Special guests included Dame Judi Dench, who reopened the Ashcroft Playhouse in honour of her friend and Croydon-born actress the late Dame Peggy Ashcroft, and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who formally opened the building.
Dame Judi highlighted Croydon’s rich artistic heritage while giving a nod of approval to the renaming of the Ashcroft Playhouse, formerly the Ashcroft Theatre, saying: “A playhouse – you know where you are with that. A place where you do plays – and that’s a great tradition of this town.”
She unveiled the People’s Picture, a giant commemorative mosaic by artist Helen Marshall, before taking to the stage in the Ashcroft Playhouse for a live Q and A with broadcaster John Hannam and British author and theatre critic Michael Billington. Questions came from local drama GCSE and A-Level students. She was joined by local spoken word poet Darren Randon from Well Versed Ink, who performed a special commission.
Dame Judi was met by Leader of Croydon Council, Councillor Tony Newman; cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport, Councillor Oliver Lewis; and Fairfield Halls Venue & Artistic Director Neil Chandler, BH Live. She was then introduced to the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, as he arrived with Deputy Mayor for Culture and the Creative Industries Justine Simons OBE and Sarah Jones MP to officially open the building.
During a tour of the new and restored spaces, the Mayor described the revamped venue as ‘amazing’, praising its accessibility with a year-round programme of free entertainment, and new cultural offer which reflects the borough’s rich diversity.
Councillor Tony Newman, Leader of Croydon Council, said: “Today is a great day for Croydon. We’re proud to have restored this magnificent building, but also to have transformed its cultural offer so that it truly reflects 21st century Croydon – exciting, vibrant, rich in opportunity and open to all.”
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Culture is in the DNA of Croydon, and this fantastic transformation of Fairfield Halls is the perfect example of the exciting creative future that lies ahead for the borough. It’s testament to the hard work and vision of the council and all those behind this dynamic project, who share an ambition to make sure the next generation can enjoy the arts. They know the arts should be for everyone and the difference it can make to the potential of our young people.”
Michael Buffong, Artistic Director of Talawa Theatre Company, told him: “What’s really important to us is that we need a space, and also we wanted to be embedded in a community, but the most important thing – to use a colloquialism – is the vibe. I want to be in a place where we feel like we belong – Croydon’s exciting, it’s got promise, and I want to be in it as an artist.”
The tour was followed by a civic ceremony where the Mayor of London formally opened the main venue and unveiled a plaque in his name. The audience enjoyed performances from Silvastone with LMP, and Shaniqua Benjamin, spoken word artist and Founder of Young People’s Insight. Shaniqua performed a special commission, A Palace of Magic and Memories, dedicated to Fairfield Halls. Councillor Alison Butler, Deputy Leader of the Council, then concluded the ceremony by formally handing over the keys of the building to operators BH Live
Venue & Artistic Director Neil Chandler, BH Live, said: “To be custodians of this wonderful venue is a privilege and we are delighted to now begin what we are here to do, to deliver a diverse programme of arts, culture, events, entertainment and education for the people of Croydon and its wider communities.”
At the event Councillor Oliver Lewis announced Croydon would be bidding to become London’s Borough of Culture in 2023. He said: “As we go on to develop as a music city and a Creative Enterprise Zone, this stunning venue will be a platform for the many talented aspiring artists and organisations in our borough, putting Croydon firmly on the map as a destination. But this is just the start - our cultural ambition does not stop here. Croydon will be bidding to be London Borough of Culture in 2023.”
A major Croydon Council investment has transformed Fairfield Halls into a stunning new arts centre, where in partnership with the council, operators BH Live will deliver an exciting programme that celebrates Croydon’s rich diversity. Together, they will create unprecedented opportunities for the community to participate in the arts.
The refurbishment is the first phase in the development of a new cultural quarter in Croydon’s town centre – a major milestone in the town’s ongoing regeneration. A new £10million scheme will provide the perfect setting for the revamped venue with a new public space, linking to landscaping to The Queen’s Gardens and route from East Croydon.
The £42m Fairfield Halls refurbishment has been funded by development value from surrounding land, alongside contributions from the Coast to Capital LEP and the Mayor of London’s Creative Enterprise Zone scheme. The award-winning project was delivered by Brick by Brick, the development company established by the council, who led a multidisciplinary project team including MICA Architects and Gleeds.
Spaces at the venue include the world-class Phoenix Concert Hall, Ashcroft Playhouse, Arnhem Foyer and new spaces including The Recreational, Savvy and Talawa studios and the John Whitgift Community Cube. New companies-in-residence, the UK’s premiere black theatre company, Talawa and inclusive Savvy Theatre Company, will join resident orchestra LMP, and orchestras-in-partnership the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Chineke! Orchestra to offer a diverse mix of entertainment that is truly reflective of Croydon’s community.
For the first time, Fairfield Halls will be a production centre where new work is created, with education at its core. Through initiatives such as the council-led cultural internships programme, the Yamaha Music School and the Phoenix Academy, Fairfield is committed to training the next generations of musicians, actors and theatre leaders, while offering opportunities to all through outreach work.
A year-round programme of free entertainment in the foyer, funded by commercial activities in the new business lounge, will ensure Fairfield Halls is accessible, open and inspiring to all.