Will long-delayed Fairfield Halls re-open on time? ‘It’s got to’

Builders have been on site all week, and all weekend, including the last two bank holidays, to get the Fairfield Halls open by its latest, revised deadline in September

Our arts correspondent, BELLA BARTOCK, donned a hi-viz jacket and hard hat to check on the progress being made on the £41million-plus project on the borough’s arts centre, where the first month’s programme runs from royalty to Redknapp

No expense is being spared to ensure that, this time round, the Fairfield Halls really does open on time.

Tomorrow night, June 12, was to have been the royal re-opening concert, with all bells and whistles (and the rest of a symphony orchestra), attended by the Earl and Countess of Wessex. The Fairfield Halls have been closed since 2016, so what was promised would be a two-year refurbishment has already over-run by a year, and the original £30million budget was busted long ago.

The embarrassment and added costs incurred when, last year, the management at BHLive were forced to admit defeat and cancel the gala event, have been considerable.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex will be back in the Fairfield Halls audience in September

We are now in the final 100 days before the re-opening, set for September 16, which is at least the fifth re-opening date that has been scheduled during the fraught refurbishment, a project which has been bungled from the start by the council-owned housing developers, Brick by Brick.

The Wessexes have agreed to come back to Croydon, too (they clearly don’t have quite as busy a royal appointments diary as, say, Will and Harry), and they will be in attendance in the main concert hall on September 18. Astutely, that’s arranged for two days after the doors first re-open, and is being billed as a 70th anniversary concert for the London Mozart Players.

Tickets are reasonably priced for the classical concert, in a concert hall which appears little changed from before the refurbishment project began.

Asked if the Fairfield Halls will be ready on time, the builders say, ‘It’s got to be’

And there’s a £15 after-party ticket available, though no guarantees that Eddie (the LMP’s Patron) and his Duchess will be mixing it among the cheap prosecco and Croydon canapés.

But to get the old place in a long-overdue state of readiness, the contractors and their building workers are putting in the hours.

Throughout May, and into June, work has been going on on-site every weekend, including (at least) the last two bank holidays. All of that overtime mounts up, so it will be of wide public interest when the final bills come in who it is that’s left to pick up the tab – tthe council (and therefore Council Tax-payers), Brick by Brick (so Council Tax-payers again), or the contractors. 

As it is, the council is already, if reluctantly, admitting that costs have reached at least £41million for the refurb, and that seems unlikely to be the final figure.

Some groups are being invited on to the site to see the progress. Venue management, as you’d expect, is trotting out the rehearsed line that all is going swimmingly and will be on time.

Go down the building site foodchain a little, and reassuringly for once, the message is the same. I asked a couple of builders if it would be ready to open on time.

With no hesitation, they said: “It’s got to be.”

The builders are being reminded of the task in hand

Clearly, the penalty clauses in the contractors’ contracts are starting to bite.

There’s even a little countdown message on the wall, just to keep everyone’s mind focused on the task in hand… 96 days and counting.

A full BHLive marketing and publicity team was due to start work last week.

That might help to update the Fairfield Halls’ online booking site so that the address is listed as being in Croydon, and not in dozy Dorset-by-the-sea.

It seems that the promoters have an inflated opinion of the pulling power of one of their Dorset near-neighbours, Harry Redknapp.

Dapper: at 50 quid a picture, you’d expect no less

Poole resident Redknapp, the former football manager now passed off as a celebrity after his king-of-the-jungle performance last year, is doing “An Audience with…” gig in the main concert hall on October 1, where “VIP” tickets are a whopping £84.25 – a 50 quid surplus just for the chance of having your picture taken with the bloke.

When Max Hastings, John Humphrys and Janet Street-Porter come to the Croydon venue in September to shoot their mouths off (they all have books to flog), they will do so with no charge for tickets, and stuck out in the Fairfield’s foyer.

And after a somewhat subdued first booking for the re-opened Ashcroft Theatre, the end of September will see the world premiere of the musical of Angela’s Ashes, based on Frank McCourt’s much-loved novel, the kind of show which could go some way to re-establishing the Fairfield Halls’ reputation as a leading arts venue in outer London.

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
This entry was posted in Arnhem Gallery, Art, Ashcroft Theatre, BH Live, Fairfield Halls, London Mozart Players, Music, Theatre and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Will long-delayed Fairfield Halls re-open on time? ‘It’s got to’

  1. Isaiah Fapuro says:

    I have to say I was very surprised to see advertising on Southern Rail with a specific date on it promoting the opening – September 16th. Ladies and Gents: Place your bets?

  2. derekthrower says:

    You having a giraffe. An upbeat musical version of “Angela’s Ashes” establishing the Fairfields reputation. Sounds like the premise used in the Producer’s production of “Springtime for Hitler”. Near £50 million spend on leaving the Theatre looking exactly the same as it was before. Now what did the Producers do to the Theatre when they found they had an unexpected success on their hands?

    • We’re all critics now, eh, Del boy?

      Les Mis is hardly an upbeat musical of a grim novel, now is it? Giving a stage to new works is a positive step for the Fairfield, which I think we agree had become far too reliant in the last 20 years on sorry tribute acts and very dated comics.

      Happy to take your considered review of the musical of Angela’s Ashes after you’ve seen the show’s first night, though, Derek.

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