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
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 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.
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’
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Read more: BHLive starts redundancy process for staff at Fairfield Halls
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