Site: Stanley Halls
Type: Theatre and Public Halls
Location: Croydon, South London
Owner: London Borough of Croydon
Lessee: The Stanley People's Initiative
The Stanley Halls in Croydon were built in 1903-11 to host a variety of community activities and are a quirky example of Edwardian architecture. The Stanley People's Initiative (SPI) was set up in 2011 to take over the management of the Grade II listed public halls from Croydon Council.
The group are currently negotiating a 30-year lease and have plans to renovate the buildings to offer performance and artists' spaces, community space to hire, and a hub for local businesses.
The SPI began as a result of a public meeting called by ward councillors. Some 100 people turned up to support the idea of taking over the management of the halls and a steering group was formed.
It was announced in 2013, after a competitive process, that the group were the council's preferred partner to take over the management of the halls. The SPI then formed a charitable incorporated organisation with an elected board, in preparation for the asset transfer.
They were allowed to open the halls for monthly coffee mornings and tours and manage public events on behalf of the council. This gave them the opportunity to talk to local people about their ideas and receive feedback to ensure they were heading in the right direction as well as getting valuable operational experience.
The group feel that the relationship with the council has been amicable and they are working to shared objectives. Nonetheless, this has been a learning process for both parties. While the council have been very supportive they have limited staff capacity for advising on technical and legal issues, and this has held up lease negotiations.
A successful model
In recent years the halls have been used for occasional pantomimes, filming, and church, club and educational events. The council have allowed the SPI to gain experience by co-ordinating public events such as an arts festival and dance and comedy events, and the SPI will now be focusing on marketing to increase demand. Their aim is to host several events simultaneously within the complex.
There is already a great demand for room hire for parties, classes, meetings, weddings and the like, as they are the only halls in the area. Income from hiring space to businesses will also subsidise a small space for artists and they are looking at ancillary areas whereby artists could be given workspace within the halls complex.
The group are to carry out a proper market assessment with initial pro bono support from the Ethical Property Foundation. This will enable them to look at the market and plan an enterprise hub.
The halls were sturdily built and are in reasonable condition, but have been neglected for many decades and have a 'shabby chic' appearance. The council have made essential electrical and mechanical repairs using Section 106 funding; however, disabled access is required and original features such as the toilets need modernisation.
The group are applying for funding from the Social Investment Business to undertake a feasibility study in specialist areas, such as weddings and catering. The ability to partially hire out the halls has been a good opportunity to test out their business assumptions.
Having a demographic mix of ages and ethnicity has been very helpful in getting the right combination of skills and people on the Board. Members include a lawyer, an architect, and a project manager, as well as two accountants who are currently helping the group to focus on improving their accounts systems.
The group recommends identifying the skills required and tracking down people to invite to join, as well as working out early on how the group are going to share information, and having a shared drive that is accessible to everyone.
There has been continuity of membership, with most people having been on the board since 2011. They have also built their capacity by setting up a Friends group for the wider community which is slowly growing. It has been important to have a clear message of what they want to do to move forward as a team.
The group have achieved a 100% success rate with small grants applications to date. £3m is needed for capital works to create disabled access, modernise the toilets, and for restoration.
The Prince's Regeneration Trust are helping the group to apply to Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Heritage Enterprise grant later in 2014 and are advising the group on the scope of the project and the best funding mix. Staff will be required to run the halls once renovated and the group aim to raise a realistic income from hire of the facilities to cover running costs.
The main financial problem to date has been trying to remain operational on a very low income and no funding. The most difficult period has been waiting to sign the lease to enable them to apply for substantial grants to make improvements and make proper use of the building.