There have been unconfirmed reports that BHLive, the Bournemouth-based operators in charge of running the council-owned Fairfield Halls, have this week begun making their full-time employees in Croydon redundant.
According to BHLive insiders, the move could see the Fairfield Halls handed back to Croydon Council control, as the operators look to cut their losses on an arrangement which has proved to be very costly for them. It is widely understood that BHLive never signed their operating lease with Croydon Council.
The Fairfield Halls only reopened last September after more than three years’ closure for a £43million-plus refurbishment. In June, Inside Croydon reported how around 80 part-time casual workers – among them the venue’s ushers, cloakroom staff, bar workers – were told they were being let go because the management was being forced to go into what it called “hibernation” until 2021 because of coronavirus.
Now, it is understood that the venue’s 30 or so full-time staff are beginning the redundancy consultation.
Having ridden along on the government-funded furlough scheme since March, BHLive has begun laying off staff across all its south coast venues and leisure centres before the end of this month, as that assistance programme winds down.
From this month, employers with staff on the government’s furlough scheme have to pay their National Insurance and pension contributions. The scheme will stop altogether at the end of October.
Around 300 employees in Bournemouth and Portsmouth, out of around 480 BHLive staff, are set to lose their jobs, according to insiders.
Today, the Bournemouth local newspaper reported BHLive’s chief executive Chris Symons as saying, “The impact of coronavirus has devastated many sectors and we too have had to make some really difficult decisions to secure the future of our organisation.
“Since we were required to close our centres and venues in March, we have had very little opportunity to trade and bring in the necessary income to cover our costs.
“Because of the furlough scheme, we have been able to support as many employees as possible, for as long as possible. However as the scheme is changing, and we are not able to fully return to trading at this time, job losses will be an unfortunate and regrettable reality of this pandemic.
“We have entered into a period of consultation with our employees and hope to minimise the numbers affected. But by making these changes now, we can secure the future of BHLive, and support our recovery which will enable us to continue to play a key role in the communities we serve.”
BHLive is a not-for-profit business which was set up to run the entertainment, conference and fitness venues of the old Bournemouth council, including the Bournemouth International Centre and Pavilion. It later took on the Mountbatten Leisure Centre and Pyramids in Portsmouth, and in 2017 was appointed by Croydon Council to operate the Fairfield Halls.
Under the Town Hall’s “innovative” arrangement, after paying for the poorly finished and bungled refurbishment work, the council removed its annual £1million revenue funding for the venues, leaving BHLive to pay for the running of the Halls, in theory to be paid out of sponsorships, grants and ticket sales.
But after just six months of plays, concerts and performances, the venue was struggling to attract large audience numbers. In February, just before the covid-19 lockdown hit, the Fairfield’s artistic director quit.
Croydon Council has made no statement about the Fairfield Halls situation, or the staff losing their jobs.
Neither BHLive nor Ollie “Butt Plugs” Lewis, the Labour-run council’s cabinet member for arts and shit, responded to Inside Croydon’s questions about the redundancies and the future of the Fairfield Halls.
Now, with few if any BHLive staff remaining on site, there are growing concerns about the council’s plans – announced just weeks ago – to allow theatre groups and dance companies to use the Halls as a rehearsal venue until it can reopen to audiences once again, or prospects for reopening early in 2021. The annual Croydon Pantomime, usually the Fairfield Halls’ biggest money-spinner, has already been abandoned for 2020.
And the council is potentially seeking new managers for the 1,200-seat Concert Hall, the Ashcroft Theatre and the barely used Wreck performance space.
Croydon is London’s Borough of Culture in 2023.
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