We went to the Fairfield. It will be a while before we go again

The Fairfield Halls: re-opened, but unfinished

CROYDON COMMENTARY: The re-opening of the Fairfield Halls last week, after a refurbishment that took nearly four years and cost £41million, has met with some decidedly lukewarm reactions from Croydon residents and theatre-goers. Here reader DICK BUDGEN gives his first impressions

We went to Fairfield Halls for a concert of film music, and it wasn’t a great experience.

We arrived at 6.45 for the concert at 7.30pm, the idea to have a drink and a wander around before the show. We got neither. Everyone was corralled in the foyer and mezzanine, with burly security guards preventing anyone going through the doors to the stairs and areas around the auditorium.

I can understand why they wouldn’t open the auditorium itself (the orchestra was still doing its soundcheck), but there was no reason at all why they couldn’t have eased the crush in the foyer/mezz by allowing people into the other areas, which is normal at most concert venues.

Gone are the old volunteer stewards – instead there were dozens of young people in green FH sweatshirts ( I have a feeling that acronym is going to get a different interpretation) asking everyone if everything was alright. It wasn’t.

The foyer area was hot as hell and people were very unhappy, many fanning themselves with their programmes. The foyer bar was packed, with very long queues. The pop-up bar on the mezzanine was fully staffed, but for some inexplicable reason unable to sell drinks. They were the only bars.

Queues at the main bar were long, while the pop-up bar was staffed but unable to sell drinks

The doors to the Ashcroft, where I assume there is still a bar, remained locked. I believe there is a club lounge somewhere for those prepared to pay an annual £45 fee. We aren’t. Like most people we just gave up. If we come again, we’ll bring our own refreshment.

They eventually let us in at 7.30, five minutes before the concert was due to start (it eventually started at 7.40), and we went to find our seats.

The signage is very small and poor, and there were no staff outside the auditorium to assist. Luckily, we had treated ourselves to box seats, so we kept going up until we reached the top floor, where there were a series of unmarked doors.

Having visited a storage area behind the organ and another cupboard/office, we eventually found the boxes. We then had to guess which was ours, which we did by a process of elimination and with help from others engaged in the same exercise.

The concert itself was fine, although the stage looks very bare and unattractive. A bit of dressing or even some imaginative lighting wouldn’t have gone amiss.

I wasn’t impressed with the rest of the refurbishment either. As far as I could tell, all they’ve done is give the wood panelling a wipe, splash some paint on the walls and lay some new(er) carpet. If their intention was to retain the tattiness of the 1960s original they have certainly succeeded. It was, and still is, the Poor Man’s Festival Hall.

There are plenty of signs to show that work at the Halls is not complete

And I have no problem with that, if that was the intention.

But I saw nothing worth the three years-plus closure and £41million price tag. The project is clearly far from finished.

From our seats, we had an excellent view of the dust and detritus on top of the organ enclosure. By looking through windows and peering over fences, you can see that much of the complex is still a building site. The rear of the building, where I believe they were planning improved access for stage trucks (one of the reasons given for the need to update the venue), looks virtually untouched.

What on earth have they been doing since June 2016?

You expect a few glitches when a venue re-opens after a period of closure, But this was dreadful. It will be a while before we go again.

Read Inside Croydon’s reports on the Fairfield Halls’ not-so-grand re-opening events last week:

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6 Responses to We went to the Fairfield. It will be a while before we go again

  1. I was also in attendance on Saturday and I think this is a little unfair, although I am a newcomer to the area and have no memories of Fairfield Hall prior to the refurbishment.

    The concert itself was excellent, the hall itself has great acoustics. The staff were friendly and directed us to our seats. The bars were packed and service a tad slow but I wonder how much of this was down to it being opening weekend.

    Regardless of whether the refurb itself was worth £40m, it is refreshing to have a cultural venue we can now visit in the heart of Croydon; bar live music nights at the Oval Tavern the town is severely lacking entertainment options.

    That said, the programme for the next year seems to resemble New Wimbledon Theatre…apart from the Royal Philharmonic nights there isn’t much I would go see. Given size/prestige of the venue, would it be too much to ask to get some big name productions and bands on the bill?

