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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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