Turmoil at Fairfield Halls as operating company suffers exodus

Our culture correspondent, BELLA BARTOCK, on changing times at the council-owned arts centre, and a diamond anniversary that has been forgotten by the council

All change: the operators in charge of the Fairfield Halls have lost three senior execs, including the CEO

There’s yet more turmoil behind the scenes at the Fairfield Halls, where the chief executive and two other senior figures working for the company which operates the arts venue have all left their jobs in a matter of weeks.

Bournemouth-based BHLive took over responsibility for running the council-owned arts centre in 2017, but their tenure has been blighted by delays in re-opening after the controversial and never-completed £69million “refurbishment”, followed by another year’s closure due to covid.

More than 100 performances were cancelled or postponed at the Fairfield Halls in a year due to covid lockdowns – what BHLive called “hibernation”. Even last year’s panto, Beauty and the Beast, had to cancel its run on Christmas Eve when there was a covid outbreak among the cast.

BHLive, whose main activity is running leisure centres and swimming pools on the south coast, were financially hard-hit by the pandemic, but according to their latest accounts, for the year to March 2022, filed at Companies House last week, the company returned a profit of more than £1million. This compares to a loss in the previous year of £2.44million.

But that hasn’t stopped an exodus of top executives.

Since the end of September, Chris Symons, BHLive’s CEO, Simon Beaumont, the chief operating officer, and Kevin Quilty, Fairfield Halls’ “head of marketing and development”, have all left or are working out their notice.

Beaumont’s 12-month contract was not renewed. There’s been no announcement of any replacement.

Symons’ departure was notably abrupt. Indeed, there was no announcement that he was standing down or working out his notice. Symons, who had been in the role since April 2019, has become a “non-person” as far as the company was concerned, unmentioned in a press release issued on October 21. All BHLive said was that Jon Workman had been handed the top job.

Workman-like: BHLive’s new CEO, Jon Workman

Workman had previously been employed as BHLive’s chief finance officer. Again, the company has said nothing about whether they are to replace him in that role.

It was Workman who confided to staff in Croydon that he felt the Fairfield Halls was a distraction from BHLive’s core operations in dozy Dorset. If he remains of that view now he’s got the top job, it could lead to some interesting discussions with the venue’s owners, Croydon Council, in the coming months.

Workman appears to have already had that kind of discussion with the burghers of Fareham, in Hampshire, where BHLive last week pulled out of a contract to run the town’s new theatre just a few months before the venue, built at a cost of £16.7million, is due to open.

“Contract terms couldn’t be agreed,” according to local reports, with BHLive “wanting to focus on their existing venues such as those found in Bournemouth and Croydon rather than expanding into new ones. This is because of a significant loss of revenue since early 2020 as all leisure and event venues were heavily affected by covid-19 lockdown rules”.

But if nominative determinism is to count for anything, Workman might be just the right person for the job, given some of the workman-like offerings that have been presented at the Fairfield on BHLive’s watch.

BHLive’s announcement said that Workman had been with them for six years. “During this time Jon has supported the organisation consistently delivering the trust’s charitable purpose, whilst ensuring financial stability during challenging trading times,” they said.

“BHLive has an incredibly experienced and knowledgeable team dedicated to delivering our services for the benefit of our community,” Workman claimed.

Quilty’s departure was made public with a gaudy job ad posted on the Fairfield Halls’ Twitter feed, seeking a marketing and development manager on £40,000 per year.

“I’m on the last leg of my Fairfield Halls journey,” Quilty told friends. Some suggest that Quilty had become weary of a seemingly constant struggle with BHLive to deliver better programming at the under-resourced Halls.

Forgotten anniversary: 60 years ago this week, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother presided over the opening of the Fairfield Halls

Croydon Mayor Jason Perry had promised before May’s local elections that he would look to replace BHLive as the Fairfield Halls operators with a Croydon-based arts trust. But since May, part-time Perry has been silent on that election pledge.

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the royal opening of the Fairfield Halls, by the Queen Mum, gawd bless ‘er.

Under Mayor Perry, the council has done nothing to commemorate this auspicious anniversary, and there’s no mention of it on the BHLive-operated Fairfield Halls website.

“There’s no corporate memory, no sense of any history or tradition, at the council or at Fairfield Halls any longer,” according to one source.

“There’s been no commemoration for three years of the borough’s links with its twin town, Arnhem, which gave its name to the old Arnhem Gallery at the Fairfield Halls. It’s as if it means nothing to the people in charge any longer.”

