Arts Council refuses to investigate job losses at Fairfield Halls

Arts correspondent BELLA BARTOCK on the mounting scandal at the council-owned arts venue, where fears grow that it might never reopen

Uncertain future: the Fairfield Halls has been closed for  all but six months since 2016

The Arts Council has told Inside Croydon that they are powerless to intervene after BHLive, the social enterprise appointed to run the council-owned Fairfield Halls, laid off the last of its full-time staff just days after receiving a £2.5million grant intended to help the venue reopen after covid-19.

According to some former staff members, they fear that the Fairfield Halls may never reopen due to the unfinished and poor standard of some of the controversial refurbishment works carried out at the venue.

Former staffers at the Fairfield say that they have been told by senior management at BHLive that they will be unemployed for just nine weeks, and that they could then be re-hired in the New Year – though they fear on much-reduced terms.

BHLive was appointed by Croydon Council to manage the Fairfield Halls, with its concert hall and Ashcroft Theatre, in 2017. But by March of this year, according to the council, they had still not signed their operating lease.

The Halls reopened in September 2019 after a three-year, £43million-plus refurbishment, but because of coronavirus they went into lockdown in March. There has been no announcement from the Bournemouth-based operators about when they might reopen.

Sources at the Town Hall suggest that although the agreement with BHLive was that they would receive no revenue funding from Croydon Council – their business was to survive on ticket and catering revenues – they have already been given at least one substantial loan from the council to help cover costs during the covid-19 pandemic.

BHLive, who specialise in managing leisure centres and conferences on the south coast, are understood now to have submitted a request to Croydon’s bankrupt council for more money to save the prestigious arts venue.

The Arts Council announced the £2.5million grant for BHLive from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund at the end of October. But on October 31, the last of Fairfield Halls’ full-time staff were handed their P45s. BHLive’s management refused to consider using the government’s furlough scheme, even though some staff offered to pay their own National Insurance and pension contributions.

The grant for the Fairfield was not made through the London and south-east regional Arts Council but through the south-west region, with the total amount intended to cover two BHLive theatrical venues in Dorset as well as the Fairfield Halls.

Both the Arts Council and BHLive have refused to reveal any details of how the grant is supposed to be spent.

According to an Arts Council spokeswoman, “The purpose of the Culture Recovery Fund is to help maintain England’s cultural ecology by supporting culturally significant organisations which were financially sustainable before covid-19 but are now at imminent risk of failure and have exhausted all other options for increasing their resilience.”

Sources close to the Fairfield Halls, which has been open for barely six months since 2016, suggest that to describe it as “financially sustainable” might be stretching a point. Before its closure, under a different management regime, the venue had developed a reputation for staging out-dated stand-up comedians and tribute acts. In the months after last September’s reopening, the venue was operating on 26 per cent capacity ticket sales.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan at the reopening of the unfinished and incomplete Fairfield Halls last year, together with discredited council leader Tony Newman and Cllr Ollie Lewis (left). Insiders now question whether the Halls will ever reopen

The Arts Council spokeswoman said, “The central aims of the Fund are to enable cultural organisations to reopen or restart their operations, where appropriate, or operate on a sustainable, cost-efficient basis, so that they are able to reopen at a later date if, for example, reopening under social distancing is not permissible or does not represent a value for money approach.”

While staff at Fairfield Halls called on the management to open their recently re-fitted bars and restaurants when the first lockdown was lifted, or to offer pay-per-view streamed concerts from the Halls, BHLive opted to do nothing to engage with a culture-starved audience. Instead, they cancelled their contract with their piano supplier: there are now no concert pianos at the Fairfield Halls.

Of the award of millions of public money to BHLive, the Arts Council says, “This was a demand-led fund, with extremely tight criteria set by government to protect public money; funding was only awarded to applicants if they could demonstrate they were at risk of no longer trading viably before the end of the financial year.”

Asked if they might intervene with BHLive after being informed of the redundancies to staff at their arts venues, the Arts Council spokeswoman said that they could not, but did say that the quango would monitor how BHLive spent the money.

“Over 2000 organisations of all sizes and types across the country have been awarded funding so far,” they said.

“The criteria to be awarded a grant are rigorous. All applicants had to demonstrate they were at risk of failure in this financial year and that they’d pursued all other forms of alternative finance. It is a legal requirement that grant recipients may only spend their grant on the activity they outline in the application. We monitor how the money is spent, including commissioning independent audits.”

BHLive has not replied to repeated requests for comment.

Bankrupt Croydon is the “Borough of Culture” in 2023.

