BH withdrawal as council seeks operator

By Connor Steel

FAREHAM BOROUGH COUNCIL have announced that they are looking for a new operator to take over their new community arts and entertainment venue due to be open in late 2023 following development works, with their media department updating the public in a press release shared online on Friday morning (October 28).

It comes as previous operator BH Live withdrew from negotiations as contract terms couldn’t be agreed; the company wanting to focus on their existing venues such as those found in Bournemouth and Croydon rather than expanding into new ones. This is because of a significant loss of revenue since early 2020 as all leisure and event venues were heavily affected by COVID-19 lockdown rules; which either saw full or partial closure.

Council officials have stated that this news will not affect remodelling work to transform the former Ferneham Hall site, which is said to be their milestone project that looks to kickstart new investment into Fareham Town Centre. This work has seen the nearby car parks closed until further notice to ensure safety for residents and workers, with another warning of loud noise issued as piling work looks set to last until the end of this month.

When completed the new £16.69 million site will be called Fareham Live and offers a wide variety of facilities for visitors, including a larger main theatre seating up to 800 ticket-buyers. It is further said to have improved stage and backstage areas, a performance space and a bar / café facility alongside toilets / changing rooms.

The final name was decided after a month long public vote held in 2021 with the huge Winchester-based firm Neilcott Construction Limited contracted to complete the site’s construction; the project delayed from 2020. A new tender process will now be officially launched by Fareham Borough Council to find its newest operators.

The Executive Member for Leisure and Community, Councillor Sue Walker, offered the sense of hope as she reacted to the developments: “While disappointed in this outcome regarding Fareham Live, I understand the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on BH Live and its desire to focus on its existing sites (like Bournemouth).”

“Having agreed to go our separate ways, a new tender opportunity will be launched ASAP, which will enable the Council to seek bids from an alternative operator, now that there is actual evidence that people are only too keen to return to theatre venues. I am sure that this exciting (huge) opportunity, will be hotly contested.”

Readers can find out further information about the ‘Fareham Live project by either contacting the council’s Leisure and Community Team by phoning 01329 236100 or via email messaging leisure@fareham.gov.uk.

PICTURED BY FAREHAM BOROUCH COUNCIL: Mock up of what Fareham Live building would look like.