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Sports centre operator BH Live likely to run Croydon’s Fairfield Halls

Designs for the redeveloped Fairfield Halls. Photo: Rick Mather Architects

A sports centre operator is Croydon council’s top pick to run the embattled Fairfield Halls arts complex in south London.

BH Live, which is based in Bournemouth, also runs the Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre, but most of its 15-strong portfolio is made up of sports and leisure centres.

The council has confirmed that social enterprise BH Live has been selected as the preferred bidder following a tender process that began last year. The selection has been approved by the leader of the council but must be given the go-ahead by the scrutiny committee next week.

The council said it could not confirm the number of bidders; however, The Stage understands that BH Live was the only one.

The intention is for BH Live to operate the arts and cultural venue when it reopens in 2018 following a two-year refurbishment [1].

The £30 million project for Fairfield Halls and College Green was approved earlier this year despite hundreds of objections [2] and concerns over the viability and cost of the scheme.

Plans for the revamped venue include a 1,800-seat concert hall, a 2,000 sq metre art gallery, new shops, office space and 218 new homes.

BH Live has pledged to deliver a range of artistic and cultural activities at Fairfield, including theatre, opera, dance, live music, visual arts and comedy. The company said it would also host community events to put the new Fairfield Halls at the heart of Croydon’s cultural community.

Proposals also include a children’s theatre school, as well as partnerships with schools and colleges.

BH Live chief executive Peter Gunn said the company was delighted to have been selected as the preferred operator, adding that BH Live would “return Fairfield Halls back to the community as a transformed and thriving cultural hub”.

“As a social enterprise, one of our defining differences is that the surplus we make enables us to invest back into the venues and services we deliver. It also enables us to provide a diverse programme of activities and events with broad appeal to maximise on the venue’s unique spaces, which will further boost audiences and participation.”

Among the requirements placed on the new operator – outlined in the report prepared for the leader of the council – are contributing to the fit-out costs, launching the refurbished venue and its programme and maintaining it throughout the life of the contract.

This is currently set at 10 years, with an option to extend for a further five.

Cabinet member for culture, Timothy Godfrey, added that BH Live shared the council’s values around making Fairfield the cultural heart of Croydon, developing new talent and accessibility for the community.

“This is fantastic news for Fairfield Halls and fantastic news for Croydon,” he said.

Fairfield Halls closed for refurbishment in July 2016, with the charity that managed it going into administration just three days later [3], making 220 staff redundant.

The Save Our Fairfield campaigned against the two-year closure of the venue, requesting instead a phased refurbishment that would allow at least one of its venues to stay open at any given time. When plans were approved in February it also called for an operator to be introduced into the design process “at the earliest opportunity” in order to minimise any risk of mistake.

Responding to BH Live’s selection, Save Our Fairfield said it welcomed the announcement and was “delighted” that the chosen operator was a social enterprise rather than a purely commercial operation.

It added: “The interim provision of arts in Croydon has not been overwhelming and I know from speaking to schools and groups that there has been a huge hole left by the closure of the Fairfield last July.

“We have always supported the investment in the arts in Croydon, which have been sadly lacking through the previous years of Croydon Council neglect. We are happy that the new operator will be able to get involved in the design process and construction as soon as possible to avoid problems later for the operational staff.”

Fairfield Halls redevelopment timeline