‘Things are far from perfick at the Fairfield ‘Alls’ says the award-winning actress who plays Ma Larkin, as the campaign to sack BHLive gathers momentum. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Joanna Scanlan, the BAFTA award-winning actress, has called on Croydon Council to back calls from some Mayoral candidates in next week’s elections and terminate the operating contract for the Fairfield Halls arts centre with BHLive.
Scanlan, the star of The Larkins and After Love, possibly has a better understanding of the shambolic way her local council is run: for seven years, she was a cast member of The Thick Of It, the programme that gave the world the word “clusterfuck”.
Now, in true Ma Larkin style, Scanlan has gone public to say that “things are far from perfick at her local arts centre”.
Scanlan has added her voice to the mounting concerns surrounding the Fairfield Halls, which the council placed in the hands of Bournemouth-based swimming pool operators BHLive in 2017.
Scanlan says she moved home to Croydon five years ago in part because of the attraction of having such a prestige arts centre on her doorstep.
“I have sadly been let down by what has happened in this wonderful opportunity of refurbishment and re-energising of Fairfield Halls,” Scanlan says.
“I think the reason for that is partly that it is being run by a company that is essentially a leisure centre company, based in Bournemouth. They are not local.”
Scanlan’s video, Broken Promises, has been produced by a committee formed of various local arts groups, who want to the management of the venues to be transferred to a Croydon-based arts trust.
The video features archive clips from four and five years ago, when the refurbishment was being carried out, and council executives and Labour cabinet members, such as Ollie “Shitshow” Lewis, were making all kinds of promises about the future of the Halls and arts in Croydon, most of which which have been broken.
It even includes a clip of Colm Lacey, the witless chief exec of failed housing company Brick by Brick, who spent £67million on a refurb that was supposed to cost £30million, and yet they didn’t even manage to finish the job, and ultimately managed to bankrupt the council.
Scanlan and her Croydon arts campaigners think that there is a better way of doing things. “I’m proud of Fairfield Halls. I think it’s a wonderful building,” Scanlan says.
“Exciting work amongst people that goes on in this incredible town… but it’s not happening in this venue, and it’s not happening through this venue.
“This is an arts centre that could rival any in the world, frankly. It’s built with incredible scale and ambition. An ambition that is matched by the artistic community of this town.”
The video explicitly criticised BHLive for taking millions of pounds in Arts Council grants and payments from Croydon Council to help prop up their leisure business on the south coast.
Scanlan adds her voice to five of the candidates standing for Croydon Mayor when she says, “I think this arts centre should be run by a local trust.”
Notably, one of the candidates for Mayor who has opted against calling for BHLive is Labour’s Val Shawcross, whose party colleagues, including Lewis, over-saw the shambles of the refurbishment and installed BHLive as operators.
Croydon is London’s Borough of Culture in 2023.
Read more: ‘The damage to the Fairfield Halls reputation is severe’
Read more: Fairfield Halls’ £70m fiasco: ‘BxB didn’t know what it was doing’
Read more: Millions of questions for BHLive over Fairfield grant aid
Read more: Council paid £1m compensation for unfinished Fairfield Halls
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