962.
Poignantly, the Gallery takes its name from the Dutch city which is twinned with Croydon, and where, in September 1944, some 17,000 British, American, Polish and Canadian troops were casualties during the course of the week-long battle against Nazi forces.
Half of those losses were from 1st Airborne, the British and Polish paratroopers dropped in or around Arnhem as part of Operation Market Garden, the audacious, but flawed, plan to break out of the Low Countries by capturing a string of bridges through to the Rhine.
Now, it seems, Croydon Council is going to allow what was supposed to be a perpetual recognition of the sacrifices made by allied service personnel to be erased from the borough’s heritage.
It won’t be the first piece of commemoration of the links with Arnhem to be destroyed.
The Arnhem Gate, a piece of Brutalist concrete architecture which spanned the area from Croydon College to the multi-storey car park behind the Fairfield Halls, has already been demolished to make way for Brick by Brick to build some of the thousands of money-spinning flats they have planned for the site.
The erasing of the name of the Arnhem Gallery has never been aired at any Croydon Council meeting, though the sale of naming rights was discussed at a scrutiny meeting last year. It is suggested that the decision has been handed to BHLive, allowing them to sell naming rights – in the manner of the O2 Arena – in lieu of the Fairfield Halls receiving any grant funding from the council towards their arts programme.
Neil Chandler, the former cruise liner entertainment officer who has been appointed as the Fairfield Halls venue director, led the site tours, where he is said to have told his privileged guests “of his vision to turn the huge foyer entrance into an aspirational community hub… ‘the heart of the venue’.”
Chandler also revealed his plan for “the Sky Lounge”, a private business club open to just 200 people “providing a high-end work/meeting lounge during the day, an exclusive ‘priority lounge’ for theatre goers by night and a late-night private business club bar late in to the evening”.
Large-scale steelworks have recently been put in place in the hole in the side of the Fairfield Halls where the Arnhem Gallery once was. The refurb will see an additional, second floor, with space where the kitchen used to be.
The removal of the Arnhem name from the venue, though, is likely to be highly contentious, at whatever price.
As one widely respected Town Hall figure told Inside Croydon today, “Why would they even consider doing such a thing? If it is all about money, then it is even more disturbing, because this is a Labour council which over three years has handed over nearly £500,000 of public money for a privately owned venue, Boxpark, to use as part of its promotional budget.
“What bad idea will they come up with next? Change the Ashcroft Theatre to the ‘Adele Arena’?
“Renaming the Arnhem Gallery is crass cultural vandalism of the borough’s heritage, and disrespectful of the sacrifices made by a previous generation.
“In a couple of weeks, it will be the 100th Remembrance Sunday, when no doubt council leader Tony Newman and various other council dignitaries, like chief executive Jo Negrini, will dutifully turn up with poppies in their lapels and bow their heads to those solemn words, ‘we will remember them’.
“Yet it is all too easy for them to forget Arnhem, from another global conflict, and all for a bit of cheap commercial opportunism.”
BHLive this week refused to respond to Inside Croydon’s questions about their Fairfield Halls plans.
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