The Advisory Review about Fairfield Halls has finally been released after the meeting that took place in June this year.
This article highlights the issues raised by the Review and takes direct quotes from the paper (italicised where they are direct quotes).
The first thing that becomes clear about the review is that it does not take into account the concerns of the Croydon residents who fought so hard to keep Fairfield Halls open during the refurbishment.
'It is noted that the review is focussed on the questions specifically raised by the London Borough of Croydon and therefore does not provide a full technical review of the scheme or serve to answer queries raised by any third party interests outside of the review itself.'
Its scope is limited to the questions that Croydon's Labour-run Council wants considered. This means that the questions raised by the Save Fairfield campaign are intentionally ignored.
The panel of the Advisory Review pointed out some major issues with the plans for Fairfield Halls. 'The Panel expressed concern that there is no finalised operational brief to guide the scheme design.'
It can only be concluded that the Council does not actually have an operational brief to guide the scheme design. Does that mean that they will leave that to the new operator? The risk with doing this is that the operator will deliver a narrow range of programming that generates maximum profit. Will the profits of an independent operator be put before delivering a wider cultural programme for Croydon that is accessible to all residents? Clearly the objective should be to remove the need for subsidy, but what requirement will there be to deliver the programme that meets the needs of residents?
'The operational model needs to fully consider what the building can do for the art form.'
'The importance of finding a focus and identity for Fairfield Halls was stressed.'
'The future population surge provides a new audience on the doorstep - a real asset. More needs to be done to understand the likely demographic of this population and how to make the building appeal to both them and the existing audiences in terms of performance programme and architecture.'
It is surprising that the work to define the audience and their requirements has not yet been done. Fairfield Halls has been closed for more than two months and there is still no clear idea of what the Council hopes to deliver when it reopens. Without this ground work, it is hard to see how the Council can make major decisions about the technical details of the refurbishment.
'The solution for the get in requires consideration within the overall operating model. Consider the priorities for the building. Is it more beneficial to have a solution that works for all shows, or to have a solution that works for the majority of the programme, with a minority of shows working around the constraints?'
The Council also needs to ensure the organ is protected and the work costed. 'Ensure that the protection of the organ and subsequent servicing and any necessary upgrade is adequately covered in the cost plan and also within the programme.'
'The overall scheme should not lose sight of the importance of reducing running costs to allow budget to be spent on arts development rather than maintenance costs.' If the Council does not reduce the running costs of the venue, it will leave Fairfield Halls in a precarious financial position after the refurbishment. That's assuming the refurbishment is completed because the report casts doubt over whether the budget will be enough to complete the work.