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A first step in Preston Guild Hall’s revival

Posted on - 4th August, 2023 - 8:00am | Author - | Posted in - Business, City Centre, Music, Nightlife, Politics, Preston City Centre, Preston Council, Preston Guild Hall, Preston News, What's On in Preston
New signage at the Guild Hall Pic: BBC LDRS

The stage has been set for the first entertainment event at Preston’s Guild Hall since the venue was mothballed more than four years ago.

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The Preston Weekender – which had been due to start in just a week’s time – has been postponed and will now be hosted at the hall on 18th and 19th November.

The organisers of what was to be an outdoor event on the Flag Market have described the short-notice switch as a “tough decision”, but say that the change should ensure a better experience for ticketholders.

Read more: Things to do with the kids in and around Preston this summer holidays

However, the rearranged gigs have a much bigger significance for the city as a whole, as they will mark the moment when the Guild Hall finally welcomes back a crowd in a search of a good time – something it has not done since the doors of the much-loved venue unexpectedly swung shut back in May 2019.

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That closure – which it was initially hoped would be temporary – came after the company that was running it at the time fell into administration. Just weeks later, Preston City Council retook control of the venue from prominent Preston businessman Simon Rigby, who had acquired it from the authority for only £1 five years earlier.

The legal wrangle that that move sparked rumbled on – beyond Mr. Rigby’s sudden death in August 2020 – until March this year, when, as the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) revealed, a settlement was reached between the town hall and the 11 Guild Hall subsidiary companies that were still pursuing the authority.

Since then, the city council has been considering its options for how the venue can be put back on a sustainable footing – most likely by securing a third-party operator to run it.

No proposals have yet been brought forward for councillors to vote on – but cabinet member for culture and arts Peter Kelly told the LDRS that the staging of the rearranged Weekender is a great opportunity to provide a showcase that reminds punters and promoters what the 50-year-old hall has to offer.

“It’s a shop window for what it can be – it’ll be a statement, so operators who are interested [will be able to see] that we staged an entertainment event and 2,500 people turned up.

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“It’s what we’ve been waiting for and it’ll show what we can do. The hall is exceptional and the acoustics are really good, but this has got to be top end – so we’re doing it with bells and whistles,” Cllr Kelly pledged.

The LDRS understands that upgrade work that began in the spring is continuing – including the replacement of some seating, the installation of a new sprinkler system and the switchover from traditional lighting to LED bulbs. Just this week, new signage has also been erected outside the landmark city venue.

Preston Guild Hall Grand Hall The Grand Hall Pic: Michael Porter Photography
The Grand Hall Pic: Michael Porter Photography

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When the legal settlement over the hall’s future was reached in the spring – details of which have been kept confidential under the terms of the agreement – it had been hoped that options for a future operating model may have been ready to be brought to a meeting of the full council over the summer.

That has not so far happened, but the latest development points towards a push to find an external operator to take at least day-to-control of the venue.

The city council both owned and operated the Guild Hall for the first four decades of its life, but by the time it was transferred to Mr. Rigby in 2014, it was costing the authority £1m a year to run.

With local authority finances having tightened even further in the nine years since, there is little to suggest that the council could ever run the venue in-house again.

Cllr Kelly also told the LDRS that professional operators have got the “negotiating power…to get the right acts”.

For now, however, his focus is on ensuring that the relaunch event is the best that it can be – and one that ultimately sees the city regain an entertainment venue whose prolonged absence has often felt like it might become permanent.

“It’s a Preston Weekender at Preston’s Guild Hall – it’s perfect and it gives us the opportunity to say, ‘Look , we can do this.’

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Read more: Reggae gone viral hosting Preston Music Festival in the city

Curtain call for the Guild Hall

Although the Guild Hall has been officially closed since 2019, it has opened its doors in more recent years for the occasional event – including a business expo back in March – and it has also been the venue for counting local election votes each spring.

The shopping arcade area has remained open throughout the hall’s closure and the building has hosted the Harris Library since the facility had to temporarily vacate its home at the museum in 2021 while that attraction undergoes a major revamp.

However, the rearranged Preston Weekender will be the first public entertainment event since the shock closure of the hall back in 2019.

Cllr Martyn Rawlinson, deputy leader and cabinet member for resources at Preston City Council, said that it was time for a fresh start.

He said: “Now that the Guild Hall Preston is back under our control, we decided it was a chance to cut ties with the past and update the branding while we secure a new operator.

“The Guild Hall is a well-loved venue – particularly amongst Prestonians – and we want to attract the right operator to take the business into the next chapter of its story. By updating the frontage, the appearance of the venue will look much more appealing – and the new logo marks the beginning of a new chapter in its history.”

A new website is now live and social media accounts are about to be launched so that interested audiences can keep up to date with any news about the main hall, the Charter Theatre and the retail complex.

Read more: Pop-up creative scrap store launching at Preston Bus Station

What’s happening with the Weekender?

Preston Business Improvement District (BID), which is organising The Preston Weekender event, said in statement: “We’ve taken the tough decision to change the dates of ‘The Preston Weekender’ – the good news is that the events will now take place indoors, and will be the first events of size to take place in the Guild Hall in recent years.

“The ‘Ministry of Sound Club Classics’ show will now take place on the evening of Saturday 18th November, and ‘The Sunday Showdown’ will take place on Sunday 19th November. All tickets remain valid for the new venue and Saturday and Sunday events – ticket holders do not need to do anything.

“Artists scheduled to perform at the Saturday ‘Family Fiesta’ event will appear at the city’s Christmas Lights Switch On instead (subject to availability); for which no tickets are required.

“Unfortunately, the ‘Friday Funk’ event with Bjorn Again and Brutus Gold, will not take place this year. However, we are in talks with both acts to have them perform in Preston, in 2024. Refunds will be issued automatically for this event.

“For anyone that’s unable to make the new dates for ‘Ministry of Sound Club Classics’ and ‘The Sunday Showdown’, you can apply for a refund by logging in to Fatsoma.com/orders, within the next 14 days.

“We apologise for any inconvenience and hope that you will agree that staging the event indoors will be a better experience for everyone. We look forward to celebrating with you in November, and kickstarting the city’s Christmas celebrations early.”

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The Saturday night Ministry of Sound Club Classics event – now on 18th November – will see some of the biggest selling dance acts of the 1990s and 2000s performing their worldwide hits, live in Preston.

Artists performing live include mid-90s masters N-Trance – of ‘Set You Free’ fame – and Alex Party, best known for their track ‘Don’t Give Me Your Life’.

Others include JX (with There’s Nothing I Won’t Do and ‘Son of a Gun’) 2 Funky 2 (‘Brothers and Sisters’) and Julie McKnight (‘Finally’ and ‘Home’).‘

The organisers are also promising a special guest at the 18-and-above event.

Meanwhile, Hacienda club legend Graeme Park will take to the decks, joined by production pioneers, the ‘Freemasons’, alongside Amanda Wilson.

The following afternoon, the ‘Sunday Showdown’ begins at 1pm – with groups including From The Jam, Buzzcocks and Liverpool’s Space .

They will be joined by: Evil Blizzard, Building Giants, and Deja Vega; plus a host of epic regional bands including, Head Feeder, The Amber List, Hauspoints, Capital Riot, and Whinge.

Read more: See the latest Preston news and headlines

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