Fairfield Halls rocked as Higgins leaves artistic director role

The Fairfield Halls, Croydon’s cultural centre, is seeking its fourth artistic director in little more than three years, after it was announced today that Jonathan Higgins is leaving to take a position at another venue in Newcastle.

Wae-ayyy: Jonathan Higgins is leaving the Fairfield Halls to take a new CEO post in Newcastle

Higgins moved to Croydon in April 2022, promising to put the community at the heart of the prestigious south London venue which had endured a three-year shutdown for a controversial refurbishment, only to be hit by the covid lockdown from 2020 through to 2021.

Higgins’ time in charge may not have been transformational, but he has done much to turnaround the ailing fortunes of the Fairfield Halls.

When Higgins arrived, the Fairfield Halls was an arts centre with no art gallery, and with a concert hall with no concert piano.

The Fairfield Halls had become the multi-million-pound symbol of council mismanagement, after £70million had been squandered on a failed and incomplete refurbishment project that has been subject to a series of fraud investigations.

After less than 18 months in charge, Higgins has slowly helped the Fairfield Halls to regain some vestige of artistic credibility, with generally favourable reviews appearing in the mainstream media. Audiences continue to build, but still have some way to go before the “House Full” signs are deployed on a nightly basis.

He will leave his role as associate director soon after one of his biggest artistic coups – the performance in the Fairfield’s Concert Hall by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, with another six months of Croydon’s year as Borough of Culture still to run.

News of Higgins’ departure was released by BHLive, the Bournemouth-based leisure facility operators who manage the Fairfield Halls on behalf of Croydon Council.

Higgins is leaving to take up the role of chief executive of the Tyne Theatre and Opera House in Newcastle. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time leading the team at Fairfield Halls. What a venue and what a town! It’s such a special place and is rightly recognised nationally and internationally as a superb venue,” he said.

“I joined the team as the venue was recovering from the pandemic and we’ve made some tremendous leaps forward in recent months. BHLive has invested in the team and venue in numerous ways, including, enlisting one of the UK’s biggest and best panto producers, reinstating symphony orchestral concerts, and we’ve also launched an affordable and accessible family entertainment programme. We’ve introduced community and charity pricing to encourage more local people to use and create at Fairfield.

“There is so much more to do, but I have every confidence that the committed and dedicated team that I leave behind will continue to drive forward at pace.”

Jon Workman, the CEO of BHLive, praised and thanked Higgins for his time in Croydon, saying that he had “forged excellent foundations to build upon”.

“We are working closely with the team to ensure audiences, customers and cultural partners continue to enjoy a diverse and accessible event programme,” Workman said, promising an announcement of Higgins’ successor “in the coming weeks”.

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4 Responses to Fairfield Halls rocked as Higgins leaves artistic director role

  1. Simon Smith says:

    I’m a resident of the Borough of Croydon, which is a bit like living with a low level medical ailment. I do however, wish to try and support the area in which I live where possible.
    For my mental health I can’t walk down the pedestrian area as it’s like existing in a Ken Loach film but with less laughs.
    Reading about the financial mismanagement and possible corruption that has left Croydon where it is now is utterly depressing.
    I was hoping a trip to the “Cultural quarter”, which I believe is what some overpaid consultancy group decided to name the Fairfield Halls, would improve my feelings towards the area. Whether one building, no matter how many millions it cost to regenerate, can be considered a “quarter” is another question.
    I am a music fan, so went to the listing’s on the site. What was I presented with?
    Covers bands.
    I believe if the council, especially during this period, where Croydon is the Borough of Culture whatever that means, it is the job of curators across the board to elevate, to inspire, to educate and to open the would be audiences minds. A Whitney, George Michael or ABBA covers band will not do this. This is end of the pier, cross channel ferry sub entertainment that should not be centre stage in a building that cost in excess of 70 million pounds to rebuild. How old are the curators? Did they have a background in 1970s working men’s clubs? What next, karaoke nights in pink cowboy hats?
    The listings are an embarrassment to the curator and artistic director, and fail us all. It’s like being promised fine dining and walking into a newly done up restaurant to be served McDonald’s.
    I appreciate the need to fill seats, but going down the lowest common denominator path demeans us all. Fairfield Halls could be a cultural hub. It could become a bona fide place to visit because of the artist playing there. South London has so few venues, so the opportunity not only is there, you almost have a monopoly. But what do we have? 21 covers bands or tribute acts. Sad sad sad.
    This approach looks backwards, not forwards.
    Fairfield Hall could be the Barbican or Southbank for this area. Instead it has an entertainment schedule like a Butlins from the 1980s.

    • dracardweig says:

      Couldn’t agree more. Except that there’s no chance of Fairfield being a Southbank or Barbican. That ship sailed many moons ago.

  2. Vyolette says:

    Has he really turned the ship around, or blown bigger holes in it? it feels like since he took the helm Fairfield has done nothing but fall backwards. At least in the first few months under Neil Chandler they had some good shows, full week runs of musicals and plays in the theatre, a few bands in the Arnhem Gallery and the Concert Hall had Orchestras you’ve actually heard of. There was a proper restaurant for pre-theatre dining, the bar was doing some local craft beer, it was definitely having some teething issues from the botched Brick by Brick refurb, but it felt like there was some sort of plan for it to be a quality, 21st century venue for the town. I don’t think we were happy that 70m later it still wasn’t there, but there was a plan.

    Since this Higgins bloke came in it really felt like a step backwards to the days of a 70s end of the pier venue. Cheap tribute acts, frozen pizza in the foyer as a food offering, and instead of using the Arnhem Gallery for bands like they spent millions on making it able to do, the most they’ve done with it this year is a roller disco!
    I’ve also heard he’s got a bit of a 1970s attitude towards women as well…

    Good luck to the Tyne Theatre, I think they’re going to need it!

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