In the latest embarrassing blow for the council-owned arts centre, the Fairfield Halls has received a warning from the Advertising Standards Authority over repeatedly making misleading and false claims to be “south London’s biggest arts centre”.
The official reproach ought to be an object lesson to the promotions company running the venue that they really should never believe the lies of third-rate local politicians.
The Fairfield Halls re-opened last September after a late-running and vastly over-budget refurbishment and has since struggled to draw in big audiences.
They have cancelled shows in the new “Wreck” performance space, and last month the artistic director quit his job, as BHLive, the company which operates the venue on behalf of the council, seeks to go more downmarket, looking at offering all-in wrestling and more tribute acts.
When the Fairfield re-opened, it used the bogus claim about being the biggest arts centre in south London on posters plastered on rubbish bins and on the back of bus stops around the town centre.
It also had banners made with the claim, which hang from lampposts all along George Street.
And even last month, as BHLive issued a press release with details of its programme of entertainments at the Fairfield Halls over the coming year, they shamelessly repeated the bogus claim.
Maybe, being as BHLive are based in Bournemouth, they don’t realise that the South Bank Centre is also in south London. Though, to be fair, there is a clue in the name.
The Fairfield’s bogus claim echoes a boast made in the Town Hall chamber before the venue closed for refurbishment in June 2016, when council leader Tony Newman said that when it re-opened, the Halls would be “bigger and better than the South Bank”.
That claim was clearly bullshit at the time, and now the Advertising Standards Authority has stepped in to stop BHLive repeating the false claim.
The ASA – whose own motto is: “Legal, decent, honest and truthful” – responded to a complaint from the public, and this week they confirmed that they had been in touch with BHLive about the false claim.
The ASA told the complainant: “We’ve assessed the ad you highlighted and, from the information we have, we think it likely to have breached the Advertising Rules that we administer. We are writing to let you know that we have taken steps to address this.
“We have explained your concerns to the advertiser and provided guidance to them on the areas that require attention, together with advice on how to ensure that their advertising complies with the rules.”
The ASA added that they had “provided guidance” to BHLive “to explain that before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation.
“Furthermore, any ads which include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must be verifiable.”
There was no immediate sign this week that the Fairfield Halls had done anything to remove their false claims – which remain written in large type on the banners draped along George Street, the main route from East Croydon Station to the venue.
And while the ASA reproach may be a minor consideration given the other, major disappointments facing Croydon town centre recently, the past fortnight’s news does mean that Croydon’s council leader Tony Newman now will be denied having south London’s biggest shopping centre, and nor will his council be able to boast of having south London’s biggest arts centre any longer.
In some respects, that’s probably just as well.
As he approaches the conclusion of his mayoral year, Councillor Humayun Kabir is hoping to raise loads of dosh with a charity concert at the Fairfield Halls on Saturday.
But even with tickets for just a tenner (or 30 quid if you want some prosecco and nibbles on the Sun Lounge beforehand), and with just 48 hours to go, the Fairfield Halls site shows a considerable number of places in the 1,500-seater auditorium still available to book.
And that’s with the balcony closed off and not available.
Imagine how empty the place might have looked come Saturday if the Fairfield Halls really was south London’s biggest arts venue…
Croydon, it should be noted, was awarded £1.3million by Mayor Sadiq Khan last month towards being London’s Borough of Culture in 2023. Hopefully, by then, all claims made for the borough will be legal, decent, honest and truthful.
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