Preston Guild Hall signage to be changed

Posted on - 20th May, 2023 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Politics, Preston Council, Preston Guild Hall, 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

Preparations for the eventual reopening of Preston’s Guild Hall have stepped up, with the removal of the signage that adorned the building before its shock closure four years ago – and which has remained hanging there ever since in the hope of the much-loved venue’s revival.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) understands that replacement signs with new branding are expected to be put in place in the coming weeks.

Behind the scenes, work is also under way on a new website to promote what it is hoped will be a plethora of performances when audiences are finally welcomed back through the doors.

Read more: ‘Elephant in the room can move on’ reaction to Guild Hall’s future

Preston City Council chief executive Adrian Phillips said that the refreshed look will “help improve the appearance of this important cultural and entertainment venue”.

However, the practicalities of bringing the hall out of mothballs – which include fire safety work and the refurbishment of its escalators and lifts – may be a simpler process than deciding how it should be operated in future in order to avoid the pitfalls of the past.

As the LDRS revealed in March – when it was announced that the legal wrangle between Preston City Council and almost a dozen Guild Hall subsidiaries had been resolved – the authority is having to draw up a business plan to ensure that the event space has a sustainable future.

Town hall officers are setting the stage for councillors to choose an operating model, with Mr. Phillips having previously told the LDRS that the range of options to be presented to members – with pros and cons for each – would likely be ready some time this summer.

The Guild Hall was not on the agenda of last week’s full council meeting – and there is not now another gathering of all councillors until the end of June. Their decision over how the venue is to be run is likely to be a key factor in determining how long it will be before it is back in business.

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The building was owned and operated by the city council for over 40 years after it opened back in 1973. However, amid spiralling costs, the authority transferred it to the late Preston businessman Simon Rigby – for the nominal fee of a pound – in 2014.

The council retook control of the landmark venue in the summer of 2019 after it closed at short notice over claims that creditors were owed millions of pounds. That move sparked the legal battle that was resolved in March and which had kept audiences locked out in the intervening four years.

During the LDRS’s Preston local election debate last month, Labour city council leader Matthew Brown said that he would like to see the Guild Hall remain in public ownership, but he acknowledged that the £1m-a-year losses incurred the last time it was operated by the authority made that possibility a challenge.

“We’re going to have a number of experts looking at all the options and obviously making sure…the model, whatever that’s going to be, is in line with our values. What we’re definitely not going to do is what we did previously and hand a 1000-year lease to an individual businessman.

“But we do need to obviously re-engage with artists…and promoters. It can’t be rushed, but it needs to be [done] relatively quickly because it’s been out of circulation for too long,” Cllr Brown said.

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At the same event, Conservative opposition group leader Sue Whittam floated the idea of the hall being taken over by a registered charity. She also stressed that it needed to be brought up to modern standards.

“We do need the Guild Hall – I do recognise everybody feels the same, that it is so important to Preston,” Cllr Whittam added.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat group leader John Potter said that the venue would have to be operated by experts in the entertainment industry in order for it to be run “to a profitable level”.

He also said that there were details of the legal battle of the last four years that he and Cllrs Brown and Whittam “would love” to put into the public domain, but were prevented from doing so by the terms of the settlement, which meant that the deal – including what it cost the council – had to be kept private.

“Some things that are said [about the situation] we [would like] to actually throw back and say: ‘Actually, this is the truth of what happened.’

“There are things that we know behind the scenes, which would really put a new light on this – but we can’t [reveal them]. We needed to draw a line under the last few years,” Cllr Potter said.

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