Pledge to re-open Preston Guild Hall 'within weeks' after administration shock

Guild Hall boss Simon Rigby has vowed to have the entertainment venue open again “within weeks” - despite his shock decision to call in the administrators yesterday.

By Brian Ellis and Megan Titley
Wednesday, 5th June 2019, 8:52 pm
Updated Wednesday, 5th June 2019, 9:52 pm
Preston Guild Hall has been placed into administration
Preston Guild Hall has been placed into administration

And the entrepreneur, who has pumped millions into the complex since buying it for just £1 in 2014, is still insisting all staff wages will be paid, UCLan summer graduation ceremonies will go ahead as planned and it will be business as usual for shops in the ground floor mall.

However, some of those owed money by the firm have told the Post they were getting increasingly frustrated waiting for payments to be made.

Mr Rigby told the Post: “The Guild Hall is special to me and I want it back open as quickly as possible.

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Empty corridors at the Guild Hall

“I’m talking to the administrator today and, like me, they will want to get the doors open again as fast as is humanly possible.

“I’m confident it will be back on track within a few short weeks - possibly by the end of next week - even if I have to reopen it myself while the new operators are ready to take over.”

The 47-year-old Grand Hall and Charter Theatre were suddenly shut down last Thursday after a deal to hand over control to specialist live music company VMS Live was delayed by the tragic death of the firm’s owner in a road accident.

Mr Rigby insisted the deal, which was scheduled to have been signed more than a month ago, is still expected to be completed soon. But he claimed the decision to put Preston Guild Hall Limited into administration was “unavoidable” in the interim.

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Announcing the decision to apply for administration at the High Court in Manchester, he said: “PGHL has had to be placed into administration, and licensed insolvency practitioner Bev Budsworth of The Business Debt Advisor will be appointed as administrator with the aim to maximise the return to the company’s secured and unsecured creditors.

“For individuals who have purchased tickets in advance, we will be ensuring that they receive a refund if the show is not available via the new operator.”

Lisa Matthews, operations director of the Guild Group, added: “We are currently exploring all options for reopening whilst we prepare the ground for the new operator.”

Within hours of yesterday’s announcement the administrator began the task of agreeing terms with a “chosen” operator to take over the running of the venue and pick up the reins from PGHL.

Administrator Bev Budsworth said: “I’ve just been appointed and we are putting the strategy together.

“The strategy will be to get the Guild Hall operational as soon as possible - to find another operator to maximise the position for secure and insecure creditors.”

She said creditors potentially include promoters and employees. She added she would be speaking to the Guild Hall further about refunds for people who have bought tickets to cancelled shows, adding: “They are wanting to make sure if shows don’t go ahead, people get their money back.”

Much will hinge on today’s talks between Mr Rigby and the administrator, who now takes responsibility for repaying outstanding creditors.

Mr Rigby bought the complex from Preston City Council in 2014 after the local authority revealed it could no longer afford to maintain it.

Council leader Matthew Brown commented: “We are extremely disappointed to hear that Preston Guild Hall has now been placed in to administration.

“In 2014, Preston City Council transferred Preston Guild Hall to Simon Rigby in good faith while facing the most significant budget cuts in living memory.

“This difficult decision was not made lightly but, due to significant operating costs in an unprecedented time of austerity, this was the council’s only viable option. This situation has not changed.

“As this news is still unfolding, we are unable to comment any further at this stage.”

The announcement last week that the venue had “temporarily” closed its doors rang alarm bells at the University of Central Lancashire, with thousands due to celebrate their graduation at the Guild Hall in July.

Despite assurances that the ceremonies would not be affected, the university has revealed it is looking at “contingency arrangements” to ensure the students are not left in the lurch.

A spokesperson for the university said: “It is very disappointing news that Preston Guild Hall has now been placed into administration.

“Our priority is with our students and, while we still hope to use the Guild Hall in July, we are finalising contingency arrangements to ensure our summer graduation ceremonies take place as planned.”