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Theatres Trust urges Croydon Council to rethink Fairfield Halls closure

Designs for the redeveloped Fairfield Halls. Photo: Rick Mather Architects Designs for the redeveloped Fairfield Halls. Photo: Rick Mather Architects
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Croydon’s Fairfield Halls arts complex should not close for two years while it undergoes renovation work, according to the Theatres Trust.

The advisory body has called on Croydon Council to rethink its “unfortunate” £30 million redevelopment plan, which will see all three buildings in the centre – the Ashcroft Theatre, the concert hall and Arnhem Gallery – close on July 15.

They are not due to reopen until summer 2018, which the Theatres Trust said could affect the venues’ audience base and “long-term viability”.

Instead, the trust has backed calls for a staged refurbishment, which would keep at least one of the buildings open throughout the construction works “to maintain some level of cultural offer for local residents”.

In a letter to the council, the trust’s planning adviser Ross Anthony said: “It is unfortunate the council has been unable to agree to a staged refurbishment, keeping part of the Halls open during the wider construction period to maintain some level of cultural offer for local residents.”

He went on: “The loss of existing expertise and audiences puts incredible pressure on the new operators to rebuild that audience base upon reopening, further affecting the venues’ long-term viability. We encourage the council to reconsider this decision.”

A staged refurbishment is also backed by the Save Our Fairfield Halls campaign group, who oppose the council’s “stealth” decision to shut the complex entirely while redevelopment takes place.

Further concerns were raised by the trust about the lack of certainty over who would operate Fairfield Halls upon its reopening.

The complex is currently managed by the Fairfield charity, which employs approximately 220 people – 70 of whom work full-time. The council has previously said it will “engage the Fairfield charity in the future operations”, but has not elaborated on this.

The trust’s letter reads: “The trust is concerned the scheme is being advanced, and significant capital has been committed, without the involvement of a theatre/venue operator.”

It goes on to say that the redevelopment must “meet the needs of the end user”, and that the trust “strongly recommends a new operator is selected – or the existing operator is retained – and is involved in the design before proceeding with the scheme”.

Responding to the Trust’s letter, a council spokesman said: “We will be contacting the Theatres’ Trust in response to their offer of support to us of an advisory peer review, and welcome their involvement as a key national organisation that can help us develop the best possible future for Fairfield Halls.”

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