Read more: Council forced to declare itself bankrupt
Read more:
Brick by Brick has paid nothing to council
Read more: Officials to investigate possible wrong-doing at council

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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7 Responses to Arts Council refuses to investigate job losses at Fairfield Halls

  1. moyagordon says:

    Desperate times. Hopefully Fairfield Halls can be a thriving arts venue some day.

  2. David Simons says:

    It is staggering that money can be given from the public coffers by the Arts Council and Croydon council (over £1m has been passed to BH Live from Croydon Council but despite asking the Leader of the Tories to question the Labour administration on this nothing seems to have happened, it’s all being played down and hidden in the web of deceit that is the budget managed by Shifa Mustavafridayoff), and us mere mortals aren’t permitted to see documentation detailing why they where given it; what untruths were told to secure the deal for the apparent benefit of Croydon residents? Borough of Culture should not be applied to any story about the Fairfield Halls or BH Live; culture does not appear to figure in their plans, it is not synonymous with the leisure centre operators business plan.

    …So lets hold our breath and see what the New Year brings, let us see them reopen the halls with all the staff they made redundant, in a venue fully refurbished with working lifts and a stellar line up of entertainment in each of their many venues… Talk about kicking the can down the road, face it, this will not happen. This is a sad time for hardworking Croydon cultural organisations made even sadder by the wasteful use of millions of pounds that could’ve made such a difference in the right hands. I bow out, infuriated by this waste and lack of accountability, what good do we achieve in questioning the establishment?

  3. Lewis White says:

    Like many others, it was a while before I realised that the Halls were open after the refurbishments. In Autumn 2019 I bought tickets to 3 Fairfield concerts and performances, once I had seen that there were many events that appealed to me.

    Sadly, due to Covid, all three were cancelled. My tickets unused, I am not sure if replacements will be issued free of charge. I sort of doubt it.

    My view was, and remains,that we have come thus far, and it is worth carrying on with the refurbishment and updating of the Fairfield Halls to provide a revitalised set of performance spaces.

    Whilst I think there is an over-provision of local authority arts venues due to the enthusiasm of arts lovers and council decision -makers in the 70’s, The Fairfield has been around for longer than many, has a theatre and a concert hall, and function / exhibition room, and is located in a major urban centre ( Croydon) with good transport links to other areas of London, East Surrey, West Kent and even from Mid Sussex via the M23 and Brighton line.

    Also, the open space between the Halls and the Croydon College, College Green aka The Fair Field, is (one hopes) going to be revitalised in the next 3 years to make a renewed urban open space, which should not only allow for informal outdoor recreation and activities like skateboarding, and water spash play for children, but also some activities that complement the arts functions of the Halls, such as outdoor performances by day and night. So, the open space should give the Halls a really useful outdoor dimension. (maybe even more useful in the post Covid era ?)

    The alternative to reopening and further (carfeully targeted) expenditure on the next phase of refurbishment (eg new seats), is to close it and demolish it. If so, much money spent on the refurb will be lost.

    The site would have to wait its turn for redevelopment, which realistically might not happen for a decade, post Covid, and which would have to be very dense and tall in order to make a return in the development costs, thus resulting in yet more high rise blocks, which would overshadow the currently very sunny open space, rendering it cold and windy. Open spaces that are dark and windswept are cold, unwelcoming, and unpopular. The Fairfield Halls are low-rise, so the Sun, from mid-morning right through to sunset, sheds its rays over the top of the Halls , to shine unimpeded on the majority of the open space which lies direcly to the North of the Halls.

    So, retention of the Fairfield Halls is going to allow the light to continue to warm and illuminate the open space. The quality of the open space itself is going to be REALLY IMPORTANT to the physical and mental well-being of the thousands of new residents now moving in to the new and converted office high rises of surrounding central Croydon. It will be their back garden …. a sanity-giving, relaxation-imparting, pressure-releasing safety valve. It will have trees, water and grass, seating and some sport activities, and performance spaces.

    Just across the road, the once sunny Queens gardens are now dominated and substaintially overshadowed by the 4 huge blocks now growing on the site of the old Taberner House. It gives a warning as to how the College Green / Fair Field Open space would become if the Halls were demolished and replaced by high rise blocks.

    For this reason, retention of the Fairfield Halls is important for the quality and attractveness of the renewed Fair Field open space.

    So– I really hope that the plug is put back in the socket very soon, so that–at last– within 2012, all being well, I can go to enjoy the sound and spectacle of musical performances I had so wanted to see performed by The London Mozart Players and other world-class performers.

    Even if I have to pay for new tickets !
    If the Halls are re-opened, to performances by these and other superb talents, to buy some new tickets will be well worth the cost.


