Political editor WALTER CRONXITE on a rare outbreak of critical thinking in the council chamber, as one councillor spells out for the Fairfield Halls management the blatant imbecility of one of their proposed name changes
At last, a Labour councillor has spoken out in the interests of the public, rather than toeing the party line and failing to question even the most absurd proposals from council officials or their contractors.
Take a bow, Joy Prince, one of the councillors from Waddon ward, who at last week’s scrutiny committee in the Town Hall chamber spelled out quite how stupid she thinks are the plans to change the long-standing and respected name of the Arnhem Gallery.
Some overpaid marketing genius has decided to rename the Arnhem Gallery as “the Croydon Wreck”.
The name change comes from BHLive, the Bournemouth-based venue managers appointed by the council to operate the Fairfield Halls when they eventually re-open.
Katharine Street sources suggest that BHLive have been given pretty much carte blanche by Croydon Council over how they run the Fairfield Halls, because they are relieving the local authority of most of the burden of its running costs.
This extends to being allowed to sell “naming rights” for its venues, and the operators have even offered grand comparisons to the likes of the Emirates Stadium or the O2 Arena.
However, there’s been no mention of a sponsor waiting in the wings to add their logo to the Croydon Wreck. Not a penny is being added to the venue’s bottom line, but BHLive appear determined to change the name of the Arnhem Gallery for the sake of it.
Councillor Prince was having none of it.
She spoke up for the people of Croydon, and she nailed the ridiculousness of the proposal for what it is.
“A rec is a small park or a dead ship,” said the Labour councillor.
There was sense that she might go on to invoke the spirit of Monty Python in her ridicule of the idea, and start citing lines such as “pushing up the daisies”.
But instead, sensibly, Councillor Prince nailed the matter with a statement of the bleedin’ obvious. “I really don’t feel that it is appropriate for any part of the Fairfield Halls,” she said.
“Could I beg you to reconsider Croydon Rec?”
Councillor Prince then spelled it out.
“To me it sounds like W R E C K.
“Even if it does appear in people’s minds as R E C, they think of it as a recreation ground.”
Prince’s comments reflected those of the Croydon residents whose Council Tax pay her and her 69 councillor colleagues’ allowances to represent their interests.
Though sadly, for the cause of common sense and the borough’s heritage, none of the other elected councillors, including scrutiny chair Sean Fitzsimons, took up Prince’s cause as they questioned Neil Chandler, the former cruise ship entertainments officer who has been appointed to manage the Fairfield Halls.
Although Chandler gave an undertaking to take Councillor Prince’s comments “back to the team”, it seems unlikely that BHLive would ever accept that lumbering the Arnhem Gallery with a ridiculous new name for no good reason is, simply, A Bad Idea.
“The Croydon Rec is the name of the new live music venue, recreational because it is there for people to enjoy their recreational time,” was Chandler’s lame defence.
He went on: “It is going to be a great space. It was called the Arnhem Gallery, which wasn’t a gallery.”
Which, of course, is untrue. The Arnhem Gallery “space” did indeed serve as an art gallery, and it was also used as a performance venue, as required. “Gallery” helped to distinguish it from the Hall, where most musical concerts were staged, and Theatre (the Ashcroft), as the drama venue. The burghers who built the Fairfield Halls in the late 1950s had clearly thought things through, which can’t be said of their 21st century successors.
The sop to public opinion being offered by Chandler is to shift the use of the Arnhem name, which marks Croydon’s 70-year twinning relationship with the Dutch town, to the entrance lobby of the Fairfield Halls.
In that, BHLive have the willing collaboration of Oliver Lewis, the Labour council cabinet member for the arts who earlier this year defended the council handing over thousands of pounds in grants to a performance art festival where acts included “demystifying the anus” with an array of butt plugs, and a performer who deliberately induced herself to have incontinence so she might shit and piss while on stage.
At the scrutiny committee, “Caddy” Lewis said that he will be dragging over dignitaries from the Netherlands in October 2019 – the Halls might actually have re-opened by then – to witness how their hometown is now being “honoured”. In the Fairfield Halls entrance lobby.
“We will be keeping the Arnhem name and moving it to the foyer which is the heart of the building which is about the community of Croydon, so it is the absolutely perfect space for the name Arnhem,” said Chandler, entirely unconvincingly.
“And that foyer won’t be a windy old foyer with the wind whistling through the doors,” he said, “because we have two sets of doors to make sure it is nice and comfortable just as the Claude Ballroom is at the South Bank Centre.”
Chandler’s knowledge of the Fairfield Halls’ heritage let him down once again: there were two sets of doors even before the £40million refurbishment.But he was only addressing Croydon councillors, and none of them pulled him up on his bullshit.
The bill for the refurbishment has risen by an estimated £10million because of delays in the project, which is being overseen by the council’s award-winning house builders, Brick by Brick. The Fairfield Halls were originally due to re-open in July this year, but now won’t be staging any performances until September 2019 – 15 months late on a two-year project.
The delays and repeated postponements have been a disaster for Chandler and BHLive, who have to carry costs through to the opening without any revenue stream, as well as having the huge embarrassment of cancelling the planned gala re-opening concert, which was supposed to have been attended by the Queen’s son, the Earl of Wessex.
BHLive claim that their website with booking details for their much-postponed first season will go live on January 16.
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