Our arts correspondent, BELLA BARTOCK, on the latest piece of meddling going on around the much-delayed arts venue’s refurbishment
Neil Chandler, the former cruise ship entertainments officer who has been placed in charge of the Fairfield Halls’ artistic programme has now decided that he is going to change the name of the Ashcroft Theatre.
Croydon’s principal theatre since the Fairfield Halls opened in 1962, taking its name from the Oscar-winning, Croydon-born actress, Dame Peggy Ashcroft, is to be re-named… “The Ashcroft Playhouse”. Yep. That’s it.
Chandler works for BHLive, the Bournemouth-based venue managers and event organisers who have been handed the rights to manage and promote the Fairfield Halls, which has been closed since June 2016 while under-going a £30million Croydon Council refurbishment of the venue.
While the council owns the Fairfield Halls, BHLive has been handed carte blanche over the management of the venues, and revenue streams, instead of getting the £1million annual subsidy which used to be paid by the Town Hall.
Chandler has decided to discard part of this borough’s heritage by renaming the Arnhem Gallery as “the Croydon Wreck”, turning it into a live music venue, in direct competition with council-subsidised Boozepark on the other side of the so-called “Cultural Quarter”.
The Arnhem Gallery re-naming has never been discussed by Croydon Council, and in a snap poll held by Inside Croydon, 92 per cent of respondents opposed the name change.
No reason has been given for the seemingly pointless change of the established and renowned Ashcroft Theatre name to the Ashcroft Playhouse.
Nor has it been discussed in the Town Hall chamber or announced by the council.
The change was slipped out last week, in a little-viewed video report, hosted by Chandler, on a YouTube channel which has been seen by just 344 people in five days. That is a smaller number than those who participated in Inside Croydon’s Arnhem Gallery poll in a similar period of time.
“What’s the point? What will it even achieve? It is just wanton meddling for meddling’s sake,” one clearly angry Katharine Street figure said when informed of the Ashcroft Theatre change.
Today, the senior Labour councillor who was responsible for the appointment of BHLive broke his silence on the matter.
Until May, Timothy Godfrey was a Labour councillor and as cabinet member for the arts, oversaw all aspects of the Fairfield Halls refurbishment and planned for its management under BHLive.
“It’s vital that BHLive maximise the commercial opportunities to support their business and thus support community work, theatre, music and performance that needs funding,” Godfrey wrote on social media.
“Good luck to them if they think that amending names of the different stages or rooms will make the venue more attractive to audiences and promoters.”
And if that is the best that BHLive has to offer to attract audiences, promoters and sponsors, then their financial model for running the Fairfield Halls could be under pressure very quickly – not helped by the 15-month delay in the council’s contractors completing the refurbishment work.
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