It was sad to see the pianos being removed from Croydon's premier entertainment venue this week. This one event raises many questions about Fairfield Halls as it remains closed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is a tragedy for Croydon that coronavirus hit the town just as Fairfield Halls was re-establishing itself after the over-long and over-budget closure for refurbishment. The £43m project was supposed to set the venue up for years to come and enable it to hold events that appealed to diverse audiences from Croydon and beyond. BH Live had agreed to act as the operator for the venue and brought with them a wealth of experience from their other venues including those in Bournemouth.
The scene was set for a grand reopening in 2018 after the planned £30m refurbishment following closure in 2016. Planned works included the removal of asbestos, updates to the whole venue and a new dance studio. In the end, the project cost £43m, opened more than a year late and didn't deliver all the elements of the intended works. When the venue finally re-opened it became clear the project had not been completed and visitors suffered the effects of closed/broken toilets, dirty seats and other things that detracted from the enjoyment of their visit. Not a great start.
One of the best things about Fairfield Halls is its concert hall which has some of the finest acoustics in Europe. It is the perfect auditorium for classical music concerts. Central to many concerts is the piano, and top pianists expect to play on a Steinway Grand piano. They also expect to have a Steinway practice piano. Sadly the two Steinway grand pianos that were in Fairfield Halls before it closed in 2016, are no longer there. Instead, an arrangement was made with Phoenix Pianos whereby they provided 9 pianos for Fairfield Halls (some grand and some upright), and were given naming rights for the Concert Hall which was renamed the Phoenix Concert Hall.
This week the Phoenix pianos were removed from Fairfield Halls. I have asked the Council what will replace these pianos, and whether the Concert Hall would no longer be the Phoenix Concert Hall. I hope the venue will once again have Steinway pianos so it will attract world-class pianists.
One of the major changes that was part of the refurbishment was the demolition of the Arnhem Gallery to be replaced with a two-storey building which included a performance space on the ground floor and a dance studio on the first floor. The aim of building the dance studio had been to promote dance within Croydon and provide a home for the many diverse dance groups in the borough. I'm not sure what happened but the dance studio has become the home of Talawa Theatre Company, not a dance company. It is great to have another theatre company, but what has happened to the plan to develop dance in Croydon? Was it worth the expense of a sprung floor if the Dance Studio is being used as a theatre?
Shortly before the venue shut due to the coronavirus, BH Live's manager for the venue resigned so the venue no longer has a manager. Given the recent series of events, I am concerned about the future of Fairfield Halls. There is no dance company. There are no pianos. There is no manager.