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What does Simon Rigby have planned for Preston Guild Hall?

Posted on - 2nd July, 2014 - 8:00am | Author - | Posted in - Arts, Business, News, Opinion, Preston City Centre
The Guild Hall is to be sold to Simon Rigby and partners for £1 million

The Guild Hall is to be sold to Simon Rigby and partners for £1 million

The bid from Simon Rigby focuses not just on bringing big name acts to the Guild Hall but working to enhance the whole offering of the Guild Hall building.

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Drilling into the rather slick website the millionaire and his partners have put together it gives a sense that it’s not just about booking Paul Weller to put bums on seats.

Preston Guild Hall’s selling point was always the diversity of events which took place there – and the Rigby bid hints at a return to this.

Scraping off the sheen from the designs put together by the Frank Whittle Partnership it won’t be a new lick of paint which convinces people to part with cash at the new venue – instead it will be entertainment which takes their interest.

Inside the venue it is a cavernous space, both a curse and a blessing. The bid talks a lot about “culture” and it’s big name theatre shows which are mostly on the billboards in the promotion. Are we more likely to see decent sized touring theatre than a middle-of-the-road band?

Richard Simkin, who looks set to take on the operational role of running the Guild Hall, alludes to the focus on theatre.

He said: “We will become a major player in the theatre industry through our diverse offering of arts and culture.”

It’s likely a fair chunk of the investment in the building will go on ensuring it is up to scratch for visiting shows.

Rigby and his team know how to do food. They do the catering for Preston North End at Deepdale and he runs a fair few restaurants – you certainly wouldn’t rate the Guild Hall currently as somewhere to eat. Putting a new Italian restaurant in the complex is a safe bet, it’s inoffensive and can be reasonably priced.

There’s also a coffee shop planned, Leaf or Bean, proposed to ensure more regular trade in the Guild Hall area.

The plan points to more of a food offering at the Guild Hall complex

The plan points to more of a food offering at the Guild Hall complex

The intruiging bit is in Rigby’s word on “community events”. There’s been plenty of whispers how the council, faced with severe financial constraints, have become very cautious about letting organisations, individuals and others hire the space.

It’s understandable, but it’s a shame that the venue, which should be a hub in constant use at the heart of Preston, is often a dark, foreboding and empty presence.

Rigby’s words”…which will include community use of the building. We are flexible and we will see to it that nobody with clear budget issues for putting on a community event at the Guild Hall is turned away.” What those “budget issues” may be is not clear, but it does feel like an opening of arms to people who have ideas, passion and can at least do basic maths to put on events.

Moving away from entertainment is a big theme of the new Guild Hall plan, and one which means it will become more financially viable. Hedging all your bets on touring acts, theatre shows and more is an unpredictable and volatile market. Plus it all happens in the evenings. You would bet the university will be looking to increase its usage of the venue, along with other big corporate clients, for conferencing, banqueting and more.

A facelift for the Guild Hall is on the cards

A facelift for the Guild Hall is on the cards

The proposal to create a hotel opposite the Guild Hall has been removed from the plan. Clearly negotiations with the council forced Rigby and team to focus on the Guild Hall building itself, not such a bad thing. It’s a behemoth of a complex.

There’s also a call to arms for anyone wanting to start a business. If footfall to the building is increased the hidden away and forgotten retail units in the Guild Hall arcade could become filled with start-up firms.

The Rigby plan is proposing up to six shops in the arcade are offered out free for 12 months to ne firms and support from the Rigby group to help them get off the ground with office, marketing and other administrative support. These might sound like small things, but for any small business this would be a huge accelerator.

So Rigby’s shelling out £1 million for the building, a source of civic pride when built by the council in the 1970s – but now a building which is clearly burning a hole in the pocket of Rankin and co.

Local authorities are not the financial beasts they once were, and the recent entertainment at the Guild Hall shows a wayward trend and sporadic approach to events due to the financial constraints.

It may provoke some “selling the city silver” cries, but Prestonians need to watch and wait to see if Rigby can deliver. He’ll be judged by the number of punters through the door, and the cold hard cash they part with for what his next generation Guild Hall can offer.

If he gets it right, the city will have a vibrant cultural hub offering shows and events big to small.

If he gets it wrong the soulless cavern in the centre of Preston will continue.

What do you think of Rigby being sold the Guild Hall? What events would you like to see? Let us know in the comments below

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