A new cultural quarter for Croydon

Paula Murray is creative director at Croydon Council. Here she writes for IAM about a huge redevelopment project that will put culture – rather than just shopping ­– at the heart of the town.

There are cranes and concrete, towering buildings and neglected corners, 30s-meets-60s-meets-80s-meets-21st century architecture, and the trams rumble and clang through it all. The heritage of this place is so eclectic and colourful it can be bewildering. Everyone you meet has a particular passion – this place was the Roman centre of the saffron trade, this is the place where punk was born and brought up, this is where everyone changes trains. The cross-cultural mix here is wonderful and vibrant – there are many histories, many reputations and most importantly a bright future and lots to build on.

Croydon is on the verge of a huge amount of regeneration and development. The population is due to increase from around 370,000 to nearer 400,000 over the next few years. There are major retail schemes coming into the town centre, accommodation developments of all kinds and, as a centrepiece, the creation of a cultural and education quarter. This is a GBP750m (€879m) regeneration project for the College Green area, which will see a revitalised Fairfield Halls, new homes and public spaces and a new purpose-built college.

Fairfield Halls will close on 15 July, 2016, to enable the development to take place. The two-year period will allow for the GBP30m transformation of the ageing building into a spectacular arts and cultural centre, which will include comprehensive refurbishment of everything from the box office to the 1,800-seat concert hall and the 755-seat Ashcroft Theatre. The plans also include 2,000 square metres of gallery space in a brand new underground venue that will offer opportunities for large-scale contemporary exhibitions to be displayed.

Fairfield Halls
Fairfield Halls as it stands today

Without the element of a newly refurbished and revitalised Fairfield Halls, literally putting the cultural offer at the heart of a huge new development, Croydon’s future would not be looking so bright. To be a successful and desirable place for people to live and work and visit there needs to be more than a retail offer. A vibrant venue will be the making of the multi-use site, creating a destination and attracting a wide range of people. A series of events across the year in Croydon, making use of outdoor spaces and parks, will animate the area and bring people together.

We are fortunate in Croydon to have so many rich beginnings for cultural programmes and events in the histories, communities and individuals that are here. Fairfield Halls is an iconic venue – albeit one that has seen better days. There are artists and promoters who know this place intimately and are committed to Croydon and really want to make a difference here. There are people to work with, major schemes to be part of and a growing audience on the doorstep.

It’s going to be fun…