Choir seeks compensation for BHLive’s Fairfield mess

Rare event: the Fairfield Halls rooms are not used three quarters of the nights this year

CROYDON IN CRISIS: BHLive, the under-fire operators of the council-owned arts complex, have been accused of costing one of the borough’s top arts groups thousands of pounds over their mismanagement of the venue prestige. By our artistic correspondent, BELLA BARTOCK

Disappointed: the Croydon Philharmonic Choir felt let down by their treatment of BHLive

Potentially hundreds of pounds in lost ticket sales, an unstaffed ticket office, closed toilets, non-working lifts, thousands of extra pounds spent on a grand piano not provided by the venue, and not even the promised access to in-house cafe for hard-working musicians to grab a cup of tea during rehearsals.

These are just some of the complaints following what was supposed to be a gala concert given by the Croydon Philharmonic Choir, guest orchestras and around 120 performers in total at the Fairfield Halls earlier this month.

The Halls, owned by Croydon Council, is already being investigated for fraud over the £67million outlay for an incomplete and never-completed refurbishment.

But since theaters reopened in September 2019 and business resumed after the covid shutdowns, criticism has mounted of the venue’s operators, BHLive, its skeletal staff at the high-profile venue, and its ultra-lively artistic offering. slim.

Inside Croydon obtained a copy of a lengthy letter of criticism from Croydon Philharmonic Choir officials following what was supposed to be a triumphant return to the venue after a two-year covid-enforced absence, which followed the controversial closure of three years of the Halls for renovation.

The frustration of Croydon culture lovers is evident in some of the comments from those who attended the Croydon Philharmonic’s gala concert earlier this month.

As our correspondent noted after the evening, “The Fairfield Halls are open for business, but in a rather shy way.”

Center Stage: the gala concert, where performers had to provide their own Bechstein grand piano, costing £1,400 for the night. Photo: Simon Bentley

And according to the letter to BHLive, “It’s so disappointing that the venue is closed most of the time, making it impossible for passers-by to walk around and pick up brochures, buy tickets or view posters of next attractions.

“The Fairfield Halls are supposed to be a cultural center, but no one can come close to a culture!”

The Croydon Philharmonic are supposed to seek compensation from BHLive for the extra costs they incurred (such as having to bring their own grand piano), but also for lost ticket sales due to non-existent marketing by the venue and the lack ticket office.

The mismanagement of Fairfield Halls has become a local electoral issue, with mayoral candidates Andrew Pelling and Peter Underwood both calling for the inept BHLive to be replaced by a Croydon-based trust whose expertise is in the arts, rather than in the management of swimming pools and conferences. sites, which is the core business of Bournemouth-based BHLive.

Only Val Shawcross, the Labor mayoral candidate, refused to demand that BHLive be sacked; it was Shawcross’ Labor colleagues who nominated BHLive.

With their status under scrutiny and their contract threatened, BHLive recently appointed a new general manager at Fairfield Halls, after the venue went more than two years without an artistic director. Jonathan Higgins comes from Rochdale and quickly made conciliatory noises: “It’s the Croydon place, a community place and everything else comes after.”

Call for change: Mayoral candidate Andrew Pelling

And BHLive responded to the Philharmonie’s letter of complaint by requesting an urgent meeting with the choir’s disappointed leaders.

They seem to have a lot to discuss and address.

In the Philharmonic’s letter, they pointed out how BHLive’s own website promised that the venue’s box office would be open from 5:30 p.m. on the day of the concert. But that was not the case.

This has deprived concert producers of around a fifth of their normal audience, many of whom arrive as “walk-ins”: people who show up at night ready to buy their tickets without worrying about online reservations or additional booking fees.

“Nearly 20% of our ticket sales are made this way,” according to the Philharmonic.

“We tend to attract mature audiences and given the covid situation, making a last minute decision coming up might be seen as more likely this time around.” After all, who wants to pay for tickets to a concert and get landed with a positive LFT in the morning?

Instead of a functional ticket office, as you would expect in any high-profile concert hall, BHLive had a staff member with a tablet offering to make last-minute online reservations in the changing room.

“We stood in line for 20 minutes to buy tickets and had to deal with a cloakroom attendant who was told to sell tickets via an iPad,” says one customer.

In the bag: BHLive staff were more concerned with security checks than ticketing. Photo: Simon Bentley

They said of the cloakroom attendant: ‘He had absolutely no customer service skills and very little knowledge of seating arrangements but, to be fair to him, I doubt he would do the work for which he had been recruited.

“Everyone in the queue was shocked to find that they were charged a reservation fee at the gate and weren’t even able to select their own seats. I’m used to to buy tickets at the door in large halls and it is unusual to have to pay a reservation fee.

The customer said that when the payment machine stopped working, he received no receipt. “We still don’t know if we paid for our tickets.” And instead of tickets with an assigned seat number, they received a Post-It with hastily scribbled numbers just before the concert started.

It didn’t work out too easily either.

“The seats allocated to us were already taken, so we just sat elsewhere.”

There were also long delays in entering the venue as venue security scanned spectators on arrival, leaving many shivering outside on a chilly evening.

BHLive’s ticket sales policy, restricting the choice of seats for the public, has also come under criticism, as has the absence of any promotion of the concert through posters or modern digital screens placed outside the venues. rooms that were installed for this purpose during the renovation. .

Shit show: Ollie Lewis was host at the launch of Val Shawcross’s campaign. He is the cabinet member responsible for many of the lingering problems at Fairfield Halls

Some of the issues that have arisen on the site are related to the controversial renovation and failed modernization and upgrades that have been promised and are still needed, and which are largely beyond BHLive’s control.

These mostly rest at the feet of the bankrupt and incompetent Croydon council, and the likes of Labor cabinet member for the arts, Ollie ‘Shitshow’ Lewis.

These are problems that remain almost three years after the construction work, and Brick by Brick, delivered the building after having “completed” its renovation.

The Docklands Sinfonia double bass player happened to be a young, petite woman. With no functioning stage gate lift – the renovation failed to replace the original 60-year-old backhouse lift – it was faced with the task of lugging his instrument down three flights of stairs.

As one of the artists of the night said Inside Croydon: “It’s a much-loved venue for South Londoners, which had a long-standing reputation for musical excellence. Current managers have banned many other community music groups and businesses from performing there.

“It has been a difficult few years, but if we want the Fairfield Halls to once again be a place that Croydon and London can be proud of, then BHLive must up their game dramatically and quickly, or make way for others who know the arts and know what they are doing.

Croydon is London’s Borough of Culture in 2023. And no, that’s not one of the jokes in Jimmy Carr’s latest racist set.

Read more: £67m arts center – with no art gallery and few shows
Read more: The big scandal at the center of Fairfield’s absurd saga
Read more: Conflicts of interest, incomplete contracts, illegal payments
Read more: The £30m Fairfield Halls project was never put out to tender

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