BELLA BARTOCK, our socially distanced arts correspondent, on a mystery surrounding a massive government recovery grant
BHLive, the operator who runs the Fairfield Halls on behalf of Croydon Council, has received a £2.5million grant under the government’s Culture Recovery Fund – which they call “a financial lifeline” and say they will use to “secure the future of cultural events for the communities we serve”.
The money appears to be intended to be split across the Croydon arts centre and BHLive-run venues in Bournemouth.
This latest round of funding includes some of the largest covid-support grants the Arts Council has administered to date, and means the Fairfield Halls is alongside world-renowned venues such as Shakespeare’s Globe and the Sheffield Crucible in getting a slice of the £1.57billion government recovery fund.
The council-owned Fairfield Halls went into lockdown six months ago, and BHLive was quick to lay off all but a handful of staff, the redundancies coming weeks before the end of the government-subsidised furlough scheme. In total, across all its operations, BHLive laid off 200 staff.
BHLive says that the Croydon venues – which includes the Ashcroft Theatre and 1,500-seater Concert Hall – are in “hibernation”, but it has not provided any guidance on when they might begin even a partial, covid-secure re-opening
Nor has BHLive provided any detail of how the cash – £2,499,531 – will be divvied up across its venues, but the social enterprise’s chief executive Chris Symons said, “This much-needed award will secure the future of cultural events for the communities we serve.
“We will be able to retain some of our talented team and bring forward essential investment in service and event technology which is now needed more than ever. It will enable us to meet ongoing costs while our venues are in hibernation and assist us in getting our venues ready and covid-secure – providing essential reassurance for our customers and colleagues.
“Furthermore, in collaboration with resident and visiting companies, BHLive is planning to deliver a series of community events and socially distanced performances to encourage audiences back into its venues as soon as they can viably reopen.”
Sir Nicholas Serota, the chair of Arts Council England, said, “This latest funding, which are the largest grants to date, will support some of the country’s most loved and admired cultural spaces – from great regional theatres and museums to historic venues in the capital – which are critical to the development of a new generation of talent and in providing work for freelance creatives.”
BHLive is a social enterprise best known for running leisure centres and swimming pools. It manages the arena at Bournemouth International Centre. The main cultural venue it operates in Dorset is the Bournemouth Pavilion.
In their press release issued over the weekend, they said, “As a social enterprise, BHLive relies on profits from commercial activity to fund its community arts programmes, subsidise grassroots performances, and to provide accessible learning and cultural experiences for all. The coronavirus pandemic and ongoing trading restrictions have had a significant impact on BHLive’s ability to run these events and generate the income it needs to support its charitable work.
“The award will be used to help secure the future of live events and protect the provision of theatre, live performance and cultural events for all in communities across Dorset, Hampshire and London. It will also be used to safeguard highly skilled jobs in the live performance sector that would otherwise be lost.”
The Arts Council declined to release details of BHLive’s grant application or how much of the grant is intended to be spent at the Fairfield Halls. By the time of publication, BHLive had not responded to Inside Croydon’s request for information about how much of the £2.5million grant will be used at the Fairfield Halls.
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Surely it is it the public interest to see how they intend to spend the money; what rubbish did they spout on their application to get accepted? They aren’t a cultural organisation; they are a leisure centre operator, how on earth does a leisure centre operator manage to get hold of such a large sum of cash intended for the arts? They’ve already had £800k off the council and haven’t actually signed a lease for building so the rumour goes and they were on the verge of going bust before Covid hit; it is an utter travesty. The arts council need to demonstrate why they believe BH Live deserve the money and not the many other amazing arts organisations across the UK? Send the council auditors in to BH Live and bring their Chief Executive in to a Croydon Scrutiny meeting to answer questions. Ask the staff that worked so hard to reopen the halls, do they believe BH Live deserve this investment?