To receive an update on the Fairfield Halls from the Venue Director, Neil Chandler.
Neil Chandler, the Venue Director for the operators of Fairfield Halls – BH Live, was in attendance at the meeting to provide an update on the redevelopment of the venue and the future plans for the Halls once it re-opened. Prior to the start of the meeting a tour of venue had been arranged for the Committee, to allow Members the opportunity to view the progress made to date on the redevelopment.
It was confirmed to the Committee that the newly redeveloped Fairfield Halls would reopen in September 2019, with the website for the venue, including information about events, going live in January 2019. As it was noted that there had been criticism on social media about the redevelopment, it was hoped that there would be support from the entire Council once shows started to go on sale in January. This view was echoed by the Committee who recognised the importance of the Fairfield Halls to the wider area.
In response to a question about accessibility for larger vehicles to deliver equipment for shows and tours at the rear of the venue, it was advised that this had been considered as part of the redevelopment plan. The Fairfield Halls was designed as a concert hall with a capacity of around 1,800 seats. Touring theatre shows require a much larger capacity to be economic and there are several such larger venues in the area that are more attractive to promoters and are better suited to hosting this type of show. It was therefore decided that it would not be cost effective to undertake the work needed and to focus on the strengths of the venue which are hosting classical and live performances, comedy shows and local community events.
It was questioned whether there would be any engagement with the Mobility Forum to test the venue’s accessibility prior to opening. It was advised that this could be arranged, but it would need to be after the power was turned back on at the venue and the new lifts were operational. The new developments would mark a huge improvement in terms of access; prior to the redevelopment there had only been a single wheelchair lift at the front of the venue and as part of the improvements, all lifts were now accessible. The dressing rooms had also been made accessible, along with accessible toilets on each floor. There are also plans for a Changing Places facility in the venue. The Committee agreed to recommend that BH Live engage with the Mobility Forum and Councillor Andy Stranack on the accessibility of the venue prior to its opening.
As the Halls had previously been partially staffed by volunteers, it was questioned whether this would continue to be the case once it reopened. It was confirmed that BH Live did not use volunteers but used paid staff for the front of house functions. BH Live had high expectations of its staff and a strong focus on excellent customer service and as such was committed to paying the London Living Wage and had an ongoing commitment to training.
In response to a question about the offer for local community groups, it was confirmed that they would be charged half the full rate for the hire of the venue, which was lower than the previous pricing. The hire charge for community groups had been set after a lot of research into pricing across the local area, but it was recognised that it was not possible to please everyone. It was also acknowledged that there were other venues in the local area and as such it was important to ensure that community events were spread across the borough.
It was noted that once it reopened there would be a number of different spaces within the venue that could be hired for functions included the old Arnhem Gallery, the main foyer and the concert hall, which could all seat up to 300 people. This meant that there was potential for three different events to be held at the same time.
It was confirmed that seating in the venue had been re-upholstered rather than completely replaced, as complete replacement was not needed. The toilets in the venue had been upgraded, with some relocated to allow for increased provision. It was also confirmed that the Halls would be participating in the national scheme for carers, with the exact details of this to be finalised.
It was noted that catering would be a key area for the business and was an area that BH Live were particularly well known for. Within the venue there would be a bistro opened during the day and for event dining. There would also be a separate café and a foyer café as well. To ensure that the venue could cope with any demand for refreshments, more bars and selling points had been installed and an in-seat app to pre-order drinks which would be delivered to the seats had also been installed.
In response to a question about the plans for the re-opening and how it would be marked, it was advised that it would focus upon ensuring the celebrations were representative of Croydon as a borough now. It was suggested that it would also be important to acknowledge the history of the venue as well.
It was confirmed that the former Arnhem Gallery would be renamed the Croydon Rec when it reopened, with the foyer being renamed as the Arnhem Foyer. The renaming of the foyer would be marked by a civic event with representatives from Arnhem invited to attend in October 2019. A concern was raised about the name Croydon Rec, as it was felt that this could be misconstrued. It was agreed that this would be taken away for further consideration.
As it was highlighted that 2022 would mark the 60th Anniversary of the Fairfield Halls it was suggested that it would be great if events could be organised to mark the occasion. It was agreed that this was something that could looked into.
In forming its recommendations, the Committee reached the following conclusions:
1. The Committee agreed that the re-opening of the Fairfield Halls was crucial to the economy of the local area and as such it was essential that it was successful.
2. The Committee agreed that the Venue Manager had presented what appeared to be a very cogent account of the business plan
3. The Committee had concerns about the accessibility of the venue and felt that further engagement was needed to provide reassurance.
4. Despite concern that may have been previously expressed, it was generally thought to be the case that all Councillors were supportive of the venue and were keen for it to succeed.
The Committee RESOLVED to recommend that the project leads meet with Councillor Andy Stranack and the Mobility Forum to provide reassurance in regard to the accessibility of the venue.