Sunday, 16 February 2014

Are Fairfield Halls Under Threat?

Rumour has it that the Tories are exploring with a property developer the possibility of demolishing Fairfield Halls and redeveloping the area. As the Halls are owned by the Council and leased to the Halls charitable company, the Council can of course do what it likes. Sale of the site would only bring in a large capital receipt but also mean the money budgeted to be invested in the Halls will not need to be spent. If the rumour is true then it is a high risk strategy for the Tories to follow. Whatever reservations people have about the way the Halls are managed and the limited programme offer, there could be a big backlash from the  public and the arts world. Many people supported the sale of the Riesco collection because the money from the sales was supposed to be going to the refurbishment of the Halls.

If the rumours are true then the future of the arts in Croydon could become a big issue in the local elections. Both major parties have yet to  to set out their future cultural strategies. The formation of the Croydon Arts Network independent of the Council provides a real challenge to them.

Launch of Arts Network

The Network launch meeting was held on Saturday (15 February). A diverse group of people have committed themselves to being on the Committee. The next steps are to register the Network as a Community Interest Company. A working group is already constructing a database.

The Network has developed from the initiative of the South Croydon Community Association last year to look at the future of the Fairfield Halls which led to the Arts Debate meeting. Concern about the future of the arts as a result of Council decisions on the Riesco Collection the Warehouse Theatre and the David Lean Cinema, coupled with a very fragmented but vibrant arts community, plus interest from arts funders, has set the ground for the Network to develop particularly into a way in which people can get to know each other and work on new initiatives. There will be general meetings, similar to Croydon Tech City, possibly every two months, social events to enable people to get to know each other, and smaller meetings in different areas to link with those who find it difficult to make general meetings in Central Croydon. The the Network will be independent and be developed by those taking part. One of its most important functions will be assisting people to get to know each other across organisations enabling them to generate new ideas and activities. 

Arts, Culture and Heritage

Culture is the characteristics of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts. In Britain culture is influenced by the many groups of people that now reside here, re-shaping it not only in diverse ways but also in cross-pollination. Croydon’s local history and heritage is an important aspect of that wider culture and changes as it reflects that growing diversity and interaction. The most powerful forces, however, reshaping that heritage as reflected in the built environment, are largely developers seeking to make massive profits regardless of what effects they have on local communities. The arts, cultural and heritage activity have a role in helping people understand Croydon better and shape what kind of society we want. Specific arts activities can be used to illustrate the heritage allowing people to explore, interpret and express their cultural values through telling a story about local people communities and events.

Among the many initiatives in arts, culture and heritage over the last couple of years have been:
·         The Croydon Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Festival 12 commemorating the 100th anniversary of the death of Croydon’s black composer, the programme including the world premiere of his opera Thelma.
·         The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Network promoting knowledge about the composer and promoting event sin Croydon and elsewhere.
·         The launch of Croydon Citizen to encourage debate on local affairs, history and culture, first on the web and now also in print, and which includes contributions on historical topics and their relevance today, including the series on London Rd by Kake.
·         The Croydon Heritage Festival, sponsored by the Whitgift Foundation, now being planned for its second year from Saturday 21 June to Friday 4 July.
·         The David Lean Cinema Campaign’s film shows and the growth of other film show initiative, e.g. at Ruskin House.
·         Community history projects e.g. in Broad Green and the proposed South Croydon Heritage Trail.
·         The setting up of the Croydon Radical History Network to explore the hidden histories of Croydon: working-class, labour movement, friendly societies, the fight for the vote, black and Asian, etc.

Debate, networking, sharing information and working together on projects is key to enriching the arts, cultural and heritage mix. Venues like Matthews Yard, The Spread Eagle, Ruskin House, and other community halls and pubs enable small arts organisations to show case their work, but often have limited audience capacity.

Are There Potential Alternative Buildings for Cultural Centre?

If Fairfield Halls is demolished then the larger venues it provides disappear meaning Croydon can no longer attract national shows touring the country. An alternative venue will be needed.

One possibility is SEGAS House (32 Park Lane). Since its closure in 1949, this building has been the subject of numerous speculative fantasies, but all have failed to materialise. Its Grade II listed status has made the reuse of the building commercially unviable, and therefore is not included in the vision for the Town, resulting in its exclusion from the current vision for the town. Are there other empty neglected buildings which could be looked at as well?

If the Tories regain control in May and sell the Fairfield Halls then there will need to a strong campaign to ensure that the Community Infrastructure Levy funds turning any alternative buildings
into a new cultural centre. If Labour gains control then it will need to make its position on the future of the Halls clear – will it retain them or follow the Tories lead?

Arts, cultural and heritage writings

Fairfield Halls and Arts Debate

The Council and Culture

Engaging in Cultural Activities
Croydon’s Black History
Chartism and Croydon
Paul Robeson
12 Years A Slave – The Context
Keep on singing along to Pete Seeger
Taras Shevchencko
200th Anniversary of birth of Ukrainian poet. artist and nationalist –  to be published by Croydon Citizen
South Croydon Heritage
3 parter - to be published by Croydon Citizen

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Network

Set up December 2009

Croydon Radical History Network

First Newsletter January 2014: Why a Radical History Network for Croydon?; Croydon Citizen Postings; Croydon’s Labour Movement 1860s -1930s; Some Croydon People; Riot Damages 1887;   An Introduction to Ruskin House; William Pare – Advocate of Co-operation; Croydon International Language Club.

The Network is considering what activities to run during the Croydon Heritage Festival.

History & Social Action Publications

HAS Diary – events, news, comments on Croydon and elsewhere. Available via email -
Stephen Bourne & Esther Bruce. Esther Bruce. A Black London Seamstress. Her Story 1912-1994. £4 + 50p p&p
Penelope Corfield. Vauxhall. Sex and Entertainment. London's Pioneering Urban Pleasure Garden.  (revised edition with new chapter).  £5 + £1 p&p
Jeffrey Green. Coleridge-Taylor. A Centenary Celebration. £4 plus 50p p&p
Peter Kuenstler. Learning About Community (Oxford House Bethnal Green). £5 plus £1 p&p
Jon Newman. Battersea's Global Reach. The History of Price's Candles. £5 plus £1 p&p
Jason Young. Mother Seacole. Short Story. £2 plus 50p p&p

Edwardian Roller-Skating

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