Five years on since Preston came together to celebrate Guild 2012

This week marks five years since the people of Preston came together to celebrate Guild 2012. The Lancashire Post reflects on the success of the festival and its ongoing legacy as a catalyst for change within the city.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 5th September 2017, 9:00 am
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 1:02 pm

Here was how we covered the Guild year:

Sign up to our daily newsletter

It was the jam-packed, energy-filled, unforgettable fortnight that saw thousands visit the city.

For many of our readers who live within the Preston city limits, chances are if you were looking out of your window at this time in 2012, something Guild related will have been in full-swing.

More than 20,000 of us marched along in one of four Guild Processions, Katherine Jenkins and Jose Carreras performed at Proms in the Park with another 79 events serving up a festival atmosphere catering for all ages.

Preston Musical Comedy Society in the Guild 2012 Community Procession

And long after the bunting was packed back into storage and the Big Top dismantled, it continues to have a major impact on Preston.

For Tim Joel, events manager at the city council, it can be looked back on as a watershed moment for the prospects of the city.

Regular events each weekend throughout the summer are one of numerous legacies, he explains.

Tim, who was part of the organising team for Guild 2012, said: “The feedback we get from the public has been that people may not necessarily know exactly what is on each weekend, but they know there will be something so they should come.”

Guild 2012 Torchlight procession

Five years have come and gone, therefore, since the city’s last Guild and the ever improving cultural offering in Preston is a direct result.

If we cast our minds back to that time, in the previous year the £700m Tithebarn scheme had fizzled out, leaving the city centre in limbo.

Guild 2012 - held between August 31 and September 9 – including a stunning torchlight procession - provided not just a shot in the arm, more a life-saving boost.

Part of its legacy, Tim believes, is that it has left an air of confidence, both for those in authority and for residents in terms of what Preston had to offer.

The council, both city and county, organisations and community groups learned how to stage events. And residents had their eyes opened to how great their home city could be.

“An example of how things have changed is in the plans for the covered markets,” says Tim.

“Built in within the designs is an events space. If that plan had been submitted five or six years ago, it wouldn’t have been part of it. People now know what’s possible, the Guild has been a big part of that.”

Planning for 2012 was years in the making for Tim and colleagues. And one of the enduring legacies is that the connections and links made during that preparation have been maintained.

The city’s cultural board - formed in the lead up - now has regular meetings, driving forward Preston’s cultural agenda.

Instead of extinguishing the Guild fire and re-igniting it for 2032, the coals are smouldering along in the meantime.

It means the legacy of 2012 is not just the physical aspects - such as the Guild Wheel - but also in organisational terms.

Tim said: “It’s not something necessarily in the public eye but the cultural framework board brings together representatives from the two councils, the university, community representatives all working together to enhance the city’s cultural offering and working on strategic things. From this has come the Lancashire Encounter Festival. It means we can develop the skills developed for the Guild 2012 and keep them going.

“Before 2012 there was a lot of hard work in terms of building connections with the community and performance groups, establishing links with local and national artists.

“There was a significant amount of work to be done so it’s essential we retain those skills.”

The outlook in the city - with the private takeover of the Guild Hall, the redevelopment of Winckley Square, major changes to the bus station and the over-arching City Deal in the background - is much different in 2017 to 2012.

“All of that, including all the great stuff going on with the Harris (Re-imagining Harris project) and Fishergate, the progress started, I think, from 2012, the city got the confidence and people got more understanding of what a difference cultural offering can make. It was a catalyst, perhaps, for the changes we have been seeing,” Tim said.

“You can’t say that’s all down to the Guild but it contributed, as a game-changer, people began to see Preston in a different light.”

The gaze of the organisers at the town hall has certainly not yet turned to 2032, it’s still a bit too early to start meaningful planning 15 years out.

But there is a level of optimism to what Guild 2032 will bring, given that the culture of partnership working and connections will have been maintained.

Tim said: “We’re not full out planning the next Guild but what we are mindful of at all times is that it is such a significant cultural milestone for our city and county and we are putting ourselves in a stronger position for 2032 than we were in 2012.

“Pride is key to the Guild and we saw that across the volunteers in 2012, people really wanted to give back to the city. I think it’s something that the people of Preston absolutely embrace with thousands taking part across that fortnight.

“It’s a great part of social history, we looked back at the pictures from the 1992 Guild, during the preparation for 2012, and compared the city centre. We were very aware that we were just the custodians of it and there is an aspect that we’re doing it for the next generations. Who knows what it will look like in 2032.

“It can get larger, we’re far more outward looking and through the Lancashire Encounters Festival we have the links with the entire county. The Guild will always be a Preston thing, because that’s at the heart of it, but it’s such a cultural phenomenon that it could expand and be a real event for the entire region, perhaps.”

Preston Musical Comedy Society in the Guild 2012 Community Procession
Guild 2012 Torchlight procession