What future for Preston’s Guild Hall?

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Council officials are today launching a bid for organisations and companies to come forward with ideas to create an entertainment and leisure hub at the Guild Hall.

Preston Council has published a ‘Soft Market Test’ on its website and will also be advertising the campaign nationwide in magazines, including the theatre bible The Stage.

Guild Hall

Guild Hall

They say they have got a “blank canvas” and want industry experts to come forward with ideas for the venue in Lancaster Road.

The aim is to secure a future for the building, with no plans to knock it down.

The interested parties will then be invited to an open day in September to discuss ideas and options about how the Guild Hall could be operated in the future.

The council has stressed that the key outcomes of any proposals must ensure that:

l The existing leisure, entertainment and cultural offer of Preston is enhanced significantly

l The local economy is directly supported through increased visitor numbers, student retention and improved job/training opportunities within the leisure, entertainment and cultural sector

l Commercial viability and value for money is improved.

Chief executive of the council Lorraine Norris said: “The context of this is there are people out there that do this.

“They are experts at it and the council needs to tap into that knowledge and expertise.

“Whilst we run the Guild Hall that is not our main business, to take it forward and get something sustainable it is the sensible thing to do.

“This has been looked at before probably about 10 years ago.

“What it needs is a really flexible approach, being willing to let the market come in and experts in the field come forward with ideas.”

She said the council will look at all options, it is understood this could include everything from selling the venue, to having investors, sponsors or an operating body running the building.

She added: “We could get a whole range of ideas. If we look at that building you can see it as one building or look at its component parts.

“This is an ideas trail, this is going to take some time.

“We would like to see investment in the building, we are wise enough to know that people will want a return.

“We can make greater use of it. It is a huge complex.

“We are not ruling out re- configuration of the space.

“There will be a theatre, no matter what happens.”

The council hopes that it will get some “imaginations” from the market to come up with ideas.

The deadline for responses from people who want to attend a meeting is August 28.

The final deadline for written responses is in September and after then detailed discussions will start.

Coun Tom Burns, cabinet member for culture and leisure, said: “Times are difficult and times are changing. We have to move with the times.

“We believe for a sustainable future for the Guild Hall, this is the way to go.

“We want to keep the theatre, there will have to be some subsidy but not as much as we are now.

“It is a very positive move. I welcome this move, there’s a much more sustainable future.

“This is far from a Doomsday scenario. I feel better doing this because there is a future there.

“What we are looking for is a sustainable future for that venue that will take with the cultural objectives.” Coun Burns added: “As a council we want to achieve the best offer of commercial, retail, leisure, entertainment and culture for the city centre.

“We need to get the views of experienced organisations on whether this approach is attractive to the market and can offer greater economies of scale and whether we can achieve efficiency savings.

“We know that culture and entertainment are a big draw for people into the city centre and the development of our cultural framework is central to achieving this.

“However, we are under severe pressures as our budget continues to reduce and we need to be having these conversations with experienced organisations in the private and public sector about how we can ensure an improved entertainment offer in Preston.”

Interested parties must be able to demonstrate a successful track record in the management and development of leisure, entertainment and cultural venues.

l Submit feedback and proposals to the council at: smtguildhall@preston.gov.uk or alternatively via the website at www.preston.gov.uk/guildhallinfo.

Have your say at www.lep.co.uk