Croydon is supposedly London’s Borough of Culture in 2023. But the council has had to delay the launch by three months, until next March…

Read more: Fairfield Halls’ £70m fiasco: ‘BxB didn’t know what it was doing’
Read more: Conflicts of interest, incomplete contracts, unlawful payments
Read more: £30m Fairfield Halls project never went to competitive tender
Read more: BHLive starts redundancy process for staff at Fairfield Halls

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 inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Art, Ashcroft Theatre, BH Live, Borough of Culture 2023, Business, Croydon Council, Fairfield Halls, Jon Workman, Mayor Jason Perry, Music, The Wreck, Theatre and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Turmoil at Fairfield Halls as operating company suffers exodus

  1. I am now convinced that Croydon suffers from a unique fungus called Croydon Blight which is akin to Potato Blight. This blight causes all institutions to cease working and to become useless. This applies as well to councillors, elected mayors, senior officials : it infects everything to do with the borough and is incurable. There is no other possible explanation for what has happened to this once pleasant town.

  2. David Simons says:

    This beggars belief. The rats are deserting the ship and still Mayor Perry has done nothing to rid this borough of these Bournemouth culture thieves. What will it take for Perry and his Officers to move this shambles on? The program is sporadic and not reflective of its community, the arts centre is closed more than it is open and a man more at home in garden and leisure centres is now CEO of one of the UKs largest arts centres, an utter joke.

    Come on Croydon, why are we putting up with this?

    Well done IC for breaking this story as it has been utterly silent in any news anywhere else… it appears that not even the good people of Bournemouth knew that Symons was out! As for the marketing job at Fairfield… maybe the old marketing manager at Brick by Brick should apply… similar levels of bullshit and arrogance required.

  3. Susan Stein says:

    Can somebody just boot BHLIVE out on their fucking ass? Useless.

  4. philip Knight says:

    It is little wonder that we no longer have constant entertainment at Fairfield Halls. Despite the venue being hugely under utilised, the costs to hire the venue are massively prohibitive. Little wonder that theatres nearby in Bromley, Wimbledon, Kingston are much more attractive options for touring shows and one offs.

  5. Pete Jenkins says:

    I heard that “our Council” is still paying casual staff wages and a certain number of running costs. If true not good – the whole scenario in that building is a disgrace.

    It seems that in the Concert Hall, renowned for its fine acoustics, there are some new sound curtains covering large parts of each side wall. Hopefully this was advised by a renowned acoustician. I don’t recall that being part of the “renovation” plan.

  6. Lewis White says:

    I know that Inside Croydon does not like tribute bands and all-star wrestling, a point on which I disagree, as the main purpose of Fairfield surely has to be to provide all-round entertainment for the local population in all its diversity.

    I would like to know the audience figures for ALL events staged at Fairfield over the last 12 months. I went to a fantastic London Mozart Players concert recently – thanks to seeing this performance of Coleridge Taylor’s Hiawatha advertised a few weeks before in Inside Croydon. But the audience could have been a lot bigger.

    In the high days of the 60’s and 70’s, wrestling and many other really popular things filled the halls, as did visits by top orchestras. And pop(ular) music – top artists and bands used to come here.

    What has happened to these live bands ?

    I can understand that some music needs a club setting. Fair enough, but there are lots of bands and acts.

    Is Fairfield too small, or too big?


    I have to admit that in my view, the concert hall is too big for typical classical audiences.

    • David Simons says:

      Some interesting comments Lewis.

      I too was at that concert, it is always good to listen to the LMP.

      The Concert Hall isn’t too big. It is akin to the Symphony Hall, Birmingham and the Royal Festival Hall – the big difference between them and Fairfield is programme.

      To entice locals and the Surrey set into Fairfield Halls for a classical programme it needs to be regular, diverse and relevant.

      Sadly because of the cost and lack of ambition this isn’t the case. You can’t just sprinkle events every now and then and keep your doors closed in between times, you can’t possibly grow an audience and create a legion of supporters like that.

      Cost could be overcome with funding to grow the audience if the Halls weren’t being operated by such a culturally devoid bunch of lifeguards.

      As for tribute bands and wrestling – everything has its place, and it absolutely should be in the mix – it just shouldn’t be leading the pack. Fairfield has lots of spaces within it, it is no more alive than when multiple shows pour out into its amazing foyer space at once.

