Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Future of Fairfield Halls

On Thursday 21 March the South Croydon Community Association is holding a discussion on the future of Croydon's Fairfield Halls at 7pm at St. Michael’s Church, Poplar Walk, Croydon, CR0 1UA. I will be attending. I have drafted  a discussion note, and will hand out a short version at the meeting.  This blog posting contains elements from both. 


 Fred Scott, a Croydon piano teacher and pianist and who runs and Soundpractice music agency, explains his involvement with Fairfield Halls. His experience and that of the  Croydon Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Festival, are examples of how individuals and groups can help to ensure that FH has a varied programme of events, in Fred’s case with a particular emphasis on showcasing Croydon and South London young talent, and the Festival in celebrating a famous son of Croydon. 

Fred Scott

FH has always been co-operative in allowing me to book events there focused on performances involving local young artists across genres of music.

‘Soundpractice has staged events including lunchtime concerts, pre-concert foyer performances and events for last year's Coleridge-Taylor Festival. This last especially was a great forum for young people to perform; some students of mine were able to have premiered a piece they had written around SCT, also involving LMP in the performance.

Last November saw local Youth Theatre Company Studio 74 give the first performance in Ashcroft Theatre of a new musical by Stella Coussell (South London composer) called 'Song for the World', based around the life of SCT, a further performance for BHM 2013 is currently being arranged.

in addition, Soundpractice has been able to put on concerts as fund-raisers for Skeletal Cancer Action Trust, some of these have featured people affected by that disease. More of these concerts are planned for 2014.

There will be a series of concerts in Spring 2014 which will raise funds for SCAT, involving a celebration of the 80th birthday of eminent British composer, and South London resident, Justin Connolly, who will also be performing himself.

Future concerts in 2014 will also include prominent international  artists in recital who bring their considerable following to Croydon.

Included in current planning is to stage a major international-reach multi-genre music festival culminating in a collaboration to find instrumentalists, composers and conductors of excellence.

I would like to help re-establish FH as a major centre within London for the staging of important musical/cultural events as it is my firmly held belief that if the profile can be raised sufficiently this will only benefit Croydon and demonstrate new possibilities to young people for avenues of achievement.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Festival 2012

Croydon based Surrey Opera’s Artistic Director Jonathan Butcher initiated the year long Croydon Samuel Coleridge Taylor Festival. Several events in the programme were held at FH, including the world premiere of the SC-T’s opera Thelma, and those organised by Fred Scott of Soundpractice agency (see above).

SCCF's Initiative

South Croydon Community Association is to be congratulated on the initiative to discuss the future of Fairfield Halls.

‘The aim of the meeting is to organise ourselves so that we can present a coherent vision to the management and trustees of Fairfield Halls and ensure that their programme more closely meets the needs of the community.

By bringing together many groups from across the Borough it must also be possible to put together better bids for funding for Arts for the Fairfield Halls and other venues.’


The Association has listed the following questions:

1.         What entertainment, if any, would people pay for?
2.         How can the Fairfield Halls best serve Croydon?
3.         How can the Fairfield Halls generate employment, especially for young people?
4.         Can we create links between the Fairfield Halls and various community groups?

Additional questions that could be asked include:

What improvements to publicity can be undertaken?
How can FH’s publicity be linked to community websites and enetworks?
Can those involved in Croydon Tech City help develop a cultural enetwork?
Has FH got any spare space behind the scenes as office/workspace for cultural organisations?
What is the scope for increasing the number of exhibitions displayed at FH, including in partnership with other organisations e.g. the current exhibition Modern Masters in Print: Matisse, Picasso, Dalí and Warhol at Wandsworth Museum in partnership with the Victoria & Albert Museum?
Can lunch-time events be scheduled every day?
What can be learnt from other venues like Battersea Arts Centre?
How can the range of food and speed of service be improved at the café to make FH a venue for people meeting informally for social and business purposes?

Some Comments

I have received the following comments.

·         There needs to be a better overall mix of events = very little studio stuff – film showings should be very popular.
·         Long term, the approach to the halls needs improvement – lighting at least – it is currently bleak and somewhat forbidding.
·         How can the larger concert hall be better used for events which do not attract a full audience – e. g.  partitioning – would it be sensible to have long term plans for smaller auditoriums – similar too, but better carried out, like many cinemas?
·         The largest hall is poorly lit and badly in need of renovation if it is to attract conferences and weddings which would perhaps allow for occasional charity events/fairs.
·         The food outlet needs huge improvement – expensive and not that good.

The Future Role of the Council

Croydon Council’s record over the last few years seems to have been one of cultural destruction.

The Budget Options papers 2013-14 approved  earlier this year spelt this out as follows:

·         ‘Reduce the council role in facilitation of culture - including reducing the archive service to a statutory minimum.’

It is deeply worrying when any local authority reduces its support for the wide range of cultural and heritage activities.  We have already seen the damage done by the closure of the David Lean Cinema in the Clocktower, the shafting of the Warehouse Theatre, and the uncertainties about the future of the libraries. The rich heritage and history of Croydon is an important part of cultural activity. Fortunately after objections the  Council reversed its position on the reduction in the role of the Local Archives/Studies service.

With further cuts that it will have to make, regardless of which political party is in control, the Council cannot be relied on to invest any serious sums of money in cultural activities. It will stretch the energies of campaigners to defend what little remains, especially in respect of the Libraries and the Archives/Local Studies Service. While it has a Cultural Strategy what it can do to implement it will be determined by budget constraints.

In sharp contrast to Croydon’s approach is that of Tory run Wandsworth Council. The annual Arts Festival takes place this year from 3-19 May, and the Heritage Festival from 30 May to 16 June.

Towards a Community Cultural & Heritage Strategy

Every community and voluntary organisation is involved or can be involved in cultural and heritage activity. Community and voluntary sector organisations so involved could consider developing their own Cultural & Heritage Strategy, designed to foster joint working, identifying sources of money, sustaining what exists, and forming the basis for demands on the Council in the future.

There a number of broader issues that need to be taken into account in preparing such a Strategy including the continuing recession, 'spiritual;' capital, and community cohesion and diversity. 

New Opportunities

New opportunities continue to emerge.

·         The Heritage Lottery Fund continues to support a range of local projects, many of which use a wide range of cultural approaches to telling historical stories and examining aspects of the heritage of the built environment. HLF has just announced a new programme for smaller funded projects: Sharing History (£3m).

·         Whitgift Foundation has announced it would like to do more work on Croydon’s heritage, but is looking for funding, despite its own massive asset base and income generation. Discussions need to be held with the Trustees to persuade them to invest funds in community cultural and heritage activities.

·         Whether you agree or not with the massive funding redevelopment of the Whitgift shopping centre, the developers will have to provide a large sum of money under the Community Infrastructure Levy (which has replaced Section 106). There is a strong case for lobbying them (and the Council) to endow a fund for community cultural and heritage activity controlled by the community and voluntary sector. 

Where Next?

I hope that the discussion started at the meeting will continue, with perhaps a follow-up meeting in which those attending work in small groups on aspects of developing a Community Cultural & Heritage Strategy leading the formation of a Community Cultural & Heritage Alliance.

Sean Creighton

A fuller note explaining some of the issues in more detail is available from

See previous related discussion pieces at