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Preston Guild Hall’s rebirth through to slow implosion under Simon Rigby – a timeline of events

Posted on - 23rd June, 2019 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Business, Politics, Preston City Centre, Preston Council, Preston News
Preston Guild Hall in Lancaster Road Pic: Tony Worrall
Preston Guild Hall in Lancaster Road Pic: Tony Worrall

As the dust settles on a dramatic week in the history of Preston’s main venue we look back at the events which led us here.

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The Guild Hall, built in 1972, is now back in public ownership as Preston City Council changed the locks on Friday 21 June.

During a dawn reclaiming the city council said Simon Rigby’s proposal to reopen the venue using a charity – with himself and one other as trustees – was a non-starter.

The city council had taken on the lease from the administrator and Mr Rigby was no longer involved in the Guild Hall.

The man, who bought the Guild Hall for £1 in 2014, said he would be consulting legal advice.

Here’s the events since 2013 which have led us to this turn of events:

August 2013 – The city council begins to make noises about offloading the Guild Hall. It was costing £1million-a-year to subsidise and in the face of large-scale cuts to its budget from central government, the city council began ‘soft market testing’ to see if someone would take the venue on. The late councillor Tom Burns led the work.

September 2013 – Simon Rigby is revealed as one of those interested in taking on the building. The multi-millionaire revealed designs for revamping the proposal, and said he was putting together The Renaissance group of partners – involving The Lowry in Manchester and UCLan – to bid for the venue. Neither of these ended up being involved. Mr Rigby also released plans for The Guild Hotel to be created in Lord Street. The city council revealed three other submissions were put in, although it was never revealed who these were from.

An artists impression of how the rennovated frontage of the Guild Hall could look
An artists impression of how the rennovated frontage of the Guild Hall could look – released in September 2013

March 2014 – World Snooker Grand Final returned to the Guild Hall for the first time in nine years, as confidence began to build about the future of the venue.

3 July 2014 – It’s confirmed Simon Rigby is to take on the Guild Hall. Mr Rigby and the then general manager Richard Simkin held a joint press conference on the steps of the Guild Hall. Mr Rigby said he was planning £1million of investment. Mr Simkin was to take on operational control of the Guild Hall on a day-to-day basis. The venue would transfer on 1 October to Mr Rigby’s group.

Simon Rigby and Richard Simkin in summer 2014, with big plans for the venue

5 July 2014 – A done deal. Preston City Council’s cabinet approved the sale of the Guild Hall to Simon Rigby.

Read more: Five fantastic gigs at the Guild Hall in its history

August 2014 – Blog Preston reveals after a Freedom of Information request how the city council was preparing to demolish the venue. Maintenance needed over an 11-year period would have cost the city council £4.2million. The report showed demolishing the venue would cost £3.6million and would see the land become a car park.

Meanwhile, Mr Rigby submits a planning application for changes to the Guild Hall including putting in external escalator access to the front of the building and a giant plasma screen. These were approved in September 2014 but have never happened.

A facelift for the Guild Hall is on the cards
Whatever did happen to those external escalators?

17 October 2014 – Simon Rigby is formally confirmed as the new owner of the Guild Hall. The late Peter Rankin, council leader at the time, said: “This is a fantastic deal for Preston and a fantastic deal for taxpayers.”

Mr Rigby said on the deal: “My heart’s in Preston. I’m keen for the city to do well and that’s why I’m investing in Preston Guild Hall. There is a tremendous opportunity here. The city is on the up and the Guild Hall is very much part of that.”

He also said he was creating an arts and culture trust fund of £250,000 to be used to help put on events at the Guild Hall.

20 October 2014 – In a ceremony at the Guild Hall, the keys to the Guild Hall were handed to Simon Rigby by the then Mayor of Preston councillor Nick Pomfret and former councillor, who was cabinet member for arts and culture at the time, Veronica Afrin gave a speech praising Mr Rigby. Around 200 dignitaries from across the city attended the event. Mrs Afrin spoke of Simon’s ‘genuine desire to help the arts in the city’.

