From 1999 to 2008, Croydon was my hometown and a place for play. Living next to Wandle Park, I had the freedom to explore, cycle, make dens and hang out with school mates. I was the Croydon Carnival Princess in 2002 and loved this wild sense of community spirit. Croydon made me – opportunities to grow, learn, develop and transform yourself. For my family, it was their very first step onto the serious property ladder and a nest to welcome the birth of my little sister.
Being a blogger and working within the theatre industry, I pinch myself and wonder “how did I get here?” I must admit the National Theatre inspired my “get up and go“, but I’m sure Fairfield Halls planted this theatre seed of creativity and curiosity. As Croydon’s castle, Fairfield Halls was the ultimate destination to receive your school certificates, watch boring texts become exciting plays and impress family and friends with your latest creation. Not forgetting, their amazing Christmas pantos! I may cringe at my panto days now, but I can’t forget the laughter and skipping home with my disco wand and signed programme. So when this news hit….
…it hit home.
Stumbling across the Save our Fairfield petition, I signed my name without hesitation, but it felt impersonal to simply hit the enter button. Fairfield Halls deserves so much more. I wanted to share this campaign with you so…meet Andy Hylton, the man behind Save our Fairfield, and please someone give him a medal. Most of us moan and grumble at the news, but it takes balls to do something about it. I admire Andy’s determination to start this campaign and want to thank him for inspiring others to save the one and only Fairfield Halls.
Tell me about yourself
I am filmmaker and have worked in music video production for twenty years. I now run non-profit company called Rough Shot Project which aims to help young homeless people gain training, inspiration and experience on video shoots and workshops. I also keep involved in theatre and live events by working as a casual technician at the Fairfield Halls.
Why is Fairfield Halls important for Croydon?
I have worked in theatres since I was 16, starting in Scarborough, Yorkshire. I have seen three theatres demolished by uncaring councils and I’m currently also involved in a documentary to profile the people and crew that worked in the Futurist theatre in Scarborough. The council want to demolish that one and I know that theatres are often the heart of a town. I recently started to work backstage at Fairfield and thought I could use my filmmaking to highlight the issues around the redevelopment of the venue, which lead to me getting involved with a campaign to keep Fairfield open.
Your petition has nearly collected 7,000 signatures, what inspired you to create this Save Our Fairfield campaign?
Fairfield Halls was built in 1962 and so it has been the centre of arts and music to the community for over 50 years. The building was originally funded to buy the ‘6d tax’ which was levied on all the resident ratepayers in Croydon. This means it belongs to the people of Croydon and their wishes should be listened to. Its fantastic that the building is having money spent on it, as it needs some work, but the idea of losing it for more than two years would have a serious impact on the community and lead to an unnecessary loss of valued facilities and services, reducing the community’s access to the arts.
Any famous supporters?
Paul Heaton (Beautiful South) is a big supporter. We shot Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbotts latest video at the venue, as part of my Rough Shots Project, helping young people suffering homeless issues get training in video production with workshops and work experience.
During the musical protest, Darrell Davison (Conductor of the Croydon Symphony Orchestra) said this “cultural wilderness is just about to descend on us”. Can you expand on his point further? Can’t theatre companies, creatives and audiences find new alternative venues within Croydon and surrounding areas?
Darrell has been involved with Fairfield Halls all of his life since he attended the first performance conducted by his father Arthur Davison in 1966. Darrell more than anyone know the connection that the community has with classical music and the wider arts. This is the ONLY venue in Croydon capable of accommodations such a large audience and a full Symphony Orchestra. The staging works on hydraulic platforms which is essential for the such as the London Philharmonic Orchestra. We can all see that once Fairfield Halls closes, it will cut off this connection with the thousands of young musician and school children who perform here every year and with arts in general across the South-East.
It has been confirmed that Fairfield Halls will close for two years in the summer – your reaction to this news?
