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‘Elephant in the room can move on’ – reaction to Preston Guild Hall future

Posted on - 20th March, 2023 - 8:00am | Author - | Posted in - Business, City Centre, Politics, Preston City Centre, Preston Council, Preston News, What's On in Preston
The Guild Hall is not currently operating as a venue Pic: Tony Worrall
The Guild Hall is not currently operating as a venue Pic: Tony Worrall

Business groups have welcomed the long-awaited news that plans can now be made for the future of the Guild Hall – and what that will mean for the local economy.

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Last week the city council revealed the legal wrangle which had been ongoing since the council took back control of the building in 2019 had been resolved.

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John Chesworth, chair of the Preston Partnership – a 100-member organisation that works closely with Preston City Council and the University of Central Lancashire – said that the venue’s absence was an obvious gap in the ongoing “cultural renewal” of Preston, which has been spearheaded by projects like the refurbishment of the Harris Museum and the creation of the forthcoming Animate cinema and leisure complex.

“It’s almost been like the elephant in the room – where are the shows? Where do we go to watch a band or a concert or see comedians and plays? Whilst some people have [asked] if the Guild Hall is fit for purpose, at least when it was open, we had people coming into the city – including from outside [Preston] – and experiencing the bars and restaurants in the city centre,” Mr. Chesworth said.

Preston Guild Hall in Lancaster Road Pic: Tony Worrall
Preston Guild Hall in Lancaster Road Pic: Tony Worrall

He added that the lack of a performance space had been keenly felt by those hospitality businesses that heavily depended on it.

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“The night-time economy [outlets] are saying that they have a good Saturday, but Fridays aren’t what they used to be and the rest of the week is a real struggle.

“What Preston’s done well over the years is [develop] a city living strategy – there are a lot more people living in the centre of Preston, young people who need something to do.

“We don’t want them to be jumping on the train down to Manchester. There will always be that [element], however we should have an offering here – and this is just a great opportunity to relaunch it.

“I think it will be a challenge, but it’s one that the city has to rise to. A fundamental part of the investment plan is to renew the cultural offering and so it really is something that we either do and do well – or we are almost accepting a bit of defeat in terms of the offering of the city centre.”

Mr. Chesworth, who chaired the Towns Fund Board which secured £20.9m in government regeneration cash for Preston in 2021- including for a Youth Zone – said that the chance to improve the “functionality” of the venue should also be seized.

“You’ve got the theatre and you make money out of refreshments – but it’s got a tiny little bar area and there’s hardly anywhere to sit. So you’ve got this captive audience here and yet you can’t…generate the revenue that is there to be generated.”

Meanwhile, Mark Whittle, manager of Preston’s Business Improvement District, said that it was “reassuring” to finally have some clarity about the eventual reopening of the Guild Hall.

“I am sure the news will be warmly received by the city centre business community and residents.

“The closure of the Guild Hall has had a measurable impact on the city centre economy, the effects of which have been felt by businesses from all sectors. Having a professional and experienced operator to take charge of the venue would be a major step forward for Preston.

“We hope that this can be achieved as soon as reasonably possible,” Mr. Whittle added.

What politicians of all political colours had to say

Opposition politicians on Preston City Council have given their support to the next stages in the plan to put the Guild Hall back on the map.

Conservative group leader Sue Whittam said she was “pleased that we have reached the best agreement we can and I’m looking forward to the next chapter in the Guild Hall’s future for the benefit of the residents of Preston”.

Meanwhile Liberal Democrat group leader John Potter said that it was “great news that the Guild Hall issues are resolved and the venue can move forward after a difficult couple of years”.

He added: “City centres need to be places where consumers can do things, not just buy things. Cultural and entertainment venues such as the Guild Hall will be a vital part of any future prosperity in the city.”

Cllr Brown at the Guild Hall
Cllr Matthew Brown Leader of Preston City Council at the Guild Hall Preston

Preston City Council and Labour leader councillor Matthew Brown said: “Preston’s iconic Guild Hall can now look forward to a bright future once more.

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“The much-loved Guild Hall is vital to the economy of the city and we know that our residents will be glad to hear the good news.

“The council will be exploring all options in order to give the building a new lease of life and a viable future.”

What do you see as the future of the Guild Hall? How can it be brought back into use? Let us know in the comments below

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