    • moyagordon says:

      Is this a serious comment?

      • Lewis White says:

        Yes, Moya, very serious, if the comment was quite lengthy. Apologies,
        for describing the detail, but I was exploring the likely potential impact of the worst case scenario — of closing the Fairfield Halls — for the adjacent open space which is in the process of being redesigned.

        In the streets of central London, and of high-rise Croydon, we are losing sight of the sun, as a result of taller buildings replacing lower ones. Sunlight is not only pleasant to bask in, I am sure that we instinctively know that it is essential for our health, physical and mental. Parks need to be sunny.

        Hence, setting aside the cultural damage of closing the Halls, the negative impact on the adjacent open space of redeveloping the Fairfield Halls site for high rise flats needs to be borne in mind.

        I have to mention that the Brick by Brick redevelopment of the old above ground multi storey car park has in fact taken away part of the footprint of the Eastern end of College Green already. So there is less open space to be redesigned. A pity.

        I very much hope that the Fairfield is reopened very soon, and that we can all go and see perfomances that re-vitalise us ! Almost as important as sunshine !

  4. Dean Mopespur says:

    In answer to Lewis, nobody is suggesting that The Fairfield Halls shouldn’t reopen, on the contrary; it is vital to the town and the much wider surrounding area it serves. The venue provides an extraordinary range of events, performances, exhibitions, conference facilities etc and to as wide a demographic in terms of age, ethnicity, cultural preference as anywhere in the UK.

    There are three issues, amongst many, which concern me greatly. Firstly the Council decide to appoint BH Live, a leisure centre company based in Bournemouth, to manage the relaunch and the venue itself, handing them the keys to door and a huge dowry or hundreds of thousands of rate payers’ hard earned money.

    Secondly, they appoint Brick by Brick, in the words of an Inside Croydon correspondent ‘the council-owned, loss-making housebuilder who borrowed £260million-plus from Croydon Council’ to handle the rebuild. Years behind schedule, millions over budget on the Halls project and substantially overestimating the value of the many properties it hasn’t yet built on the Fair Field site. Funnily enough, the company is run by an ex-Council employee. I’ll leave you to contemplate the implications.

    Thirdly, how on earth was footfall in and around the Halls expected to be increased when the underground car park remains closed to this day. Surely, the majority of visitors travel in to the centre of Croydon by car so this must have adversely impacted ticket sales.

    As Bella Bartok reports, BHLive received Cultural Recovery money in October on the understanding that the company would at least retain its skeleton of senior staff, albeit salaried via the extension to the furlough scheme. Having already used the pandemic as an excuse to dismiss their part time staff, then most of their senior personnel some months ago, needless to say they have just wished those remaining loyal employees a Merry Christmas by dismissing them too.

    So, Lewis, to reference your request for the plug to be put back in the socket, we have to hope the Council, as bankrupt morally as they are financially, have the wherewithal to put another 50p in the meter.

    I suppose we can say that they have at least overseen one event. A XXXX show.

  5. Lewis White says:

    Thanks Dean for your incisive response. I totally agree with your various points, especially that about the closed car park. As you say, most visitors come by car other than people who can get there and home afterwards by bus or train. In a few years, most cars will be electric-powered,with the electricity generated by wind power, so the real problems of air pollution in the streets of Croydon will be reduced.

    Councillors and council officers need to accept and manage the car, not get rid of it.

    Our references to meters and electricity leads me to an electricty-generating , green idea that the Government in its current “Review of Planning” and its avowed intention to be a very “Green government dedicated to a carbon-neutral future” should be building into its “building our way out of Covid recession”.

    The idea is very simple.
    All buildings with big, simple, low rise roofs–such as the acres of roof of warehouses, distribution centres, and retail parks, should be standardised, and slotted in under in-built gantries supporting banks of solar panels.

    If one stands up at the top of the Upper Norwood hill, looking South and West over Central / West Croydon and Waddon/ Beddington, one thing other than the tower blocks of central Croydon is totally obvious–the absolutely huge expanse of bare metal roofs of the Purley Way/ Beddington Lane industrial areas. There must be a square mile in all.

    In my view, all large roofs like this should be “solar farms”. Government should be insisting on this, and subsidising the support structures. For smaller roofs too, but “Green roofs” also need to be created. An ascent to the top of the Monument of the Great Fire of London reveals how grey is the roofscape of the City of London. It should be greened, to help reduce global warmng, and provide natural habitats for birds and insects, and roof gardens for people.

    I reckon the City can afford that without help from Government.

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