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Preston Guild Hall could partially reopen but long-term future far from clear

Posted on - 5th March, 2024 - 7:30am | Author - | Posted in - Arts, Business, Preston Council, Preston Guild Hall, Preston News, Redevelopment
Preston Guild Hall in Lancaster Road Pic: Blog Preston
Preston Guild Hall in Lancaster Road Pic: Blog Preston

Preston’s Guild Hall could be partially reopened this year, it has emerged.

The immediate future of the venue has been uncertain since it was confirmed back in January that the material dubbed ‘crumbling concrete’ had been found in the roof panels of the Grand Hall and Charter Theatre venues within the 50-year-old building.

Preston City Council said at the time that it was exploring options to open the foyer space in the Guild Hall to host some smaller events, with a capacity of up to 500 people.  That area of the facility is unaffected by the material, which is officially called RAAC [reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete].

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The authority’s deputy leader Martyn Rawlinson told the meeting at which the authority set its budget late last week that the plan was progressing well.

“The good news is we may be able to reopen the bar under the theatre, which is known as the Guild Hall foyer [and] which was being used as a venue in itself during the previous ownership, with some success.

“[It is] a significant-sized venue – and we are doing everything we can to bring that back on-line this year, if possible,” explained Cllr Rawlinsion, who described the situation with the hall as “frustrating”.

Investigations into the possible presence of RAAC were sparked last September amid new safety fears about the substance, after new government guidance suggested that it could collapse without warning.

That put paid to the Guild Hall’s long-awaited comeback gig – the Preston Weekender – which had been due to take place in November as part of a push for a new operator to take over the facility.  It has now been shut for almost five years after a legal wrangle sparked by the collapse into administration of the company that was operating it until 2019.

Cllr Rawlinson also rubbished online speculation that the much-loved venue had been “abandoned and left to rot”.

“It has absolutely not – it’s being looked after and it’s being upgraded in some aspects…while we work on the other problems [with] reopening it,” he added.

Read more: How you can help Blog Preston grow arts coverage in the city

At the same meeting, the Liberal Democrat group on the authority proposed an unsuccessful budget amendment which would have seen £50,000 invested in a feasibility study into the long-term future of the Guild Hall.

Deputy Lib Dem leader Neil Darby said that while the party supported the efforts to reopen the venue in its current form, it was important to consider what kind of event space the city wanted in the “second half of this century [and] into the next”.

“We do already know that there is a ticking clock on the lifespan of the building itself due to the materials that it’s built from.

“Do we want a conference centre, a multi-use venue?   Do we once again want to be able to host music and events [of] a national and international calibre?

“Let’s lay the foundations for our future success by getting plans ready – begin the conversation about what our city wants and needs for the next Guild Hall,” Cllr Darby urged.

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