      People of all ages and tastes mixing together and enjoying culture together. Fairfield Halls severely lacks cultural ambition and direction.

    • Angus Hewlett says:

      It’s too small for the big arena acts, too big for indie hopefuls, and.. say it quietly.. not cool enough for the kind of on-the-way-to-the-big-time acts and genre specialists who sell out Brixton, Shepherd’s Bush and Hammersmith.

      I was having a look at census data earlier on. The median age in and around central Croydon is early to mid 30s – that is, half of all the population in the area are 33 or younger – Shirley is an outlier with median age 49. I’m not exactly convinced that tribute bands are what most of the under 50s are looking for.

      With its multiple rooms I could imagine Fairfield working well for a single-venue-festival format on weekends. Multiple acts across the different rooms in a single day, within a single genre whether that’s chamber music, standup comedy or UK hiphop. Make it worth the trip from across London and Surrey.

      The other thing I wonder is whether its foyer space might be managed more like the South Bank Centre – as an indoor public space open all day & in to the evening, that welcomes people whether they’re here to see a show or not.

  7. Terence Doherty says:

    Wetherspoon’s looking for new premises 🤔🤔🤔

  8. Pete Jenkins says:

    From quote by Angus….”The other thing I wonder is whether its foyer space might be managed more like the South Bank Centre – as an indoor public space open all day & in to the evening, that welcomes people whether they’re here to see a show or not”.

    This is exactly how it was pre-renovation. Generally open from 10am at least six days a week with music, art exhibitions, wi-fi access and the like (and plenty of car parking). Surely this venue should be included in the “warm-space” project that many authorities are doing for winter months? Oh and Happy 60th Anniversary to Fairfield.

  9. Lewis White says:

    In the comments above, Pete has mentioned car parking. Further up, Angus mentions pulling in the locals and Surrey set.

    The fact is, that only a certain number can get to Fairfield by train and bus. It is very nice to have a picture of four 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70 somethings, friends or spouses hopping on to a bus in Upper Norwood, Norbury, Sanderstead or Old Coulsdon and getting off near the Fairfield, and getting home again easily after a concert , but the fact is that , after a hard day’s work or retirement day (likely to be “differently busy”), a lot of people would like to come to the Fairfield by car, especially in Winter.

    Easy, door to door, and particularly, if they or their partner or friend is restricted in mobility, or if a group want to share a car, and travel in together.

    Imagine now some Surrey culture lovers–or indeed, lovers of all-star wrestling- who live in somewhere like Banstead or Tatsfield, Reigate or in any rural area. They come from the outer darkness, maybe miles and miles beyond the end of the Tattenham or Caterham branches……

    They used to be able to drive to Croydon and park in the car park under the Fairfield.
    Now there are just a few–I think, around 80 spaces. Not enough.

    As Angus whispers– we are not in the cool trendy zones of Brixton, and all points within the South Circular, where people expect to travel for a while on the bus, underground/overground/train. We are “outer”….. even “on the edge”.

    We therefore need to make it easy for people to get to the Fairfield, which means encouraging those who want or have to get here by car. More and more of these are electric, or hybrid, so the amount of pollution is much reduced.

    On another matter, pricing, I would dearly love the Fairfield to sell seats cheaper and fill the venue up.

    Could they have a staff member whose job it is to liaise with schools, and encourage them to bring classes or groups to the classical and dance events?

    Judging by the age profile of people at typical classical concerts , not just in Croydon, most are 60 plus.

    Will Classical music soon die out except in central London and a very few major cities?

  10. Pamela Stockwell says:

    What happened to drama at Fairfield? There used to be plays that ran for a week, classics like Shaw, or Galsworthy, Shakespeare, with school parties coming to matinées to set texts live. Where are the stars? Where is the ballet, the opera, and yes, the all-in wrestling, the bands, the acts that are advertised every week in the Sunday papers, that are listed in London and provincial cities but never now in Croydon? And where is the box office, open all week? Once you could go in, or ring up and book – none of this QR palaver. Why is there not a good restaurant? Fairfield Halls should be the jewel in Croydon’s crown, brimming with patrons. Every time I have been to classical concerts there, it has been full, so let nobody claim there would be no audiences for the best orchestras! Give us the culture, easy reasonable parking, a proper box office and a wide range of events and ticket prices with attractive offers and concessions and watch the public come in droves!
    This miserable management couldn’t even mount a celebration show or concert for the late Queen’s 70th Jubilee. Bring in some professionals – because Croydon is Worth It!

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