Twenty full time staff have been laid off at Preston Guild Hall after it shut unexpectedly today.
Another 45 casual staff have been offered work at the Level entertainment complex, which is not closing, along with all other tenants on the ground floor including ReView cocktail bar, Safehands Nursery, Carol May's Academy and restaurants.
Owner of the city centre venue Simon Rigby says he hopes the Great Hall and Charter Theatre will only be shut “temporarily” before a new operator picks it up, saving the 20 jobs within the month.
Entrepreneur Mr Rigby closed the Great Hall and Charter Theatre after negotiations with specialist live music and venues company VMS Live were put on hold.
It comes as the untimely death of the managing director and founder of VMS Live has meant progress has been delayed.
Mr Rigby, who owns the Guild Hall, announced he was in “advanced negotiations” with VMS Live to take over the running of the building in April.
But he says that Steve Forster’s death, coupled with “some false social media stories has meant the position of Preston Guild Hall Ltd, the current operator, has become fundamentally uncertain and directors have had to take professional advice".
In a statement Mr Rigby said: “Clearly a tragedy beyond anyone’s control has led to the delay in VMS Live taking Preston Guild Hall on to the next level.
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“The suppliers, including promoters, have simply got tired of waiting for VMS Live to take up the reins of the Guild Hall.
“Under this pressure and uncertainty I am legally obliged to review the viability of Preston Guild Hall Limited, the operating company, as a number of its creditors will not wait any longer and all creditors have to be treated fairly.”
Mr Rigby told the Post that staff have been paid for May but that beyond that he was unable to say.
He also said that he was under the impression VMS Live were planning on talking on all current staff.
“We are paying people this month but after that we don’t know - it depends how long it takes," he said. "The place is shut I hope only for a couple of weeks.
“I believe they are going to take everybody on. Whoever the new operator of the Guild Hall is they will require staff.”
The Great Hall and the Charter Theatre are both temporarily closed as of today. The tenants on the ground floor of Preston Guild Hall, including Level, ReView cocktail bar and Safehands Nursery are "completely unaffected".
Mr Rigby told the Post that tickets for shows which do not go ahead will be refunded. He said: "I will honour the advance ticket sales.
"Some shows may get cancelled. I’m committed to no members of the public losing money."
Leader of Preston City Council councillor Matthew Brown said: “We are disappointed to hear this news, but hope that this temporary closure of Preston Guild Hall enables the transition to VMS Live’s management of the venue to take place smoothly.
“The transfer of Preston Guild Hall to Simon Rigby in 2014 was Preston City Council’s only viable option. This difficult decision was made due to significant operating costs in a climate of unprecedented budget cuts and austerity. This situation has not changed.
“Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends of the late owner of VMS Live.”
The Post has contacted VMS Live for comment.
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