The tragedy of Simon Rigby and the failed Preston Guild Hall dream

Posted on - 31st August, 2020 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Business, People, Preston Guild Hall, Preston News
Simon Rigby (right) receiving the keys to the Guild Hall in 2014
Mr Rigby (right) receiving the keys to the Guild Hall in 2014

Preston lost one of its best-known businessmen last week, when Simon Rigby MBE died suddenly aged 58.

Like any entrepreneur, Mr Rigby experienced highs and lows throughout his career.

Sadly – for Mr Rigby and for many others – the most recent trajectory of his professional life had been a downward one.

After the positivity of his Guild Hall takeover in July 2014, Mr Rigby’s involvement ended when Preston City Council reclaimed the venue from Preston Guild Hall Ltd in June 2019. The council cited breaches of the lease conditions.

Mr Rigby only discovered he had been locked out of the venue after reading the news on Blog Preston. At the time he said he was not aware of any breaches.

But prior to the council’s announcement, Blog Preston had received numerous pieces of information about promoters and staff not being paid.

In the aftermath of the financial collapse of Preston Guild Hall Ltd, a report by the administrator showed more than £4.5 million was owed to hundreds of individuals, music promoters and businesses.

Around £66,159 was owed in claims from employees, and around £112,175 was owed in ticket refunds for shows at the Guild Hall and Charter Theatre.

The list of creditors ranged from smaller enterprises such as Lostock Hall Juniors Football Club and the Banana King, through to bigger firms including EDF Energy and Sky.

An insolvency hearing against Mr Rigby brought by Clifton Meats Ltd – which was owed £129,313 – was delayed in July 2019. Mr Rigby was still involved in legal dispute with Preston City Council at the time of his death.

The Guild Hall in Lancaster Road Pic: Gary Bond
The Guild Hall in Lancaster Road Pic: Gary Bond

Despite this, Mr Rigby told Blog Preston in August 2019 “no-one has lost more on the Guild Hall than me”.

Mr Rigby’s comments when he took over the venue in 2014 indicate he may not have been simply speaking in financial terms.

At the time he told Blog Preston: “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.”

At an event that year to mark the takeover of the Guild Hall, former councillor Veronica Afrin spoke of Mr Rigby’s “genuine desire to help the arts in the city”.

However Mr Rigby’s professional involvement in Preston went beyond the arts and spanned many areas of industry.

From digital advertising to betting, and from an ice cream parlour to Preston’s answer to the Printworks, Mr Rigby created an entertainment empire that was worthy of an MBE.

At various points in time, the “creative and energetic” entrepreneur also had plans to create a £10 million hotel and leisure complex at The Guild Tower, open a casino in Fives or the Guild Hall, and redevelop Preston Bus Station.

Richard Simkin worked with Mr Rigby when he was Group Commercial Director at Preston Guild Hall Ltd. He remembers Mr Rigby’s passion and ability to revive struggling firms.

Simon Rigby and Richard Simkin
Simon Rigby and Richard Simkin

He said: “Simon was a true inspiration and not only had many successful businesses but took on numerous failing or closed businesses and revived them, often securing hundreds of jobs across Lancashire and beyond.

“I had the privilege of working for Simon over a six-year period and he was always a very caring and passionate individual.

“My thoughts are with Simon’s dear wife Linda, his two children and all of his family and close friends. He will be missed by many and I hope Simon can rest in peace.”

A statement from The Rigby Organisation, of which Mr Rigby was founder and Chief Executive Officer, also praised the multi-award winning entrepreneur’s warmth and ability to create jobs.

“Simon was a celebrated and famous business face throughout Lancashire, the North West and beyond, creating thousands of jobs throughout his home county in his many and varied businesses.

“He often paved a way so that others could follow, and believed deeply in developing young talent to become the next generation of business leaders.”

The Rigby Organisation’s Chief Finance Officer Tom Flack and Business Development Director Lisa Mathew both spoke of their “privilege” at having known Mr Rigby and his family.

Founder of Blog Preston Ed Walker spoke to Mr Rigby on many occasions throughout the highs and lows of the past few years.

Ed said: “It’s sad to hear of Simon’s passing. He obviously attempted, and succeeded, at many things, but like anyone in business there were difficult times too.

“Regardless of the well-documented business and financial issues, he was a father, a husband and a friend to many. Now it’s time to let the family mourn.”

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