    • dickb4925 says:

      If the planned enhancements to backstage access have been dropped from the plan, then you can forget about ever seeing big name productions and bands at the Fairfield.

      I have a chum who runs an international fleet of event trucks and he tells me there is no way that most current headliners could get in there, the best you are likely to see is local bands and the occasional orchestra.

  2. Mike Buckley says:

    Interesting, we went to the opening concert and also complained of the same signage of which you complain and were told that it had been carefully thought about and installed, however since we commented on it this would be reviewed – seem it may have been (though I rather doubt it) and nothing has been done! You missed the newly painted grey flool in the main auditorium and failed to admire the “originality” of the seating, while failing to even notice that the broken and missing lamp shades had been replaced.

  3. davidjl2014 says:

    This article makes depressing reading but I believe every word of it. Having attended the re-opening of the Ashcroft last week myself, I too noticed that things have changed for the worst.
    Firstly you mention the absence of the Corps of Stewards only to be replaced by kids in green tee shirts. It is obvious that they haven’t been trained correctly and in consequence don’t have a clue what they are doing. Tom Piper (the first General Manager) introduced the all male stewards upon the opening of the halls. These were mainly retired local men with time on their hands and did the job voluntarily in exchange for watching the show. Great idea and it worked for years. The ladies were also involved as program sellers under similar terms. On a number of occasions there were waiting lists for people willing to do these jobs!
    The downstairs bar too really hasn’t been designed well. The old one (not part of the original decor) could have been accused of being too dark, this one is too light. White paint in a bar! It will show every mark imaginable and will probably need repainting every 6 months. And at a price tag of £41 million you would have thought that someone would have had the bright idea to replace the seats in both the Playhouse and The Concert Hall.
    This situation upsets me greatly, as my late father was Chairman of the Halls for over 10 years in the 60’s/70’s and in those days Fairfield was the pride of Croydon. I know he was very annoyed about how it had been allowed to deteriorate by the time he passed away in 2015. Your article is very sad but needs to be reported. Well done Mr Budgen.

    • Mike Buckley says:

      Wednesday’s concert seems to have taken by management as a trial run to see what else can go wrong!

      By now, they should have sorted out how to run a bar – unless something along the lines of a “p***-up in a brewery” comes to mind! The Christmas programme will be interesting as I havent found out which “Pantomime” is planned, on or off stage

  4. John Mitchell says:

    My wife and I travelled up from Eastbourne full of expectation on re visiting the Fairfield, which we have supported for over 50 years, to attend the film concert, having purchased two tickets online. Firstly, contrary to the website, there was no ‘multi story car park next to the venues’ .Locked gates barred the way to a building site in which a car park will be constructed by the middle of next year. The nearest one was the Whitgift car park, at least five minutes walk away, at least for those without mobility problems. On entering the sparse entrance hall, we looked for the dining facility, also mentioned on the web site, which was also non existent. Apparently the Bistro will be opening in a months time! Instead there was a small cafeteria selling beverages, with half empty shelves containing sandwiches (none gluten free), crisps and sausage rolls..We then found a commissionaire and inquired where we could get the bar coded on our tickets scanned. We were told an attendant would be available, armed with a gun (!) for this purpose, in the entrance hall at 7pm. Having failed to find one, we were told to go upstairs to the corridors where the tickets would be scanned. We then experienced the long wait to get through the doors from the terrace, by security staff as mentioned above. They had no idea why we could not proceed or when we would be allowed access. At 7.20 pm the doors opened , by which time the Terrace was packed, with patrons filling right down the main the stair cases.. No staff were on the inner doors and when we made our way to our £48.00 seats, we found they had been removed to allow space for engineers and mixing desks! Eventually we located an usherette who found two seats for us in the disabled seating area. Finally, during the interval we hunted for ice creams, only to be told that they were on the horizon. It was to be expected that there might be a few teething problems, but our frustrating experience, ruined an otherwise excellent concert.
    We shall not be returning.

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