BHLive’s business losses hit Fairfield Halls’ arts programme

The lack of activity in and around the Fairfield Halls and the return to the “bad old days” of tired programming dominated by derivative tribute acts and all-star wrestling is all because not enough people in Dorset are paying for gym sessions or going swimming in the municipal baths.

The Fairfield Halls: re-opened, sort of

BHLive, the Bournemouth-based leisure centre operator appointed by Croydon Council to manage the Fairfield Halls, has reported a £2.5million loss in its annual accounts just published. They say that 10,000 memberships for the swimming pools and gyms that they manage along the south coast were cancelled or were unrenewed during the first covid lockdown.

BHLive’s leisure centre income was reduced from an expected £21million to £4million.

In the arts and culture side of the business, including Fairfield Halls, BHLive’s income fell from the anticipated £22.7million to £1.05million.

BHLive says that it has run down its reserve funds to just £1. Such financial troubles in Bournemouth can only raise fresh concerns about the future for Croydon’s prestigious arts centre. 

The latest BHLive losses come on top of a deficit of £610,245 reported for the previous year, to the end of March 2020, which will have been incurred before the first lockdown will have had any real impact on their business of operating Bournemouth council’s entertainment venues and leisure centres.

BHLive’s 2020-2021 losses come despite the social enterprise seeming to grab at every piece of available funding since covid-19 hit businesses and entertainment venues.

As well as making use of furlough cash for what remains of its staff, BHLive also took a £5million business interruption loan from the government, business rates reductions, VAT deferral and a £2.5million grant from the Arts Council’s Culture Recovery Fund – which was supposed to include money towards the reopening of the Fairfield Halls.

The Arts Council grant was announced just days before BHLive laid off the majority of staff at the Fairfield Halls. BHLive is reported to have made 200 staff redundant across all its venues since the first lockdown.

BHLive has been managing the Halls since 2019, when they reopened following a council-funded refurbishment that went badly wrong and has cost Croydon at least £70million. That project is subject to a “value for money” review conducted by the council auditors, Grant Thornton.

Problems with the refurbishment work, and delays in its completion, saw Croydon Council make compensatory payments to BHLive of more than £1million between 2019 and August 2020, which will include some of the period covered in the latest annual report.

Struggling: BIC, the Bournemouth International Centre, one of the venues managed by BHLive

BHLive placed the Fairfield Halls into what they called “hibernation” when lockdown began in March 2020, and have been slow to reopen the south London venue fully since restrictions were eased.

It has yet to return to a full programme of shows and operations, across the concert hall, Ashcroft Theatre, performance space, cafés and bars.

Under the original operating licence granted by Croydon Council, BHLive were supposed to receive no subsidies from the council, but they were expected to produce the Fairfield Hall’s artistic programme from income received from ticket sales, sponsorships and catering revenues. A rich cultural mix including free lunchtime concerts and community-led arts programmes were promised, but have failed to materialise in the post-covid Fairfield Halls, where all-in wrestling is back among the often threadbare offerings.

In their annual report published this week, BHLive say that covid forced them to cancel or postpone 422 performances at the Fairfield Halls and other managed venues in Portsmouth and Bournemouth.

Michael Wright, in his chairman’s report, said, “BH Live reported a deficit for the year of £2,436,461. This deficit is solely due to the impact of the covid-19 pandemic.

Seconds out!: we did warn you…

“All our venues closed from March 20, 2020, as part of the national lockdowns and also local restrictions in Portsmouth and Bournemouth during December 2020. As a result, most leisure centres were closed for at least eight months of the year and when open subject to capacity restrictions whilst our cultural venues were effectively closed for the entire year.”

Elsewhere in the BHLive report, it stated, “Each partner council was supportive by committing finances and amending agreements in order to retain BH Live as their leisure and culture partner and ensure we would be able to deliver our business plan for them and their communities going forward.

“A major restructuring and redundancy programme was carried out, enabling a leaner future fixed staff cost.”

They had not foreseen the impact of a pandemic. “Prior to covid-19 an internal risk assessment deemed that the probability of all areas of the business being impacted by a significant loss in income and/or any unforeseen adverse circumstances at the same time as minimal,” the report said.

The company now aims to build up its reserves to £5million. “This will take many years to deliver and will affect business decisions ensuring that the rebuilding of reserves is a priority as we grow back the business,” said the report.

BHLive claims to be “confident” for its future operations. “The first quarter of 2021-2022 has seen the business return to profitability,” they said.

Croydon is London’s Borough of Culture 2023.

Read more: Seconds out: Operator hopes wrestling will boost Fairfield Halls
Read more: Facing uncertain future, Fairfield Halls returns all its pianos
Read more: Conflicts of interest, incomplete contracts, unlawful payments
Read more: BHLive starts redundancy process for staff at Fairfield Halls

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6 Responses to BHLive’s business losses hit Fairfield Halls’ arts programme

  1. moyagordon says:

    Oh dear, for a moment there I misread the headline to read ‘BHLive loses hit Fairfield Halls’ arts programme’. I read the whole article anticipating the good news but sadly it appears they’re still in charge. I love the arts and think it is such a shame that the only arts venue in Croydon is so far from what it could be.

  2. It’s not just about the pandemic, the screw up here is not very bright councillors deciding on the operator of Fairfield Halls.

    The decision was made to refurbish the building but where was the ambition in making the selection of the operator. Where’s the ambition for Croydon? The right decision here could have put Croydon on the wider London Arts circuit and with that comes the international circuit.