Simon Rigby (right) receives the keys to the Guild Hall
Simon Rigby (right) receives the keys to the Guild Hall

Mr Rigby told Blog Preston at the event he said: “I’ve saved this venue from tragedy. There’s no other way of describing it if this place had closed.

“The Guild Hall is a very special venue for the city. I visited here so many times growing up and I felt it only right to ensure it is kept open for others to enjoy.”

And he also said: “There’s not much money in actual events these days.”

21 October 2014 – Plans go in for what became Mundo Tapas on the ground floor of the Guild Hall.

25 October 2014 – The city’s first ever Comic Convention is held at the Guild Hall

10 November 2014 – It’s revealed Simon Rigby paid £1 to the city council for the Guild Hall. Peter Rankin defended the sale as a ‘fantastic deal’. He said: “We received a handful of proposals, most of which wanted some sort of annual subsidy from the council to keep the Guild Hall running as well as leaving us with the continued upkeep of a tired building that needed considerable investment. The proposal from Simon Rigby was different.”

21 November 2014 – Blog Preston exclusively reveals the details of the deal between Simon Rigby and the city council. Importantly it includes a ‘clawback’ option, which the city council triggered this week. Strict conditions are also put in place for any sell on of the building, seeing the city council in line for a sliding scale percentage o the sale price.

4 December 2014Mundo Tapas opens on the ground floor.

January 2015 – First plans for what becomes Review bar on the ground floor facing into Lancaster Road are revealed. The bar is now operated by the same group who run the Switch nightclub. Meanwhile the tourist information centre moves out of the Guild Hall and into the Town Hall as Mr Rigby says he will be putting his Villa Italian chain in its place.

May 2015 – The Guild Hall announces it will be bringing the annual panto back in house, with Sleeping Beauty the first show.

June 2015 – Review bar plans are lodged, with its distinctive circular bar

July 2015 – The Guild Hall announces it will begin booking acts direct again, instead of using a third-party company. Susan Burns was brought in by Richard Simkin as head booker for the venue. He 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.”

August 2015 – Arts charity for young people Curious Minds announces they will be opening within the Guild Hall arcade

October 2015 – Respawned and Styx shops close down in the Guild Hall Arcade. The owner of Respawned said it had ‘become unworkable’ to continue trading from the Guild Hall.

December 2015 – Review bar opens to the public facing into Lancaster Road

April 2016 – It’s confirmed Villa Italian will open at the Guild Hall in June

June 2016 – The first plans for what would eventually become LeVel are tabled for the Lord Street side of the building in the Guild Tower

September 2016 – What Mr Rigby is calling the ‘Printworks of Preston’ plan for LeVel is approved by the city council’s planning committee. The same month, the Guild Hall Group lodges plans to convert the Guild Tower, the city’s tallest office block, into a hotel.

The Villa Urban would be the name of the new hotel, in what is now the Guild Tower
The Villa Urban would be the name of the new hotel, in what is now the Guild Tower

October 2016 – Preston Police object to the late-night licence plan by the Guild Hall. The venue had applied for a 6am licence and 24-hour opening. Later in the month, the city council’s licensing sub-committee grant the 24-hour licence for LeVel.

November 2016 – The foyer of the Guild Hall becomes a venue in its own right, the LiVe brand takes on booking shows in the 500-capacity space. Dan Morris, previously head of programming for The Ferret, is to run it and White Lies are one of the first acts to play there.

And in the city centre Mr Rigby is buying up what was Fives, to ensure he would be the only operator bidding for a casino licence in the city. The Guild Hall would be the host for it, if successful.

