Preston Guild Hall is preparing to get back into the Premier League for music acts visiting the city.Advertisement
Current manager Richard Simkin says the last few months has shown the venue is ready to compete on the biggest stage.
Bob Geldof, Jools Holland, Avenue Q and Bill Bailey show big names from music and comedy are having more faith in the venue’s new management.
Mr Simkin says they have taken the decision to start booking big names directly.
He said: “We can either go through a promoter, or we can go direct. We’re going direct now and it means we’ve got some really exciting names in the pipeline.
“Yes, it does mean there’s a bigger element of risk. We’re paying for that big name and if we don’t sell then yes, we take the hit.”
Susan Burns has been bought in as head booker for the venue, having spent years working for Lytham-based promoters Cuffee and Taylor.
They have forged a strong reputation for bringing major acts to the North West with the Lytham Proms and St Catherine’s Symphony at the Tower among their big events.
Mr Simkin said: “There’s a very strong team developing here. Susan brings a wealth of experience and knows how to deal with bringing in those touring acts.
“Mel is great at working with the existing acts and organisations we deal with.”
Simon Rigby bought the venue for £1 from Preston City Council in summer 2014 and has set about updating the venue.
Mr Simkin says they have major plans for the venue and Prestonians will have already seen plenty happening.
He said: “We’ve got the plans lodged for Review, wine bar and restaurant on the ground floor. Mundo Tapas and Leaf and Bean have been opened very quickly.
“We announced the purchase of the Guild Tower and this includes what was Morrisons. We’re exploring a number of uses for this, mainly around leisure – a sports museum has been floated, maybe a gym. Who knows.
“There will be work done to the front of the Guild Hall in time. We had planned to install escalators but with the proposed works by Lancashire County Council up to the Bus Station we’re holding fire on those.”
He is bullish about the venue’s ability to turn a profit, something it struggled with during the city council years where it was propped up to the tune of more than £1million-a-year by a city council subsidy.
“March was one of the busiest we’ve ever seen at the Guild Hall,” he says.
“And we weren’t in the red. So it just shows it can be done. You have to book. You need to have the right offer. It’s not just about shows, it’s about the restaurants and the whole building working.”
Part of Rigby’s deal with the city council was the setting up of a £250,000 Guild Foundation to encourage community use of the building.
The Guild Hall and Charter Theatre have a strong history of being used for community events and Mr Simkin said they wanted to see more applications from community groups.
He said: “The money is there. It is being used. We’ve had some am-dram groups and the Scouts recently put on a big event.
“There was a different procedure in place when the council owned the building but it does not mean community groups can’t use the venues.
“Just because Simon owns it doesn’t mean everything is about money. Yes we have to turn a profit but this Foundation is there to ensure the people of Preston can still put on events.
“No matter your ideas let us have them. Drop me a line and we’ll have a chat, there’s always a way to make things work for you and for the venue.
“And it’s not just community events. We can do conferences, banquets and we now have a wedding licence.”
Anyone wishing to apply for the Guild Foundation fund or discuss putting on an event should email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a meeting.
What do you think of the Guild Hall in the last 12 months? Have you been to show? What would you like to see put on? Let us know in the comments below