    But we get mediocre councillors making mediocre decisions. The following says it all:

    “ the Bournemouth-based leisure centre operator appointed by Croydon Council ”.

  3. mikebweb says:

    Well I suppose I know little about making such as the Fairfield Halls profitable, despite having a life time in “managing risk” For my penny worth its difficult to see how a profit can be made from keeping a premises empty, no matter what their size, and the Fairfield Halls has a serious capacity in more than one location. Get out their BHL and use the valuable space you have available, other venues have, so why are you unable to do so? Will we have our Remembrance Service there in November?
    BHL, you had all those volunteers who cost you nothing, they are still about and would probably welcome the chance to see the premises used again, WITH THEIR HELP!
    You may not be doing well in Bournemouth or Portsmouth, but this is CROYDON and not a seaside resort. Just imagoine, with a little iniative Croydon could be supporting these other venues, were it open and functioning!!
    CHRISTMAS is coming, what have you planned for this prestigious venue?

  4. Ian Kierans says:

    So it returned to profitability in the first quarter of this financial year? No worries lets get a sample of the mold and fungi from each flat in Regina Court and other council owned and Axis ”maintained” premises. bosh them on a petri dish and frame them. We can then display them in every corridor of the Fairfield and other public buildings with interesting Latin names like Croydones Fingunt Cultures. Might even get a good a prize for discovering a new species of Culture. One solely created by Council and Maintenance can be named fungi administrativus morbus. Found only in homes of vulnerable residents.
    It may not be the Art and Culture expected but hey if logs get tanked into the municipal toilet you have to expect some bacteria to float also.

  5. I passed by the Fairfield Halls a week or so ago, it was closed and desolate giving the impression nothing was going on there.
    Last week I went to see ‘Fascinating Aida’ at the Churchill Theatre Bromley, it was light bright, and nearly full. The theatre felt warm and the seating very comfortable, and I enjoyed the show immensely. I went past during the day earlier this week, and it was open with children’s activities and lots of people. Since buying my one ticket, I have received notifications of future performances and special events. I have never had anything from Fairfield Halls.
    Croydon is so close to London, exciting programmes could attract a wide audience, especially if there is a warm hospitable atmosphere.

  6. Lewis White says:

    ‘Fascinating Aida’ was one of the shows scheduled for the Fairfield which was cancelled when the pandemic necessitated closure of the Fairfield. I had booked a ticket a few months earlier, feeling guilty that I had been to no performances since the reopening.

    I had also booked two classical concerts , again, cancelled.

    To be honest, just like many people have got out of the habit of going shopping, choosing mail order instread, I fear that many (including me) might now have lost the desire to go out to the Fairfield on dark cold damp winter evenings.

    How to get there ? By bus ? In winter, the windows will be shut, air circulation poor. We will be breathing air breathed in and out by fellow passengers……. and, so many people are mask-wearing “refuseniks”. It is worrying.
    By train?. OK if you live near a station, but the walk from E Croydon station is too far for some.

    By car? According to the Fairfield website ……

    Accessible Parking: There are 8 parking spaces for blue badge holders in front of Fairfield Halls.

    General Parking: The car park behind Fairfield Halls is not managed by BH Live. This car park is currently closed.

    Large numbers of the audience used to arrive by car. Many of these people were coming in for fairly long distances from outer Croydon, and adjoing London boroughs, and from NE Surrey, even Sussex and Kent, so it was unrealistic for them to travel to Croydon except by car. Where can they now park, conveniently close to the Halls?

    The Fairfield’s core problem in terms of audience awareness and enthusiam is that it shut for several years for the refurbishment, then reopened for a short time, Autumn 2019-Spring 2020, then was closed as part of the nationwide Covid closedown.

    My “hitlist” of things needed to make Fairfield more accessible and give it a higher profile are:-
    1- Car parking underneath the hall : bring it back
    2- Better street and forecourt lighting of the frontage, up to George Street : it is totally inadequate
    3- An exciting landscape design for the frontage : This was to have been delivered as part of the new “Fair Field” a.k.a rdesign of the adjacent open space known as “College Green” and before that “The Fairfield Halls Gardens “. Sadly, the design has been a colateral damage victim of Covid, and Croyidn’s Financial Crisis and the demise of Brick by Brick. The inadequate public consultation happened just before Lockdown. Quite where the plans abd fuinding are now, I am not sure.
    4- Advertising : Once upon a time, giant posters on the front of the halls advertised who was coming to perform ; we need either the same, or a modern equivalent — a digtal display like Picadilly Circus, but restricted to the hall front, or maybe a free standing pillar so that passing bus passengers and car occupants can see what is on. Visual clutter and “noise” or appropriate “pzazzz”??? At present , the hall looks closed even if it is open.

    Looking at the FF website again, I see that in fact there are a lot of good performers –such as Comedian Jack Dee and the London Mozart Players, PLUS a panto.

    When it comes to pricing, someone has to subsidise tickets for under 18’s as the classical audience seems to be around 60 , even 65. Where are the young audience? £ 1 a ticket type prices might just get young people in to sample real classical music.

    Why is the Brit School not staging regular performances ? Practices in public would be really good to see.

    Cardiff has its ‘Singer of the World’. Leeds its International Piano Competition.

    What could Croydon have to focus attention on itself in a good way ?

    Or is it doomed to be somewhere in the outer darkness on the Southern edge of South London?

    Or is it already a giant work of Art ? Maybe we are just too close to understand it.

    Is it already the Surrealist Capital of the World ?

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