Read more: Your memories of concerts at the Guild Hall

December 2016 – The Guild Tower hotel plans are approved, and artist impressions show what it would look like inside

March 2017 – Simon Rigby becomes an MBE for services to business in the North West. The 55-year-old said: “As the award was for service to business in the North of England I do think it for the efforts of all the team. I am just fortunate to be taking the bows. Literally in this case!”

Prince Charles and Simon Rigby share a word
Prince Charles and Simon Rigby share a word

April 2017 – First Bongo’s Bingo show is announced, the rave bingo experience becomes of the Guild Hall’s most popular events

November 2017 – Artist impressions released of how LeVel will look in the Guild Tower. Mr Rigby says he is spending £5million on the fit out.

January 2018 – Simon Rigby buys up the Bonds of Elswick ice cream chain, and moves Bonds into the spot where Mundo Tapas was in the Guild Hall Arcade. LeVel also opens to the public.

April 2018 – Roadworks along Lancaster Road continue, Richard Simkin says the venue is ‘gritting its teeth’ due to ‘constant issues’ with the work.

November 2018 – General manager Richard Simkin leaves the Guild Hall. He said on his departure: “He said: “I feel like I’ve been part of the furniture for Preston for six years and spearheaded the revitalisation of the Guild Hall, as well as plans for the Guild Tower.

“I think the Guild Hall and what’s been happening has been a catalyst for growth in the city centre that’s been seen in recent years.”

Simon Rigby’s long-time assistant Lisa Mathew tales over as operations director.

December 2018 – Vittorias, which was The Villa Italian, announces it will be closing on the ground floor of the Guild Hall.

January 2019 – Mr Rigby confirms he wants to become more of a ‘landlord’ as Review, Bonds and others are let out to third-party operators.

He told Blog Preston: “The letting of Bonds Preston is a mile stone for Rigby Group as all catering units are now let. Allowing us to concentrate on our core skill as a landlord whilst giving Prestonians the chance operate iconic restaurants in there home town.”

Later in January, Bill Kenwright makes allegations in the theatre trade press The Stage that he is owed £70,000 by Simon Rigby.

March 2019 – Blog Preston by this time is receiving numerous pieces of information about staff not being paid, and promoters not being paid by the Guild Hall.

Former technician Malcolm Warburton goes on the record to describe the lack of payments for staff.

Mr Rigby blames an IT glitch in a new payroll system.

May 2019 – As further allegations are made about non-payment to touring companies, Mr Rigby announces on 30 May the venue is to be temporarily closed.

4 June 2019 – Simon Rigby places Preston Guild Hall Ltd, the parent company of the venue, into administration. This keeps the Guild Hall venue and the Charter Theatre closed. All units rented to third-party operators continue to trade.

Read more: Warning signs were there on Simon Rigby, but is Guild Hall now an opportunity?

16 June 2019 – Simon Rigby tells Blog Preston he is wanting to buy back the leasehold and reopen the Guild Hall. Administrator Beverley Budsworth is tring to find an alternative operator to reopen the venue.

20 June 2019 – Simon Rigby announces he will be using The Guild Foundation, a charity set up in 2018, to take on the lease of the Guild Hall and reopen the venue. Mr Rigby would be one of the trustees but says he will ‘not see a single penny from the venue’. The administrator says she has no knowledge of this proposal and has not been informed.

21 June 2019 – At dawn, Preston City Council confirm they have taken on the lease of the venue and returned it to public ownership. Simon Rigby says he will be taking legal advice. He only discovers he has been turfed from the venue by reading it on Blog Preston first-thing on the Friday morning. Preston City Council say they are not granting interviews about the special urgency decision.

Labour leader, councillor Matthew Brown, said: “We are absolutely committed to finding the best possible solution for the future of the Guild Hall, and our ultimate hope is that it is back up and running as an entertainment venue as soon as possible.”

The city council say Mr Rigby had breached conditions of the lease.

Mr Rigby said he is not aware of any breaches.

The council’s decision is supported by both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups.

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