The announcement is disappointing, but comes as no surprise to campaigners, who have been calling on the council to adopt a phased refurbishment so that at least one of Fairfield’s three venues could remain open throughout. This latest news follows a previous council statement that it would withdraw all funding from Fairfield Halls if it did not capitulate to the council’s demand to close on June 30th. Fairfield (Croydon) Ltd had no option but to agree to the Council’s terms.
Has your campaign been in vain?
Our campaign has only just started. A lot can happen before July 15th.
Do you feel the council has ignored the campaign, especially the importance of the arts industry?
The council has refused to talk about this with the management and I think the idea is more about regime change and a rebrand of the whole town rather than looking to improve the venue. The council has yet to reply to any of my emails and letters and Cllr Godfrey spend a lot of time on Twitter putting down the ideas of our campaign and the work done by Fairfield Ltd. He used to sit on the board so he knows full well how much the venue is loved in the town.
You were asking for a phased development, but the council argued this approach would be “too expensive, time consuming” and have “health and safety” implications. Were you aware of this?
Until plans and costing are published, we only have the words of the Councillors as to how much the phased development we favourite would cost. The building is perfect for a phased approach. The way it is designed helps split the three venues. With a little bit of work during a shorter full closure, the electrics, water and heating etc can be re-routed to allow each venue to operate independently. During this time works like replacing the boilers and removing asbestos can also be done. Then, once that is complete, one or two venues can re-open whilst work continues in the other(s) and then alternate over however long it takes – 12 – 18 months per venue is an estimate those with experience have told me. This is a true phased approach.
How do you stay motivated and positive for Fairfield Halls’ future?
Many of my work colleagues at Fairfield Halls are now good friends and I see them regularly. I have recently shot a music video with Paul Heaton at the venue and used the technical crew in my video and also roped in staff to play extra roles. Seeing the hundreds of school children arriving for concerts keeps my focus on the end-game which is keeping the venue alive for the community and to encourage all arts and music in Croydon.
Would you agree Fairfield Halls needs a major 21st century facelift?
We completely welcome investment in the Halls but it needs to be done with the collaboration of the management and technical staff as we know what is best needed and where money needs fro be spent. Some of the ideas in the plans look unnecessary, like the rear stage truck-lift access and side entrance. There is a feeling that the needs of the venue are taking second place to a development of apartments and we also fear that once closed, the venue may never reopen. A phased development will:
• Ensure the longevity of the venue
• Provide Croydon with a much needed cultural identity over the next two years
• Continue to stage great events – from established favourites to the new and brave!
• Build on the work already undertaken to improve “Brand Croydon” by attracting headline music acts to the Borough
• Maintain audience engagement and a home for community initiatives
• Ensure that on completion of the redevelopment, the Fairfield will be a vibrant and ALREADY OPERATIONAL world-class venue.
Any inspiring or heart-breaking stories about how much the venue is loved within the local community?
Darrell Davison has told how he remembers the venue as a young boy of 9 and he continues the work of his late father, Arthur Davison as musical director of the Croydon Symphony Orchestra. Darrell has a real passion for both music and the people of Croydon and his desire to spread the love of music is inspirational.
We have written to Cllr Newman and Godfrey requesting a public meeting where this can all be discussed with transparency. I will also hope to be delivering the petition to a full council meeting in April.
How do you plan to revive Croydon’s lost heartbeat?
We will continue to campaign for those being needlessly evicted at Fairfield Halls. We strongly believe that wider access to quality music and the arts will be threatened if this closure goes ahead. Many groups supporting vulnerable and disadvantaged people, as well as the tens of thousands of local school children who participate in performances and events at the Fairfield Halls, will lose their valuable connection to the arts in Croydon for over two years. There are still negotiations to be had to make sure the Council make adequate alternative arrangements for these people, once closure goes ahead.
Please show your support for Fairfield Halls and sign the Save our Fairfield petition here.
Big thanks to Andy Hylton!